Don't forget to bring your Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport
Flagstaff has a relatively small population of 75,000 (plus about 25,000 seasonal college students) in proportion to its number of breweries. There are currently eight and the city has been described as the Craft Beer Capital of Arizona due to its brewing history and the quality and uniqueness of its breweries.
Beaver Street Brewing
The first to christen the craft beer scene was Beaver Street Brewing, named for the city’s main drag it’s situated on. The 10-barrel brewpub opened in 1994 after Winnie and Evan Hanseth, a system analyst and mechanical engineer, decided to come back to their Flagstaff home and open the brewpub in a 100-plus-year-old former grocery store.
The brewery remains a family business, as Hanseth’s daughter Kelly is now marketing manager and an integral cog in the operation. She relates that she grew up in the brewery and remembers having her 7th birthday party there just weeks before its opening. She also worked at Beaver Street throughout high school and returned after college to work full-time in the family business.
The brewery has enjoyed much success and acclaim, having won more than a dozen Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medals, which is a testament to their commitment to creating beers brewed to style. There’s also a full-service restaurant, serving a mix of street tacos, Bavarian soft pretzels, salads, wood-fired pizza and sandwiches.
Favorite beers here include the Oatmeal Stout, Del Sol (a Mexican-style lager), and the flagship beer, Railhead Red Amber Ale, which became so popular that it led to the opening of a larger additional brewery in 2010.
Twice the size of Beaver Street, Lumberyard Brewing is a 20-barrel production brewhouse, producing enough to allow for distribution throughout the entire state of Arizona. It’s located on San Francisco St., just a few blocks from Beaver Street, and is named in homage to being set in an old lumberyard building, which was one of the last standing buildings of the city’s lumber era. Built in the early 1900s, the formerly abandoned building was rehabbed, but the original red brick walls and some of the wood are still in place.
Railhead Red is offered here, but otherwise the beers are distinctive to this brewery, with all-the-time beers pouring including Red Rock Raspberry Ale, Humphrey’s German-style Hefe and Flagstaff IPA. There’s also a restaurant, with a menu specializing in wings, salads, more than a dozen burgers and five varieties of mac and cheese. Lumberyard is the usual meeting place of the Ladies Beer Club, which meets quarterly to enjoy events such as beer and chocolate pairings, arts and crafts and beer potluck dinners (beer must be an ingredient).
In 1994, not long after Beaver Street, another of the city’s original breweries, Flagstaff Brewery, debuted. It is now a local and tourist favorite. Known by locals as Flagbrew, it is a small-batch brewery with a down-home vibe, a casual, friendly atmosphere, local music most nights and a nice year-round patio. Its best-known beer is the Blackbird Porter, with roast and chocolate notes backed up by a firm hop character.
There’s a kitchen offering comfort favorites such as poutine, pulled pork sliders and several burger options. Also worth mentioning is the brewpub’s sizeable whiskey collection, which is reputed to be one of the largest in Flagstaff. It’s conveniently located across the street from the Flagstaff Visitor Center on Route 66 between Beaver St. and San Francisco St. in the heart of downtown.
Grand Canyon Brewing
The Grand Canyon Brewing taproom is the new kid on the block, having opened in 2019. Located on S. Milton Rd. near the NAU campus, it’s the first brewery you’ll encounter as you come into town off of the I-40/I-17 freeways. It’s an extension of the company’s 120-barrel production brewery in Williams, 30 miles outside of town.
While the brewery’s popular Sunset Amber Ale and Hop Canyon IPA are offered here, this very small five-barrel brewhouse allows head brewer Karry Hovig to get creative with small batch brews. He specializes in specialty and experimental beers, which are poured exclusively at this location.
During our visit, I was impressed with his rich, malty, full-flavored high ABV beers, including the 12 percent Lava Falls Belgian Quadruple; the 9.5 percent barrel-aged Mule Train Imperial Stout; and the 10 percent Wee Heavy. While there, you’d be wise to fill up your stomach as well, as there is a scratch kitchen serving calzones, flatbreads, burgers and specials like lobster bisque and the tri-tip steak sandwich that was the most scrumptious I had during my stay in Flagstaff.
Mother Road Brewing
Famed writer John Steinbeck dubbed Route 66 the Mother Road in his classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” and the original Mother Road location is situated right on the original 1926 portion of the historic road it was named for. While a larger production brewery was added a mile and a half away on Butler Rd. in 2018, the smaller facility, set in an old 1920s repurposed commercial laundry building, opened in 2011. Beer is still brewed here, with a small seven-barrel pilot system.
Naturally, most of the beers are named after roads, travels or motor themes. One of the best-sellers is the flagship Tower Station IPA, which is the highest-selling IPA in Arizona brewed by an independently owned brewery. Other standouts I enjoyed were the Twilight Drive-in Fruited Ale, which was made with real blackberries and blueberries; and Stranded Winter Ale, which was made with lots of spices including star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg.
