For this beer event it was appropriate to start this day on a train. The light rail counts as a train right? If not, then this whole write up is going off the rails… Yeah, I rolled my eyes too.
I have only used the light rail a few times. Mostly because if you own a car it’s not really that convenient. Thanks to the AZ Craft Brewers Guild, it was the best way to get to the Phoenix Convention Center last weekend as they secured discount codes from Lyft. The train ticket plus discounted Lyft ride got us from Mesa to the convention center for five dollars and change. My only complaint about the light rail is the amount of stops. A bike rider that just missed the train at one location beat the train to the next one. The stops in Tempe are so close that the train is actually in both spots at once! A twenty-minute drive turns into an hour long of stop and go. Bonus fact: buying a light rail ticket is a fun way to get a pocket full of dollar coins!
When I purchased my tickets for the Real Wild & Woody Beer Festival I was worried that the twenty drink tickets were going to be too much. The only other festivals I had been to up to this point were the Arizona Beer Fest and the AmeriCan Canned Craft Beer Festival and I ran out of sober way before I ran out of tickets. Throw in the fact that the beer at RW&W would be packing some serious ABV, I was a little worried. Then again, after seeing what breweries would be there and the beer list my immediate thoughts were, “twenty isn’t enough.”
I am not really a fan of festivals, mostly because of people – there are just too many. If you can go to a festival in the first few years when they are smaller and not a well-known it’s a good mix of people, space and vendors. Eventually, the dollar wins the day and then it’s just wall to wall people and a whole lot of standing in line. Anxiety set in once again as I walked up to the convention center and saw lines of people snaking through the building. Granted I arrived just before the 2:00 pm start time, the line was justified and most of the line was inside the building so the heat wasn’t a factor. Even though there was only a single entry point everyone moved fairly quickly considering as there were separate points to check I.D., hand out sample mugs with drink tickets and ticket scanning. That being said it still took me 30 minutes to get in the door from my point in line. That would be my only negative critique of this event. With a duration of four hours and a last call fifteen minutes before the end there was a bit of a time constraint; a half hour is a significant amount of time! Maybe in the future the doors can open a half hour before and people could be allowed to mingle and line up for their first tasting. Yup, I blame the line for feeling rushed it had absolutely nothing to do numerous conversations about the Ultimate Warrior.
Walking in to the hall my anxiety was quickly calmed by the layout, there would be more than enough space for all the people that would be attending. There were a few areas of congestion but no cause for concern. Besides, I was taken back to my childhood watching a group of people huddled around a TMNT arcade cabinet. 8-bit Brewing Company had a great setup and it truly felt like a classic arcade, the only thing missing were quarters lining the game screens. I got next!
I was a kid in a candy store except I don’t really like candy … I was a man-child in a room full of beer. I didn’t know where to go or where to start so I set off to do a reconnaissance lap and get my bearings.
Fortunately, I was able to pause and catch my breath because around the corner was That Brewery, yeah, “Who’s on first?” It’s one of my favorites, anytime my wife and I are near Cottonwood we go to That Brewery. I highly recommend visiting and if you’re lucky you’ll get to meet Misty, she’s one of the great people pushing Arizona brewing to bigger and better things. I don’t know where That Brewery would be without her. I am still hoping that they will name one of their beers “This”, just so I can say I had This beer at That Brewery.
I’m getting distracted, which is mostly how my day went.
65 breweries each with at least two beers, equals … not enough tickets to try them all! The local favorites were there, my favorites were there, some out of state, some in state but, might as well be out of state. I’m talking about you, Prison Hill in Yuma! Even the corporate brand had a few “craft breweries’ in attendance. If you weren’t sure about who owned some of these, you could easily tell by the lines, or consistent lack thereof.
Except Four Peaks …. they get a pass in Arizona. Yes, they sold out, but, a lot of the breweries at the event wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t been there in the early days to get the laws changed in Arizona. So as a “Thank You” they have not been completely shunned. I discussed this with one local head brewer and he was okay with them being there, but said the first time he see a corporate volunteer standing behind the table the relationship is over. It’s a fine line and a sensitive subject.
