Kevin Camp

Beers of the Pac-12: Preseason Tour


The grill is fired up, the cornhole boards are out, tables have been aligned with food, and the TVs are tuned to the slate of afternoon games.  Perhaps you are on the fairway at Brookside Golf in Pasadena, in that litter box off Speedway in the town down south, sail-gating on Lake Union in Seattle, or out in the grass of Lot 4 in Tempe.  The only thing left to do, crack open that ice cold adult beverage and do it with the confidence of a preseason Heisman candidate.

As the 2016 college football season is just a week away, the magazine racks are still littered with team previews and championship forecasts.  Despite release dates in July and comprised of opinions based mostly on a previous season or spring camp highlights, fans from coast to coast devour the content.  However, upon completion of the first full week of games, these preview editions can become merely a reference to what might have been.

Introducing an all new college football preview piece that will satisfy the thirst of ASU and Pac-12 football fans everywhere, 21 and older.  We scoured the Pac-12 cities and spoke with Sun Devil fans and alumni to gain their insight on a local beer to enjoy while traveling to see the Sun Devils play.  One different beer for each Pac-12 team to help you open up something local, something devoid of a multi-million dollar ad campaign, something that will wow the friends not lucky enough to make the trip.  Paying homage to the popular ASU Devils Den podcast segment, ‘what we’re drinking’.  This is the Beers of the Pac-12 preseason edition.

Beers of the North Division

The dominance that the Pac-12 North has displayed on the football field is a good segue to the region’s significant contributions to craft beer.  Pac-12 travel hub Portland Oregon is home to 58 breweries, more than any other city in the world.  The distinct flavor of the cascade hops that are used in so many great brews were founded in the mountain range that bears its name.  And the roots of craft beer can be traced to Northern California’s New Albion Brewing Company, widely recognized as the first American craft beer brewery.  It’s with great respect to the dominance on the field and in the taprooms that the Pac-12 North gets first billing.

As plans are being made to watch the Sun Devils take on the Huskies this year in Seattle, make sure to find the Big Time Brewery & Alehouse and grab their Bhagwan’s Best IPA.  As Patrick McPherson, a Sun Devil alum and Certified Cicerone® and Publican of Manito Tap House & The Blackbird, in Spokane, WA says, “Big Time opened in 1988, making it one of the oldest breweries in Seattle.  Bhagwan’s Best IPA is their original IPA and still one of their best sellers.”  With an ABV of just 5.0% this is a perfect pregame IPA to kickoff a day of football on the waterfront.

Staying in the Northwest, but heading east some 280 miles is Pullman, home of the Washington State Cougars.  According to Patrick, a visit to Paradise Creek Brewery for their Huckleberry Pucker Shandy is the must drink beer in Pullman.  Our beer expert from Washington adds, “They take a kettle-soured Berliner Weisse and add Northwest-grown huckleberries to create this refreshing crowd favorite.  As the name implies, it will make you pucker and it clocks in at only 4.6% making it a very sessionable beer.”  While ASU gets the Cougars at home this year, put this suggestion in the craft beer bucket list for the next trip to Pullman.

Fall in Eugene is on the Devils schedule this year as they take on the Ducks the weekend before Halloween.  While visiting Tracktown USA, ASU alum Brad Unruh suggests finding Boneyard Beer Company’s Notorious Triple IPA.  Available only on draft and to the best of his knowledge only distributed in Oregon. Brad says, “Boneyard Notorious is better than Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger and has been awarded the top beer at The Upper Lip’s Triple Blind Taste Test fest in 2016.”  Since Notorious is a Triple IPA, clocking in with an ABV of 12%, we suggest you share this with your fellow adult Sun Devil fans.

Once the Oregon State Beavers show back up on the Sun Devils’ schedule next year, or cheat this year because travel plans dictate a flight to and from Portland.   Brad suggests picking up a few bottles of his self proclaimed “best beer in Oregon and best beer on the planet, Breakside IPA.”   With eight different Gold medal or 1st place awards to its credit, Breakside IPA by Breakside Brewery is a must have beer while visiting the Beaver state.

