#31 Kilt Lifter: Four Peaks Brewing, Tempe, Arizona
State: Arizona, the last territory. Best known for the massive Sonoran cactus forest and the giant reddish hole along its northern edge, half of the youngest state of the lower 48 is actually pine forest, topped off by 12,600-foot Humphrey's Peak. 1,000 feet taller than Mt. Hood, the peak has honest-to-God tundra above the treeline. Arizona was home to the author of this post from October 2007 to October 2011.
Brewery: Tempe’s Four Peaks Brewing, the largest in the state, which is housed in a former creamery a few miles from the state’s third-most prestigious university. Like Wisconsin’s New Glarus, Four Peaks clawed its way into being one of the largest breweries in the country without distributing a drop out of state, though there are plans afoot to colonize sorely underserved Las Vegas.
Beer: Kilt Lifter, a Scottish style ale that struck our tasters as “initially good, then funky” with “sugared dry fruits” and “a very creamy body.” Several tasters noted the thick body, perhaps surprising given it’s from a city where the temperature stays above 100 degrees for a good portion of the year.
Difficulty of obtaining in Oregon: Difficult, as it’s only distributed in Arizona.
Average Score: 62.0
Liveability is relative. When I moved to Mesa, Arizona, it felt like I’d arrived in Beverly Hills. After a few years in a small Southern town that smelled like dog food and proudly proclaimed itself our nation’s Turkey Capital, an Arizona apartment with a pool and a lime tree was making it. I sped down six-lane surface streets lined with palm trees feeling much like Axl Rose getting off that bus with a blade of grass hanging out of his mouth.
I still remember my first Four Peaks Kilt Lifter, sipped at a birthday party for my to-be-friend Noah while I was in town interviewing for the job that moved me out there. “Shit, this is good beer!” I remember thinking. “Way better than Cally’s Smokin’ Scottish!”
But contrast that with an account of the founding of Arizona from one of my former colleagues at Phoenix New Times, who’d moved there from Los Angeles.
“Imagine the rednecks who founded this state,” he said. “They knew California—paradise—was just a few more miles across this fucking desert and they stopped here—in hell—rather than go the rest of the way to the beautiful green hills and the beach. ‘Oh, no, it’s too crowded over by the ocean! We’d rather just live in fucking sandland.’”
We’re both right, of course. Arizona is both a charming and deeply flawed place. It has some great things, but they’re sandwiched between CPK and a Sprint wireless store manned by a guy with slick hair, always a 15-minute drive away. It’s a great place to vacation—for a weekend or a couple years—but it’s sure nice to feel the rain again.
Four Peaks is a towering presence in Phoenix. Both the crackle-topped mountain, which stands 7,000 feet above the grid and is covered in snow during Cactus League games, and the brewery, which was the original engine for what’s becoming a pretty cool little scene. The massive tasting room is one of the best bars in the state, and it pours many of its best beers. Four Peak’s Hop Knot actually won a medal in the GABF’s toughest category, Strong American Pale Ale, last year. That’s an award any Portland brewery would be proud to take.
But consider that Arizona is a western state with a population not-quite-but-almost double that of Oregon, and that the state’s have almost identical per-capita income. Why isn’t there more awesome craft beer in Arizona?
I spent four years wondering that—about everything. Why didn’t they put the state’s giant city someplace a little higher and cooler? Why does everything awesome downtown close? Why aren’t there more good bands? Why the fuck does anyone vote for Joe Arpaio? This becomes frustrating.
This is probably why so many Zonies move to Portland. I doubt anyone here has noticed, as people move here from everywhere all the time, but moving to Portland has actually become an inside joke among the approximatly 37 “arty” people in Phoenix. A dude named J.D. Stooks even a song about it (below).
Despite Arizona being vast, and Phoenix being the sixth largest city in the nation, the community of people doing anything interesting there is tiny. It’s possible to know absolutely everyone important in the entire state—something totally unthinkable in Oregon. That’s comforting, if not inspiring.
Likewise, it’s possible to have every beer brewed commercially in the state—something unimaginable here. Grab a Kilt Lifter and you’ll have one of the best.