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Four Peaks Brewing Co.

s faithful readers of our humble publication will have no doubt ascertained by now, many on the staff here at the Goliard hail from Tucson and/or are partial to the University of Arizona as far as collegiate sports go. And as anyone familiar with that situation will tell you, this would also suggest that we have never had a lot of time for anything Tempe. Tempe is the home of Arizona State University you see, which for reasons that admittedly seem rather sophomoric now, we rabidly despised and deplored throughout our college years. We loathed the place, as if it were literally the devil's training ground that it figuratively claims to be. A bunch of us young goliards in fact, while passing through on a beer swilling road trip that had taken us from Tucson to Vegas and back down through Flagstaff one time, felt the need to exit the highway in Phoenix only long enough to climb the chain link fence at Sun Devil Stadium and collectively urinate on the fifty yard line. As the security flashlights danced and jackboots trampled in pursuit, we scrambled back over the barbed wire leaving part of our flesh as sacrifice and chanting "U of A, U of A" at the top of our lungs. Popping another round of road brew while speeding away towards the I-10 on ramp and bleeding on the upholstery of someone's mom's Lebaron, we couldn't have been more proud. 

Another problem with Tempe was that it was in the middle of Phoenix which was akin to Hell in our minds and a place that, other than when we were trying to knock the crap out of their corresponding hockey or football players and fondle their women, we had no reason to feel any closeness to. It always felt good, no matter how hot and uninhabitable it seemed in Tucson, to tell ourselves that it was likely ten degrees hotter up the road and those poor bastards were faced with even more traffic, cement, pollution, crime, sprawl, and general mayhem than we in the Old Pueblo had to endure. That made them suckers in our eyes and we used to mock and laugh at them any chance we got. It helped that we beat them in nearly all sports almost every year we were in school of course and we didn't miss a chance to remind anyone claiming allegiance to the former Tempe Normal School of that fact. Call it healthy in-state rivalry, call it an us vee them mentality, call it the need to feel like the place you are, no matter how ludicrous and charmless it feels at times, is not as bad as another place which is more worthy of your scorn. Whatever the case, suffice it to say that many of us Goliards wouldn't have been caught dead relaxing and enjoying ourselves within or near the boundaries of ASU back in the day. There are those on staff who still refuse to go anywhere near the place.

These days however, a few of us have decided to bury the hatchet of school spirit and have actually come to appreciate Tempe and what it has to offer. It is only about ninety minutes away for one thing, and offers a change of scenery, a greater selection of food and drink, and a chance to hang out where nobody knows your name. It is hotter than Tucson to be sure, but we usually stay at a cheap hotel right near campus, wake up early and hit some balls at Karsten Golf Course, grab a coffee and a paper somewhere on Mill Ave, and stroll about the grounds before most of the hard partying little scum devils are even out of bed. Grab a little lunch and a cold ale somewhere and then, like any intelligent denizen of the desert, sleep away the afternoon until it is cool enough to venture out again. There are some good bars in the area as well and usually a world class athletic event of some kind or another going on nearby somewhere, often within walking distance. We headed up there recently to catch some pre-season football and found the Four Peaks Brewing Co and another reason to make the trip up I-10. 

Four Peaks, named after Maricopa county's tectonic quartet of the same name (left), is somewhat off the beaten path in that it isn't on one of the main drags like Mill or University. It is however, within stumbling distance of campus down the way a bit on 8th Street which is an industrial sort of street running along Rio Salado. Like so many of the best brewpubs around the country, it is housed in a huge former warehouse style building, in this case a 111-year-old former ice factory and creamery, and the red bricks and wood ceilings may seem out of place in the desert conceptually but feel immediately welcoming to a connoisseur of the genre. The ceilings are sky high and the smells of brewing permeate. TV's abound but are not interruptive and both outside and inside seating is available. A thirsty goliard can plop at the bar, find a big table, a booth, a stool, a chair, an umbrella, or an old beer barrel and order up a pint. We strolled in on our initial visit, stood admiring the cavernous qualities and the layout and eventually found a seat that, despite being out of the way and in the back, immediately caught the attention of a couple different waitresses. Excellent, we thought, as we perused the proffered menu, if the beer is any good we may have found a home away from home.

