Arizona's craft beer scene is something of an anomaly. Though the state produced a very respectable 117,000 barrels of craft beer last year, making it the 28th biggest producer in the union, the majority of shelf space in local beer shops is still dominated by brands from California, Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Michigan and Europe. This isn't because our bars and retailers don't like Arizona beer; we just drink more beer than our breweries can supply. Our beer distributors have fortunately filled this void with amazing beer from around the country and world, in many cases at the cost of shelf space for macro brands. Here's four craft breweries making exciting, boundary-pushing beers worth seeking out on your next beer outing.
Anchorage Brewing Company – Anchorage, AK
Nine out of 10 beer nerds agree that Anchorage Brewing is the bee's knees. The tenth nerd is too busy savoring the last sip of Love Buzz to pay attention. With a fondness for barrel-aged beers laced with funky yeast strains and souring cultures, Anchorage offers an array of multi-layered brews that will continue to evolve in the bottle for years to come. Anyone seeking an out-of-the-ordinary beer experience that touches on bliss should seek out their ornately designed, corked bottles and buy two: one for now and one to gift or cellar for a year. Flagship bottles: N/A Specialty bottles: $12-15
Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Paso Robles, CA
Widely considered one of the best breweries on the West Coast, Firestone Walker transcends most breweries in a manner best understood by watching the phenomenon that occurs during a specialty beer release, when beer nerds come out of the woodwork to secure as many bottles and beer servings as their wallets and livers will allow. With a bevvy of award-winning "normal" beers to prop up its expanding barrel program, the brewery has built a reputation for hitting style guidelines on the head so well a beer buyer need not think twice before shelling out $20 for a bottle of 13% XVIII Anniversary Ale.
Flagship bottles: $2-3 Specialty bottles: $14-20
Founders Brewing Company – Grand Rapids, MI
With a cult-like following eclipsed only by the deceptive smoothness of its world-famous Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Founders has been brewing beer in the American tradition since the 90s and shows no signs of slowing. Their ale-centric portfolio is made up of equal parts hoppy, dark, malty and boozy brews, making it an ideal next step for craft beer lovers ready to move on from lighter, sweeter beers. With a perfect 100 score on BeerAdvocate, Founders is one brewery you can count on to bring a major crowd to any special beer event. Flagship bottles: $2-3 Specialty bottles: $3-5
Funkwerks – Fort Collins, CO
Though still a small brewery by Colorado standards, Funkwerks has quickly developed a reputation for brewing award-winning Belgian-style beers encased in some of the cleanest branding in the industry. Arizona is one of only two states outside of Colorado to enjoy Funkwerks' beer, which recently entered the realm of everyday-affordable beer in the form of four-packs of the brewery's flagship Saison and style-defying Tropic King imperial saison. If you're ever in Fort Collins, make visiting this brewery's cozy taproom a priority! Flagship bottles: $3. Specialty bottles: $10.
In their presence here, these breweries are among dozens of others offering Arizonans a taste of the outlandish, funky and labor-intensive styles our hometown breweries are in many cases still too small or young to produce. With proper support, our beloved local brewers (existing and forthcoming) will hopefully one day find their names on lists such as this in other markets, marking a new chapter in the Arizona craft beer story. Until then, I urge you to occasionally flex your boundaries and ideals in the pursuit of new flavors and experiences as you explore the endless world of craft beer.