Clad in recently unearthed autumn apparel (it was going to hit 60 degrees!) and local microbrew tees, Tucsonans gathered at Sentinel Peak Brewery on November 17th for the third iteration of Baja Brews. Participants sampled beers from twelve local breweries, all of whom had created unique brews based on a shared bill of local ingredients. A celebration of local terroir, the theme was ‘late summer fruits,’ and the beers ran the gambit from fig and pumpkin porters to soured cranberry and quince ales. As the sunset reflected off the looming Catalinas, the mood was lighthearted and jubilant. The brisk weather felt energizing for those ready to shake off the summer doldrums and there was a certain buzz in the air at the open, industrial-chic brewery whose wide garage doors were open to the patio.
There was a clear sense of loyalty and devotion to locally made beer as participants checked in with their favorite brewers, with whom many seemed to be on a first name basis, before eagerly introducing themselves to the new kids on the block. At Crooked Tooth’s table, I overheard three people apologize for not having made it into the brewery yet, despite the fact that it had been open for less than two weeks. Brewer Ben Vernon reassured everybody that there was plenty of time to visit as they got their footing, which included working out their weekday hours, currently running from “some time to some later time, most of the time.” The best time to visit, it turns out, is the weekend, when the brewery is open from 12:00pm to 12:00am. Their beer, a pumpkin ale with more than a handful of Vietnamese cinnamon thrown in was, according to Vernon, “an experiment in turning up the dials … It’s interesting to see what can happen when you move things towards an extreme.” Indeed the cinnamon was intense and aromatic—but it also provided lift to the black ale. I appreciated the fearlessness embodied in this mantra, enforced by Vernon’s idea that “it’s our imperfections which make us unique.”
Despite there being nary an IPA, the spectrum of beers available was eclectic. 1055 and Green Feet both made peach infusions based on their pale and blonde ales respectively – nice, dry, simple ales with lush aromatics and, in both cases, a clean mouthfeel. A degree drier, Borderlands and 1912 brewed tart ales, one based on quinces and their high natural acidity and the other kettle soured with lactobacillus cultures and infused with cranberries which lent a certain tannic quality to the beer. The latter was a crowd favorite on the light side of the spectrum while, on the darker side, Barrio’s porter was much loved. Brewed with figs, pecans and local squash, the porter was robust without being cloying and had an odd but compelling vegetal quality which I was happy to find others enjoyed as much as I did. Complementing the selection of darker brews, Public’s cocoa-bitter ale had great presence balanced by a touch of saline weightlessness.
Catalina Brewing’s imperial stout, brewed with raspberries and chocolate malts, jumped out of the glass with aromas of baked bramble fruit and cocoa. The rich brew was welcomed as the evening cooled off and the mood became more contemplative. The head brewer, Hank Rowe, had been mulling over this recipe for years and was excited to find a place for it in the context of Baja Brews. Petey Peterson from Green Feet shared the table and the sentiment, welcoming both the opportunity to experiment and the impetus to get abstract ideas into the fermenter and out the other side: “I’m not a fruity or sour beer guy, so these events really push my limits, which I appreciate.”
The most aromatically intense beers of the night were Thunder Canyon’s pumpkin infused oatmeal stout and Iron John’s dark lager which, rather than a post-ferment infusion, included fresh, handpicked figs in the beer wort itself, contributing to the heart of the beer and not just its finished flavor profile. Sentinel Peak’s Farmhouse ale was a welcome respite between the broodier malts; fresh and peachy with good spice character. Like Crooked Tooth’s dark ale, The Address’s belgian dubbel-styled fig ale achieved a good balance between darker malts and brighter fruit. Excited to brew in small, experimental batches for a receptive audience, the brewer there, Alvin, was already brainstorming what to do with local honey and herbs, the ingredients for the next Baja Brews event.
In between beer tables, volunteers from Desert Harvesters and Iskashitaa Refugee Network traded beer notes while engaging guests with information and stories of locally and wildly harvested foods. Desert Harvesters’ cohort was happy to be a stone’s throw from the 1912 table, whose sour ale they characterized as light and autumnal and, in a sea of dark beers, “refreshing” and “more like a cocktail than a beer.” Guests moved seamlessly between these tables, talking beer and sustainability with equal amounts of fluency and engagement, suggesting a community whose ties are deeper than simply imbibing local brews. Jana and Dan Stormont, whose blog Sustainable Living Tucson narrates their pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle in the desert southwest, were happy to be at an event where networking with like-minded people was so easy and casual. That Tucson was, according to Dan, “a special place” in the midst of “a special time,” felt clear and to the point amongst such a familiar and enthusiastic public.
What: Special Creations Brewed with Local Honey and Local Botanicals Baja Brews Tasting Event
When: Thursday, January 26th, 6:00-8:00pm
Where: Cafe a la C’art, 150 N Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701
On Thursday, January 26, join Edible Baja Arizona and local craft breweries for the fourth Baja Brews Tasting Event. Every eight weeks, Baja Arizona’s breweries are working with different locally originating ingredients to craft special beers just for the event. This event will feature eleven beers (and one special whiskey cocktail) brewed with local honey and botanicals.