Unfortunately, the beer is not the best thing about Four Peaks. As faithful readers know, we tend to favor hoppy pale ales here at the Goliard and were excited to see something called Hopsquatch on the menu as well as another called Hop Knot. We tried the Hop Knot first which was described on the menu as follows:

 This beer does not fall into any one particular style. It has the color of a Golden ale, the hop aroma of an IPA and the bitterness of an American Pale Ale. It is slightly darker than the Fool's Gold but lighter than the 8th Street Ale with a strong hoppy flavor. Due to the overwhelming feedback, Hop Knot Ale is our fourth flagship brand that we will distribute both in bottles and kegs.

We can't really disagree with any of this and the beer was definitely drinkable. It just wasn't all that hoppy. It had a good smooth taste but lacked the bite of a true hoppy draught provided by many of the coastal brewery's that we have come to love. We've often wondered if it doesn't have something to do with the ocean air, like in the baking of a good sourdough bread, that might make it easier to obtain the piquant hoppy bite nearer the coast but we've since come across enough landlocked breweries with passable hoppy swill to realize that it must be in the brewing. Hoppiness is all relative of course and we suppose it is possible that our palates have reached the point where only the most hoppy of hoppies will suffice.

Our spirits were buoyed however when we noticed that there was also something called a RAJ IPA further down the menu which was described thusly:

A strong India Pale Ale that is marked by intense hop flavor and high hop bitterness. This style of beer needed the high hop and alcohol to survive the trip around Africa. Medium to light body and very bitter.

Again, the beer was smooth and highly drinkable but a long way from hoppy and bitter. It tasted good going down but just didn't have that satisfying aftersmack of bitter that lingers on the tongue and makes for the best IPA's. It was a little bit lighter in color than many of the better pales as well with something of a creamy feel to it. Like the Hop Knot, it was the kind of brew you wouldn't mind having a few pitchers of on the table if you had just come in from a sporting event with a bunch of mates but not something you would sit and savor and chew over in pint form while pondering all things great and small.

We tried a hefeweizen next which was very good and had that smoky flavor that distinguishes the traditional hefe's in the Bavarian style from the wheat beers that have infiltrated the market lately. It seemed like one of the better hefeweizens that we have sampled but since we usually drink pales and bitters it may be that many hefe's are coming around and we just haven't noticed. Whatever the case, this one tasted good.

The good news about Four Peaks, along with the comfortable space, was that all the food we tried was outstanding. Often brew pub food is just that but it seems like the cooks at Four Peaks are going the extra mile to offer up some tasty grub. First we tried the Thai Hummus which was a spicy blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, Thai sauce and olive oil served with a grilled pita bread that was top notch. The hummus was runny and spicy and not traditional exactly but incredibly tasty and the warm pita bread was delicious by itself.

Next we dug into a spinach salad with blackened salmon atop it. The salmon was cooked perfectly, the dressings homemade, and all portions large and fresh. One of us had a pizza which was tasty and unique, while another tried a French Dip which arrived large and in charge with plenty of au jus. For desert, a homemade slice of ice cream cake drizzled with chocolate hit the spot for those that weren't sampling the Oatmeal Stout. Everything was proclaimed excellent and we eventually waddled back into the street in time to make it over to the game.

All in all, the food part of the experience was about as good as it gets in a brew pub type setting. And the surroundings, despite being in enemy territory, were pleasant, the service was friendly and prompt to go with the diverse and creative menu. And the beer wasn't bad. We'll just have to find a way to bottle up some hops and bring them along to add sort of like we often do with hot sauces. But Four Peaks had a good feel to it and, especially on a hot summer day perhaps because of it's former life as an ice house and creamery, the inside was cool yet didn't have that fake air conditioned quality but rather was sort of a damp dark refreshing and breezy. All this boils down to mean that if you find yourself with a little time and are nearby Tempe Normal, we highly recommend the place. 

Four Peaks Brewing Co.
1340 East 8th Street #104 
Tempe, Arizona 85281 
(480) 303-9967

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