Pretty much everywhere you hike in Flagstaff, Arizona you have a great view of the San Francisco Peaks rising high above the town. Mount Humphries is the highest of the peaks (and the highest point in the state of Arizona) at 12,633 feet (3,851 m). Several other of the peaks exceed 11,000 feet and all were part of a single volcano eons ago. I approached the city of Flagstaff from the north, the direction of the peaks on the Arizona Trail. It made for building a substantial, high altitude thirst as I headed into town where I planned to visit “Flag’s” many craft breweries.
The town itself sits at about 6900 feet (2100m) in big pine country and has a metro area population of about 135,000 people. With seven breweries, that is about a brewery per 20,000 residents. Flag was a frontier outpost on the route from Santa Fe to California that evolved into Route 66. Nowdays, it is at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 17, a pretty vibrant university town, and a gateway to Grand Canyon National Park an hour to the north.
The Arizona Trail, a designated National Scenic Trail, is an eight hundred-plus mile north and south route that winds between Arizona’s borders with Utah and Mexico. At Flagstaff, the route splits between an urban route directly through the town and a bypass of sorts that skirts to the east of town. Inside of the town the route is part of what is known as the Flagstaff Urban Trails System, or “FUTS” which consists of more than 50 miles of trails for hiking, running, and cycling.
I experienced just a small fraction of the route — enough to be intrigued by the vision and want to come back to Arizona for more. The Arizona Trail was a dream of a Flagstaff schoolteacher named Dale Shewalter who started working to bring life to the idea in the 1970’s. Forty years and many obstacles — physical, bureaucratic, and land ownership-wise later, the route is complete and connects communities, mountains, canyons, deserts, forests, public lands, historic sites, various trail systems, wilderness areas, and other points of interest.
The trail is well marked on the segment I walked until you get to Route 66. From there, I didn’t pick up on any markings if there are any as I headed into the downtown. I pretty much just trusted my instincts and followed the road.
This marker notes distance to Utah and to Mexico …Multiple local trails connect …This segment is nicely built with significant infrastructure — here a high bridge over a busy road …Route 66 is a fairly unpleasant stretch until it reaches the downtown …The first of the breweries along the way is Wanderlust Brewing Company. Once I got to Route 66 (there is a Starbucks on that corner), I turned left on a short detour heading away from the downtown. Wanderlust is a few blocks up an industrial-seeming street on the left. It is housed in a metal building and other than a food truck out front, there isn’t anything else in this area that looked interesting to a hiker.[Do you like beer, hiking, travel? Please join the new Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/beerhiketravel/ to share your experiences and read about those of others]
The Wanderlust taproom and brewing facility are pretty much the same room, divided by a rope across the middle. Wanderlust is a micro-brewery class operation and I was told along the trail that they specialize in European-style brews. I had a “928 Local” Farm House Ale that was refreshing, given how I got myself here, but is what I call a bit Belgiumy — my code word for flowery/fruity which isn’t my personal favorite kind of brew. Their other mainstays are a belgian pale ale and a vanilla coffee stout.I did get to observe Wanderlust’s cool sealed growler fill station in action. I had never seen one of these in action. From what the beertender described, it sounds pretty good in theory.Nice tagline!From Wanderlust it was a bit over 2 miles back down Route 66 to the downtown, where all of the other breweries are located. Route 66 is the Arizona Trail urban route the best I could tell, although I saw no signs or markings to indicate this.
Historic Brewing Company is housed in the back part of an old commercial building. The front includes a spiffy fresh meat market and deli with lots of good looking (and smelling) stuff. They serve pub fare in the Historic’s taproom.
Historic’s mainstay offerings are “The Deer Lord”, a German altbier, “Joy Rye’d”, a rye pale ale, “Piehole Porter”, a cherry vanilla porter, and “Opposable IPA.” In addition, they had several experimental brews on the board. Experimentals and seasonals are also a big part of their agenda and they were one of several Flag breweries I noticed were doing wood barrel aging. I tried a “Flagstaff 7” Collaboration Brew which is a drinkable imperial brown ale. They also carry a nice selection of other brewer’s beers and had among the broadest array of draft choices of any of the taprooms I visited in Flag.
Flagstaff Brewing Company is a comfortable pubbish, cafe-ish place right on Route 66. The feel is more a saloon then taproom. They brew a rotation of nine mainstays, not all of which may be available on a given visit. I enjoyed an “Aggasiz Amber”, an American amber style brew together with an interesting snack of roast garlic cloves.Mother Road Brewing Co. has a very industrial feel to it. It also had the feel of a much bigger brewing operation than any of the other places so far. I learned that they have expanded several times. They had eight or nine taps with four dedicated to mainstays “Gold Road Kölsch,” “Roadside American Ale”, “Lost Highway Black IPA,” and “Tower Station IPA.” … a pretty ale-centric place. I tried the Kölsch which I thought was quite good. Mother Road was the place among the seven where I found the staff and other patrons to be the most interested in “beer talk” — what was going on in the local beer scene, styles of beer, etc.
Beaver Street Brewery has been around the longest (since 1994) and it has the feel of “the establishment.” Nice, cordial service but I didn’t observe much beerthusiasm here. It felt like the beer was accessory to the restaurant and other aspects of the business. I did appreciate the use of 22 oz WIllie Becker glassware and the lowest of the day $3.50 beer price (11-7). There were five draft offerings.
Beaver Street Brewery and Lumberyard Brewery are, I’m told, owned by the same entity. I am told that they operate separate and distinct breweries, but that the two breweries beers are mixed and matched across the two taprooms/restaurants that are a couple blocks from each other. I tried the “Lumberyard Amber” which was just fine.
Lumberyard Brewing Company comes across as a bit more pubbish and it appears that this is the entity that will be scaled for canning and broader distribution of their brands.
The youngest of the Flag breweries, Dark Sky Brewery is a nano-scale operation tucked into a side street. I would call it an experimental brewery having no mainstay offerings. The beertender told me they have used nearly 100 different recipes in the nearly year they have been open. I tried a beer named, “Amanda’s God Damn Mojito” and found it offbeat but drinkable. About this time last year I was at Beer Palma where one of the breweries was making beer mojitos (read that story here) I enjoyed so the name intrigued me. I would have to rate this the friendliest of the seven places.
There were a couple of interesting ideas I noticed there and made a note to suggest to my hometown brewery. One was the “beer for a friend board” which recorded and communicated pre-paid beers that make for a nice gift for a friend that you know frequents the place.
The other was the “Crowler.” A Crowler is a 32 oz (2 pint) capacity, single-use can that the beertender can fill like a growler. A lid is sealed on by a manual machine with a big hand crank and from there it works just like a big can of beer. Filled crowlers are $10-12 depending on the brew and they are said to have a 3 month shelf life.
Well … that was all of the breweries and it was alot for one guy in one afternoon! I did notice one other thing that was unusual to me as I got back on the route and headed for my evening destination. As I walked by a convenience store I noticed they were advertising a growler station. Curious, I walked in and saw it was no joke — not self-serve, but mighty convenient. Laws in my state would never allow it.