There’s some pretty good craft beer in Arizona, even though some breweries have come and gone.
There are some absolutely top-tier breweries that rise above the rest. There are also some better-than-average options, which are followed by a cadre of breweries that I can’t recommend to anyone in good conscience.
This post is about the best of them — or at least my favorites. This post focuses on places that brew their own rather than craft beer bars like Rift. Also, I’m going to avoid mentioning the worst because I feel like criticizing them is kind of mean. Most of them are earnest try-hards that either have a different vision for what’s good or they just haven’t successfully made the transition from good homebrewer to good brewery (and that’s more difficult than many people realize).
If you’re visiting Arizona, these are the places to put on your list. If you’re an Arizona resident, feel free to comment with your favorites that I didn’t include on the list.
NOTE: There are some styles I simply don’t care about — namely blonde ales, red ales, pilseners and frankly most lagers. I’m rarely in the mood for a hefeweizen. I’m not a huge fan of sours, but I keep trying them out of curiosity. I like beers that hit pretty hard. Tell me something is “easy drinking” and I’m out.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. – Gilbert and Phoenix
You can’t talk about craft beer in Arizona without mentioning these guys. Arizona Wilderness has two locations, which is a great move on their part. The Gilbert location serves the suburban people, while the downtown location ensnares the city crowd.
This brewer covers a lot of ground — they have some terrific IPAs and stouts, while some people go there for weird, funky sour ales. They also get experimental with completely off-the-wall stuff like a taco-flavored beer; and yes, I ordered some as part of a flight. It was absolutely terrible, but also a ton of fun to experience.
Refuge is kind of their standard IPA. For the most part, though, you won’t see many of the same beers on every visit. They are always trying something new. I like that. I also like that Arizona Wilderness was one of the breweries that participated in a challenge to brew beer using reclaimed water. Sustainability is cool!
They have decent pub food.
Pueblo Vida Brewing Company (Tucson)
I absolutely love a visit to Tucson, and I don’t care what anybody from Phoenix has to say about that. Pueblo Vida is one of the places that’s always on my list.
To me, Pueblo Vida is mostly about the IPAs. They seem to be another one of those breweries that lacks “flagship” beers and seems to be always pushing out something new.
Their menu is always descriptive, breaking down what grains, hops and adjuncts go into their brews. That’s great news for people who are into certain things; I, for one, am a sucker for anything with lactose in it. And beers with mosaic hops rocket to the top of my list.
If you want food during your visit, you’ll have to bring it in from one of the many nearby establishments.
Tombstone Brewing Company (Tombstone and Phoenix)
Some of the best Arizona beer news was the announcement of Tombstone Brewing taking over the former location of Helio Basin, a brewery that had incredibly mediocre beer but excellent food.
Now, we have an excellent brewery with incredibly mediocre food. I can live with that.
Stylistically, Tombstone is all over the place. I’ve had great stouts, IPAs and Belgian ales from them. That’s great because those are my favorite styles. No matter how many IPAs I’ve had, their Another Exercise in Mediocrity always puts a smile on my face. Watch their social media pages for fun stuff like single-hop and fresh-hop IPAs.
Tombstone Brewing also does some excellent limited releases in bottles, along with some super-heavy barrel-aged stouts in cans. They’re always worth aging for awhile.
I’m pretty excited that people visiting Arizona don’t have to miss out on these top-flight beers if the town of Tombstone isn’t on their itinerary. But if you do have plans to head that far south, swing by Pueblo Vida on the way!
Dark Sky Brewing Co. (Flagstaff)
Pizza and beer go together so well. Especially when both are excellent, which is the case at Dark Sky Brewing.
Dark Sky likes to wander the beer continuum. I wouldn’t count on seeing the same beer twice very often. But you can definitely count on getting something sour, something hoppy and something malty on nearly every visit.
It’s a good idea to be ready to get some crowlers to go. There are generally too many good options to get them all in one visit.
A few things to note: That delicious pizza sometimes makes the inside of Dark Sky really damn hot. Also, they sometimes have live music. If you prefer conversation with your beer, that’s another reason to grab a crowler of three.
Smelter Town Brewery (Clarkdale)
OK, Smelter Town Brewery isn’t a well-known Arizona craft beer player. But they should be.
They don’t distribute all around Arizona, and they’re in a small town that gets overshadowed by Sedona. That makes Smelter town a terrific find that will score you some “Arizona beer insider” points.
During my visit there, we had a flight built from some hazy IPAs, a Belgian tripel and an imperial stout. We also tried a sour, which was far more balanced than most sours I’ve tried so far.
Smelter Town has some light snacks, and you can bring your own food, too. The staff is very friendly, even if you have little people with you. They are also enthusiastic about their beer and opinionated about what selections they like best at the moment.
Clarkdale is a bit out of the way, so I won’t likely get to visit Smelter Town often. But I will not go to the Verde Valley without stopping by.
Wren House Brewing Company
Yes, another Phoenix brewery. But man, Wren House is just stellar.
If I see a Wren House IPA with the word “Wally” in it, I get it. It’s that simple. They’re hazy to the point of opaque, usually with a huge peachy sweetness balanced with huge amounts of hops.
They once had a mead-barrel aged porter that wrecked my tastebuds in the best way possible. Wren House also did a series of stouts called Los Postres that made me sad when I drank the last of them. I stashed a can of their Swirl stout in my fridge for months, just waiting for my brother to visit from Illinois — he was not disappointed.
No food here aside from some light snacks.
Other Good Craft Beer in Arizona
There are a few places that merit some mention. Goldwater Brewing Co. and Fate Brewing Co. do some very nice work. Goldwater’s flagship Hop Chowda IPA can hang with Tombstone’s Another Exercise in Mediocrity — and they even seem to have improved the recipes over time. They don’t have food. Also worth noting: Before COVID, Goldwater’s Goldmine underground taproom was perhaps THE BEST place to sample some heavy barrel-aged goodness.
As for Fate, they have made two of the best beers I’ve ever had: A mint-grapefruit IPA and a nitro-charged oat wine. They sometimes go absolutely wild with stouts. They have a great hazy IPA called What Would Jess Drink that never fails. Their food is pretty OK — you might like it better than I do since I’m not the hugest fan of ‘Murican pub food, even if it’s slightly higher-concept ‘Murican pub food. Their pizza is generally satisfying.
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