All proceeds from the $15 donation benefit four amazing Tucson nonprofit organizations that are working to improve food security in our community: Desert Harvesters, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Iskashitaa Refugee Network, and Trees for Tucson.
You’ll be able to taste and enjoy many locally produced and native ingredient-inspired beers, talk with the brewers, and learn more about Tucson’s ever-growing craft beer scene—all while supporting the work of these great non-profits! This fourth event features a wide variety of brews made with local honey and local botanicals such as Mesquite honey, creosote tea, and gin botanicals.
Cafe a la C’art, located in downtown Tucson on the grounds of the Tucson Museum of Art, will be offering an exclusive menu for the event featuring salmon cakes, tamales, jalapeño cheese curds, and a variety of mouthwatering tacos and burgers. The tasting event runs from 6:00-8:00 p.m. and you can make your donation in advance by purchasing tickets here. Tickets can also be purchased on the night of the event at the door, pending availability. We do anticipate high demand, so purchasing tickets in advance is recommended.
The Baja Brews Project is a year-long collaboration between Edible Baja Arizona and the Baja Arizona region’s craft breweries. We want to explore, celebrate, and taste Baja Arizona’s extraordinary craft beer. Drink local!
The Address Brewing
Beer: Rainy Day in the Desert
Tasting notes: Our Rainy Day IPA is made with local honey and then infused with creosote tea. The nose is pungent and sweet, as is the flavor. It’s monsoon season in a glass.
ABV 7.6%, IBU 76
Dillinger Brewing Company
Beer: Hunny Porter
Tasting notes: Hunny Porter is an American style Brown porter using local Mesquite honey. Very malt forward, rich chocolate notes and a touch of sweetness from the honey.
ABV 5.5%, IBU 35.
Borderlands Brewing Company
Beer: Gin Spiced IPA
Tasting notes: Hazy IPA, infused with gin botanicals. This beer is hazy by design, which will give it a fuller mouth feel. A citrus punch from the hops and a spicy finish from botanicals.
Dragoon Brewing Co.
Name: Baja Brett Pale Ale
Tasting notes: Our El Baja Especial Pale Ale, fermented with True Love Mesquite Honey and Brettanomyces. Features bright fruit notes, barnyard funk, and subtle mesquite warmth.
Iron John’s Brewing Company
Name: Desert Harvest Honey Saison
Tasting notes: We used raw local honey and unmalted local wheat in this light, easy Saison which was then aged six months in a wine cask before finishing with a dose of local desert herbs. This aromatic and refreshing beer reflects a delightful pallete of local products that will delight your palate!
6.2% ABV, 20 IBU, 8 SRM
Thunder Canyon Brewery
We collected, fermented and distilled the nectar of the desert and created Sonoran Desert Mesquite Honey Whiskey. We’ll be sampling cocktails made from our honey whiskey.
1912 Brewing Co.
Name: El Brunch
Tasting notes: Blood orange and basil Gose, tart and refreshing with notes of citrus, salt, and dry hopped fresh basil from Iskashiita Refuge Network.
ABV 6.0, IBU 16
Catalina Brewing Company
Name: Cat Scratch Fever Pale Ale
Tasting notes: A recipe from an old friend, created originally during that fateful year of 1997 (if you don’t know, then you’re not a Wildcat fan!) – this is a crisp and refreshing pale ale, with a touch of sweetness from Amber Candi sugar balanced with a hint of clove and dry-hopped with Cascade for a refreshing finish.
ABV: 5.2%, IBU: 25
Name: Saison sauvage avec l’essence du désert
Tasting notes: Light and crisp Saison fermented with wild yeast, Sonoran desert honey, and infused with local herbs.
Sentinel Peak Brewing Company
Beer: 1811 Desert Blond
Tasting notes: We’ll be bringing a version of one of our flagship beers, 1811 Desert Blond, to which we’ve infused local honey, pomegranate, and citrus for a dry, fragrant, and refreshing beer.
ABV: 5.2%, IBU: 27
Barrio Brewing Co.
Beer: Barrio Desert Belgian Blonde.
Tasting notes: Belgian Blonde brewed with mesquite honey.
Pueblo Vida Brewing Company
Beer: Rosemary Nelson IPA
Tasting notes: We paired Tucson’s DreamFlower Garden rosemary with our single hop Nelson IPA featuring New Zealand hop variety Nelson Sauvin. Earthy and white grape aromas from the Nelson Sauvin hops pairs beautifully with the pungent evergreen and herbal aromas of rosemary.
Thursday, January 26, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Taste locally sourced unique brews at our fourth Baja Brews tasting event, featuring locally produced honey and botanical -themed beers and creations.
Cost: $15 per person