October 11, 2010

Format matters: Sharable bottles on the table equals more share for our breweries.

Available here in big bottles, but not brewed here!
It occurred to me the other day that Phoenix lacks Arizona  brewed high strength beer in large format bottles. A few examples come to mind of course. Papago has Oude Zuipers, a Belgian Golden,  in an attractive cage and cork 750mL bottle  and there is Sonoran with its Inebriator and Old Saguaro. Zuipers is a one off contract brew from Van Steenburgen. Outside of Tops Liquor and select retail locations, I can only recall seeing Inebriator on tap at The Main Ingredient (thoughtfully paired with ice cream).

Growlers. we love ya, but bring on the bombers!
A quick review of the production breweries reveals that most do not use either 750mL or 22oz bottles, settling on 12oz bottles or cans. Newest on the block, Sleepy Dog, does not bottle at all.  Their PET bottle system  (no pun it refers to the bottling medium) is merely a growler replacement. Relative newcomer Old World Brewing has settled on the 22oz bomber format, but their Dark Knight Porter comes in at 6.5%, the Red at 6.7%. SanTan Brewing seems to have made headway with cans and has leapfrogged over bottling.  Four Peaks, the production leader in Arizona, began with 12oz bottles and has augmented with cans more recently.  There has always been talk of bottling Four Peaks Hopsquatch in 22oz bombers. A recent conversation with Ted Golden, Beer Traffic Controller, confirmed that we are 5 weeks away from seeing that beer, Double Knot and on other rotating beer, hit the market.
Statewide, more established breweries like Oak Creek, have 12oz bottles and newer establishments like Lumberyard and Grand Canyon seem to be focusing on cans. It should be mentioned that all of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild breweries dispense their beer in kegs to some degree.  This even includes chains such as BJs, Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom.

From Chicago with love.
So what is the significance of the lack of locally produced higher gravity large format beers in Phoenix? It means breweries from all across the nation and more specifically Southern California and Denver have an open market here in the valley. It often comes as a surprise to many in Chicago, that we regularly get beer from Goose Island, to those on in the Northeast, that we have plenty of Rock Art Vermonster, to those in San Diego, it's as if they traded our invasive tourists for bombers.

High strength beer in bombers travels here pretty well, perhaps not as well as cans, but there is still a wrong-headed perception about cans. A good chuck of cooler space in a fine beer bar like Papago or the Yucca Tap room has been ceded to out of state craft and Belgian beers. Shelf space too, in smaller places like T's and big boxes like Total Wine and Bevmo is a beer travelogue of everywhere Zonies like to travel in July and August.

The bomber format has a romantic traditional image and even more-so, the 750mL caged bottle. It's eminently sharable and perhaps more importantly, it looks like it belongs on the dinner table.   If we've learned anything from the Open Letter to Restaurants Participating in AZ Restaurant Week, it's that restaurants are either uneducated or are unwilling to treat beer as an equal partner on their menus.  Many do not have draft beer and limit bottles to those that turn over predictably even if those selections make little sense in terms of enhancing the dining experience.

It's this type of push and pull that encapsulates the growth problem that our Phoenix Beer Culture faces. The easy answer for you and I is to demand more from our restaurants and breweries and reward thoughtful and passionate establishments.  Choose local if you can, but always choose smartly.


  1. I was able to get bombers of Lumberyard Sawtooth series beers at their pub in Flag...

  2. Not being the ultra sociable bar going type, I've never experienced the wonder of the big bottle. I have always seen them as a necessity if I want good beer.
    This year at GABF, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Rob and David from Beer PHXation and some others. The large format bottles went great on the table and proved to be a great way to share the goodness!
    Being from Colorado, we have no shortage, but I do hope that Phoenix area brewers see this as a missed opportunity.