Wrapping up the Pac-12 North first with a stop at the home of the California Golden Bears, Berkeley California.  A little snag was encountered with this area, as a beer drinking Sun Devil fan was a bit hard to find (blame it on the wineries).  A big Devils Den thank you to ASU alum Carter Tappan for getting Jeremy Joice, a Long Beach State alum on the horn.  In suggesting Jeremy as the guy, Carter told me, “this dude made it his mission to drink a different craft every day for a year.” As for the one beer to drink from Berkeley, Jeremy says, “Berkeley is loaded with great breweries.  The brewery that tops the list is named The Rare Barrel.  They specialize in sour beers and have won multiple awards for their sours.  The most decorated of their beers is Ensorcelled, which is a dark sour beer aged in oak barrels with raspberries.”  While sour beers may not be mainstream yet, The Rare Barrel folks hope it will be by the time the Devils travel to back up to Berkeley.

Time to think big Sun Devil fans, as this next suggestion from Jeremy can only happen this year if Devils win the South and play in the Pac-12 Championship game.  With that said, Jeremy’s choice for the best beer in or around the home of the Stanford Cardinal is the Vanilla Rye barrel aged constrictor by Alpha Acid.  According to Jeremy, “Alpha Acid is a young up and coming brewery in Belmont California that was founded in 2014.  They focus on unique small batch brews that involve lots of experimentation.”  So if a young and inexperienced team from Tempe makes it to Levi’s Stadium on December 2nd, all Sun Devil fans should get to this up and coming brewery in neighboring Belmont.

Beers of the South Division

On the field the Pac-12 South could be described as inconsistent, often over hyped, muddled, and home of the fairest weathered of fans.  However, the taprooms and breweries of the Southwest and Southern California have begun to catch up on their neighbors to the North.  As with most ebbs and flows, the Pac-12 South is due for a period of strength over their northern division foes on the football field.  When it comes to craft beer, continued population growth will help account for new ideas as Southern California and the Southwest continue to make their own waves.

A list of the most over-hyped teams in college football would most likely include either school in Southern California.  Residing in one of the most fertile recruiting spots in the nation, it’s hard to argue that Southern Cal and UCLA have done less with more in the past eight years.  This stance is vastly different than that of the craft beer scene, which is thriving in Southern California.  When taking into consideration the significant number of people growing up in SoCal, and the transplants from various parts of the country, a melting pot of ideas and tastes are born.  Since a trip to the Coliseum to face the Trojans is first up, the Los Angeles area gets things started.  According to ASU alum Allison Dean,  “Three Weavers Brewery in Inglewood with their Seafarer Kolsch is the best beer. It’s light, easy drinking, lower in alcohol content (so you can drink many of them while tailgating) and the beer has a ton of great flavor.”

Moving from USC to UCLA things were looked at a little differently. This area accounts for more than one beer, but all from the same brewery.  ASU alum Beth Ryan provided the candidate, and upon researching the brewery, it was an easy choice.  Fireman’s Brew Beverages was founded by two California firefighters after fighting a brush fire.  The three choices are a blonde (Pilsner), a brunette (German Double Bock), and a redhead (Red Amber Ale).  According to their website, these three brews are for off duty only, and proceeds from every brew sold go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  It’s also hard to argue with this choice given their two slogans, “Extinguish Your Thirst” and “Ignite The Party”.

Since their start in the league six years ago, Colorado has been the doormat of the division on the gridiron.  But unlike their football team, the beer choices in Colorado are the creme de la creme of the Pac-12 South.  While Portland may have the most breweries, cities like Fort Collins, Boulder, Loveland, Longmont, and Denver help give the state of Colorado four of the top 50 breweries in the nation.  For this stop on the whirlwind tour of beers around the Pac-12 I enlisted the help of the one and only Mariachi Tillman (aka: Doug Stinton).  According to Doug, the one brewery to hit this September in Boulder is Avery Brewing Company.  “They brew some very excellent high ABV barrel aged brews, and the food at the brewery is top notch.”  As for which beer is the chosen one to drink, Doug says, “Easy, Uncle Jacob’s Stout. And, at like 16.5%, it only takes one.”

