Featuring Barrio Brewing Co., Nimbus Brewing Company and the Tucson Padres.
A coast-to-coast, 10-day beer and baseball trip along historic route 66! The Mother Road! The expanses of the Southwest! Unending plains through the heartland! Oh, what a great adventure… it would have been if Josh could have gotten a couple more days off from work. Instead, this year we had to settle for a long weekend in Arizona and New Mexico. We still made the best of it, though, managing to work in four games, three breweries and 1,700 miles into four days.
Leaving on a Wednesday night in mid-July, we made it to Tucson in the wee hours of Thursday. No time to sleep in, though, we had beer to drink. We first drove to the Borderlands Brewing Co. but this newbie brewpub downtown was closed, even though we could smell boiling wort wafting from inside. Luckily, Google pointed us to the nearby Barrio Brewing Co. just outside of downtown Tucson. It was a long squat warehouse in an industrial district. Inside, it was a dark, neon-lit roadhouse; not your typical, scrubbed-clean cheerful brewpub.
Whatever with the ambiance, the most important thing was that the Barrio sampler had a mammoth 10 beers. The selections ranged from the fruity Taylor Jayne’s Raspberry Ale to the 10% ABV English double-strong ale NCAAle. You may be thinking, “NCAAle? Who would name their beer after the f’n NCAA?” Hey, you’re just like me! I asked the very friendly bartender the story behind the name. He explained that Barrio produces the beer for their sister brewpub adjacent to the nearby University of Arizona campus named Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co. NCAAle is brewed especially for Wildcats basketball fans for, uh, fortification before walking over to the McKale Center for a game.
Our amiable bartender Ian then gave us a history lesson explaining that Barrio is housed in an old meat packing plant. Cow carcasses would roll up on the nearby train tracks and be chopped up right where beer is being produced now. He also offered us a couple logo pint glasses to take home. Bonus points, Barrio! Our favorites here were the fluffy, vanilla-y Tucson Blonde, the delicious, hearty Nolan Porter and the aforementioned NCAAle.
We drove a short distance to Nimbus Brewing Company. Nimbus is a more-established brewery – the largest based in Arizona – with its trademark monkey grinning smugly on all its offerings. Interestingly, Nimbus almost exclusively produces ales because the hard Tucson ground water is best suited to this style. Indeed, Burton upon Trent in central England, famous for ale brewers like Bass, has similar water.
This was my second time at Nimbus, so Josh and I just had a couple beers in Nimbus’s spacious warehouse. My favorite here is the Old Monkeyshine – the brewery’s take on an English strong ale. For a malt-head like me, this award-winning beer made with 7 types of malt (and brown sugar) is heaven. Another Nimbus brew for malt-lovers to try is the Nut Brown Ale, a bit lighter take on its English cousin.
Nimbus was soon filled with office workers grabbing a beer before heading home. We also saw one of the bartenders end her shift, disappear in back for a few minutes, then saddle up to the bar. That’s a sure sign of a good brewery. Josh and I passed time before the game playing pool at one of the brewery’s two tables.
We stayed inside as long as possible because even at 7:05pm when the first pitch was thrown at the Tucson Padres game, it was hovering right around 100 degrees. Although this AAA-affiliate of the Padres has a pretty uninteresting stadium, the minor league milieu was up-to-par. The portly friar mascot – named Kino Bambino – ran wacky contests in between innings and a banda group blasted music down the right field line right next to a taco truck that had pulled into the stadium. Getting in the spirit, Josh and I munched on a few tacos as we watched the game.
Let me stop here to give a few words of advice. If you drink a lot of beer, don’t hydrate, sit in 100 degree heat for 3 hours and you’re anything like me, you will get a pounding migraine. The four-and-a-half-hour drive that night from Tucson to Las Cruces was horrendous as I tried to ease the pain so I could take over driving from Josh as he nearly fell asleep at the wheel. Somehow, we made it to our motel just before dawn.
And that was just day one of the trip. Stay tuned next for the next installment of Beer, Brett and Baseball in the Southwest where we nearly take a wrong turn into Mexico, sample the craft beer culture in southern New Mexico (spoiler: it’s virtually non-existent) and drink some brews in a post office.