It’s admirable that this brewery supports local Arizona charities and organizations that help conserve and protect the state’s unique species of wildlife. A portion of the sales from its Conserve and Protect Golden Ale are donated to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to help with the on-the-ground conservation of over 800 species. A cool place to enjoy your brew is the taproom’s Route 66 Lounge, complete with comfortable chairs, a small library and board games.
Located slightly off the beaten path in a small business park on the east side of Flagstaff, a mile and a half from downtown, Wanderlust opened in 2012 and has distinguished itself for its specialty in Belgian and German-inspired beers, as well as modern twists on classic American styles. Founder Nathan Friedman named his small three-barrel brewery after his love for traveling and exploring the world.
The logo of a hobo with a knapsack is symbolic of his past travels and he claims some of the beers he brews evoke those memories and, in turn, the people he made them with. The best seller is the 928 Local (named for Flagstaff’s area code), an 8 percent wild-fermented farmhouse ale made with local honey and yeast cultured from local apple skins.
Another local favorite is the Pan American Stout, which contains Mexican vanilla and locally roasted coffee. If you like drinking with your dog or child, the open patio will be an ideal place to do so, as both are welcome.
Dark Sky Brewing
Dark Sky’s name celebrates Flagstaff’s designation as the first International Dark Sky City. Situated in the heart of downtown at the corner of Birch and Beaver St., since opening in 2014, the brewery has produced hundreds of experimental recipes and strives to introduce three new craft beers each week. The small five-barrel brewery prides itself on crafting a beer selection that is as unique as every star, meteor and comet seen from its backyard.
It appears they are doing exactly that with an assortment of beer styles almost as varied as the heavenly objects, such as the 13 percent Raise the Dead English-style Barleywine (aged for 18 months in Basil Hayden Bourbon and Templeton Whiskey barrels), the 10.6 percent Turbulence: Dirty Chai Imperial Stout (conditioned on Brazilian coffee chai tea), and the Peach Emoji Wild Ale (aged for 12 months in gin barrels and with additions of White Peach white tea and Mango Paradise green tea).
After a recent expansion, there are now three unique environments: the original Beaver St. taproom and Pizzicletta kitchen; the new Atmosphere Kitchen and Taproom and a large outdoor beer garden patio with rentable spaces for private events. Pizzicletta is a connected but separate business that serves a health-conscious menu of wood-fired pizza, starters and house-made gelato, while the Atmosphere Kitchen specializes in shareable pub grub such as Duck Leg Confit Cassoulet, Salt and Vinegar Cheese Curds and Fried Broccolini.
Founded in 2013, Historic Brewing’s first location remains Flagstaff’s easternmost brewery on the outskirts of town and this production brewery is outfitted with 16 taps and is where all of the beer making takes place. There are also two additional taprooms, one in Williams and one on S. San Francisco St. in downtown Flagstaff.
The Barrel + Bottle House downtown location pours the same beers as the brewery and is actually two concepts under one roof: a cocktail bar and a taproom with a full-service restaurant. Food items offered include the crowd favorites Fried Pickles and Fried Brussels Sprouts; as well as an assortment of burgers, sandwiches and plant-based menu items such as Jackfruit Tacos and Beyond Meat patty burgers.
Head Brewer Zach Stoll says he was drawn to Flagstaff for its nature and slow pace of life. He brews a broad range of beer styles and says, “Flagstaff is a tourist town, so we want to have a beer for everybody.” Some of the brews have fun, quirky names like Meet Me at the Bar Saison and Pie Hole Porter, a year-round fan favorite flavored with cherry and vanilla that drinks like a cherry cordial.
Another crowd pleaser is the Great American Beer Festival’s gold medal-winning Salt River Lager with salt and lime, akin to what a margarita might be like if it were a beer. Historic has done pretty well for itself, so well that it now provides all of the food and beer at the Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams.
Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport
A fun way to earn a free pint glass while checking out the city’s breweries is by printing out a copy of the Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport or picking one up at one of the two Flagstaff Visitors Bureau locations. Simply visit at least five of the city’s breweries, have your passport stamped at each (no purchase required), and then trade in your completed passport for a commemorative souvenir pint glass at one of the two Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau locations. The Passport includes a listing and map of all of the local breweries and the two Visitor centers.
Note: My visit to Flagstaff was part of a media tour hosted by Discover Flagstaff. Also joining me were my friends Stu Haack and Derek Krueger, hosts of the Beer Freaks podcast. To experience the podcast and video of their interviews with several of the brewers, owners and GMs talking about beer, haunted Flagstaff and Pluto’s planetary status, click here.
Find more ways to explore Flagstaff’s unique attractions.