The other newest member of the ‘Conference of Champions’ are the Utah Utes. While the even numbered years have the Utes and their fans visiting Tempe.  A visit to Salt Lake City for next year’s game should be at the top of any traveling fan’s list.  Kevin Conway, an ASU alum and President of the ASU Alumni Club of Utah chimes in.  “Utah is an interesting land of opposites; from its scorching deserts to snowy mountain peaks, hipsters to church goers, beer drinkers to non-beer drinkers.  While these opposites sometimes find themselves commingling, it took the beer drinkers and the non-beer drinkers learning how to live somewhat harmoniously to create Epic Brewing.”  Some may know of Epic Brewing from Denver, but the seeds of this fine brewery were in fact first planted on State Street in Salt Lake City.  Kevin says the one Epic brew that rises to the top is from their Exponential Series, The Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout.  If you don’t want to wait until 2017 to try the Big Bad Baptist, put it on your shopping list while traveling to see the Devils play in Colorado.

The Territorial Cup game has returned to its traditional day after Thanksgiving affair for the 2016 season as the Devils travel south to defend the Cup.  David Bowers, an ASU Alum, noted foodie, craft beer guy, and writer chimed in on what he thinks of the beer scene in ‘that town down South’.  According to Dave, “ the Best beers brewed in Tucson that are readily available are Dragoon IPA, Pueblo Vida Bavarian Hefeweizen, Ten Fifty-Five Bett’s Brown, and any sour from Iron John’s.”  When pressed for the one beer to try for any fan traveling down south for game day, Dave gave the nod to Dragoon IPA by Dragoon Brewing Company.  Dave added, “there are many seasonals or variants that I have had that have blown my mind.  But since this is a travel piece, I would hate to endorse a beer that nobody could try.”  Before grabbing that parking spot off Speedway, bypass the eegee’s and grab a few bottles of Dragoon IPA.

Eleven Pac-12 cities, eleven different beers to try in each city.  Which finally brings the focus on the beer to enjoy from Tempe for the slate of six home games.  Most, if not all, probably think the choice is an easy one to make, Kilt Lifter, from Four Peaks Brewery.  Four Peaks has been a staple in the Tempe community, a constant of most people’s time at ASU, and a business with deep ties to ASU.  With much love and respect to Four Peaks for building and sustaining what they set out to do so many years ago, it’s time to shine the spotlight on a new local craft choice.  After much debate, a series of polls on social media, and more debating while drinking.  The local beer to drink while tailgating in various spots around Tempe is Huss Brewing Company’s Koffee Kolsch.  Rated 6th best beer in Arizona by Beeradvocate, Koffee Kolsch is a specialty coffee ale that comes in at a mild 4.7% ABV.  While the coffee flavor tones may not be for everyone, the beer’s unique flavor, local ownership, and popularity on Untappd and Beeradvocate set it apart from the rest.

Finally, here are a few tips for heading out to watch the Sun Devils play on the road this year.  Sharing is caring, don’t be afraid to pack an extra suitcase with plenty of large zip lock baggies and bubble wrap.  You don’t want any of the souvenir beer to break and create a mess in the checked baggage compartment.  Keep in mind the elevation of that in which you are drinking that 15% ABV beer.  It’s probably not just the thin air that is causing the dizziness.  Most importantly; be loud, wear gold, represent ASU the right way, and have a good time responsibly.

Thoughts and opinions may differ to any of the beers mentioned above, but that’s what makes rankings so enjoyable and popular in today’s culture.  While their purported purpose may not be to elicit debate, ranking lists of college teams, fan bases, or craft beer is a non scientific approach to an often passionate conversation.  I’m curious to hear your favorites and the stories that accompany these beers on TwitterFacebook, or the comment section below.

About Kevin Camp

Kevin Camp

Kevin is a '96 Sun Devil grad of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contrary to his last name, Kevin is not one to stay in one place too long. Kevin has called Washington, Arizona, Utah, and again Arizona home since his days at ASU nearly 20 years ago. A passion for photography in his spare time turned to a great opportunity to shoot Sun Devil sporting events. He has photographed Sun Devils football at Camp T, Tempe practices, Utah, and Colorado while shooting some basketball and baseball as the teams visited Utah. Now that Kevin resides in Flagstaff, he is looking forward to reigniting the family tradition of Camp T with his wife and son. Kevin is also the VP of the ASU Alumni Association Flagstaff club.

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    September 26, 2016 at 4:55 AM

    But that’s the wonderful thing about foreign travel, suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most basic sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross the street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.

  2. charismacondovaughan

    September 29, 2016 at 12:08 AM

    Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.

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