There were a lot of great beers, a lot of complex brewing and chances are you won’t see beers like this until next year’s RW&W. This could easily be a two-day event and even that wouldn’t be enough time to even try all the breweries on your list let alone try somewhere new. It’s a good problem to have! After I stopped running around and found my wife, for the second time, I reorganized and set off with a solid and efficient strategy.
While I continued to scramble around grabbing a beer from my favorite places I managed to throw in a new brewery even now and then. Talking to people didn’t help the decisions making process much either, it was hard to find someone who was trying the same places or the same beers. Eventually I ran out of tickets and time but I was mostly satisfied with what I had tasted even though I had missed two of the big ones: Arizona Wilderness and Modern Times.
With that said, there were some breweries that stood out to me and while I am sure the list is drastically different from person to person, there were a few consistent standouts, too.
Wren House has been brewing some great beer lately and today was no different. I think they had a line the entire event and several times it was the longest line in the building. Their name came up more than any other when talking with other event-goers … beer drinkers? Nerds? Drunks? Every type of beer drinker was represented. Back to Wren House, word of their KitKat quickly spread and it was no joke at 17%! I didn’t get to try it, instead I had the Mango Dankworth at a meager 8%. It was exceptionally good and I didn’t think they could out do the Dankworth with Galaxy.
I apologize if I don’t get the names of the beers right; I didn’t take notes. I was there to try craft beer not do homework. Besides I don’t really do beer reviews. Moving on …
Huss might have had my favorite beer, “Juicy Fruit”, it was amazing! A pool worthy beer and that’s high praise in Arizona. Huss was also the only place I visited twice. going back for the BA Strawberry Rhubarb. This was also tasty although nowhere near the Juicy Fruit.
Boarderlands was another brewery that received high praise. Sadly, I didn’t get around to visit them. They fell victim to the, “I’ll go there next” curse. I was really sad when I found out I missed their German Chocolate Stout.
I got a taste of Crooked Tooth for the first time – a hibiscus sour that was powerfully good. There is something about that hibiscus flavor that’s hard to beat.
B.R.I., That Brewery, MRB, Goldwater, Prison Hill and many others had strong offerings, too. I can’t go in to them all and I’ve already done an injustice to the ones I did mention. So, this where the story ends. All the beers were great and everyone had a good time…. but there was a bad beer and it breaks my heart because I am a complete fan boy of this brewery.
I had the BA Shot in the Arm from McFate Brewing Company, it was a solid offering. However, my wife had the BA Golden sour and she didn’t like it one bit. When my wife wants to get rid of a beer her natural response is to give it to me and usually it’s not as bad as she says and I get a free beer. This on the other hand was not good, I’m sure someone liked it but not me. It had a vinegar like taste, almost like mustard, which was potent strong and overpowering. I was disappointed.
Overall RW&W was a strong and well-organized event. If you didn’t go I strongly suggest you get your tickets for next year. The food alone was worth the price of admission. There were some free offerings and food for purchase, too. Any designated drivers had plenty to eat and could keep themselves occupied when not people watching.
Speaking of people watching, I only saw a few people teetering on the brink of oblivion. A few heads on tables towards the end of the day and one person had to stop and look for the ground and hold it until it stopped moving … nothing too crazy. Considering the strength of the beer and the fact that there was a rock wall, it was incident free as far as I could tell. There were a few beer tickets scattered on the ground and several sheets with a least half the tickets still attached. It was easy to tell the people who were just there to get drunk because those guys burned out mid-way through. Could that be where all those unused tickets came from?
Real Wild and Woody has the potential to be the premier craft beer event in the country. Arizona is building a great profile of breweries and beer and it’s been long enough now that a select few are starting to separate themselves and entering an elite status. Backed by the great people in the guild and others like the mayor of phoenix, who made an appearance and all the breweries and volunteers there is no reason that this event can’t be the jewel of the craft brewing world. What better bragging rights can there be then to have people chomping at the bit to come to Arizona in the height of summer.