By Connor Dziawura
With more than 200 events planned statewide during Arizona Beer Week from February 8 to February 18, one of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild’s centerpieces is the Arizona Strong Beer Festival, a hub for seasoned craft beer fanatics and those looking to try new flavors.
Now in its 18th year, the annual Strong Beer Festival returns to Steele Indian School Park from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 10. Across its nearly two decades, the Arizona Strong Beer Festival has grown tremendously. That growth shows this year, as the reoccurring festival boasts 150 breweries with more than 500 beers on tap.
“Because we represent the Arizona breweries and we have great relationships with our distributors and out-of-state breweries, we have the best beer available at any time for that festival in the entire Southwest,” says Rob Fullner, executive director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild.
The festival’s repertoire of breweries is extensive. Avondale microbrewery 8-Bit Aleworks offers The Mayan Chocolossus. The locally renowned Four Peaks Brewing Company will have its Kilt Lifter, as well as other options like Peach Ale and Double Knot. And then, there’s the popular SanTan Brewing Company, with a plethora of choices including Mr. Pineapple and Night of the Living Red.
But even with such a large focus on the local, breweries from other locales are also involved. Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, which has restaurants across the country, will bring with its Winter’s Oasis Imperial IPA, Hefeweizen, WinterBock and Märzen. Guinness will have its Guinness Draught and Guinness Blonde American Lager.
“We quickly realized that we want people to have a good experience and we want them to engage with new breweries and breweries that they like,” Fullmer says. “A lot of the breweries have their own educational feature area or they have games.”
But 18 years in, the festival continues to evolve.
“There are a couple features areas sponsored by some of our distributor partners and our retailers,” Fullner explains. “For example, new for this year is going to be the Pig Pen which is The Whining Pig and they’re going to feature some of the brands that they like and a couple beers that they collaborated with breweries on, so they have their own sort of signature on it.”
At the festival, there will be food to complement the varied brews, from Doughlicious, the Hungry Monk and El Jefe Tacos, among others.
And yes, while the focus of the festival is its beer and food, its other entertainment outlets are equally far reaching. Music also maintains a presence at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival.
“We have local live music,” Fullner says. “We’ve been slowly expanding that since we’re supporting the local sampling of beer, we want people to sample from local bands.”
Bands poised to take on Strong Beer this year include acts such as The Hour Glass Cats, Kung Fu Grip with Joel Maze, Good Rust and the Black Bottom Lighters.
The idea behind it is to convey a multifestival image, Fullner says.
“Basically, we want to give the impression that it’s several different festivals going on at the same time, and it kind of is,” he explains.
Tickets start at $50 and include 40 2-oz. pour beer tasting tickets. VIP and Super VIP options, the latter of which includes a Friday event at Valley Bar, are sold out. Designated driver passes for Saturday are still available for $15.
With the festival continuing to grow and introduce more breweries, guests come for a number of reasons, Fullner says. Among these are the tappings.
“I think for people who are excited about craft beer and have a little bit of experience now, I think those people tend to go toward especially tappings,” he says.
A free smartphone app, Untappd, will allow guests to research and rate beers at the festival, too.
In addition to the tappings and the ability to meet brewers, it’s “also just the spectacle of it.
“It is the largest craft beer-centric festival in the Southwest,” Fullner says. “I have colleagues in Colorado who run their deal and we make a great deal of their organization and the Colorado craft beer culture but our festival is three or four times larger than the largest one they do. It’s kind of a point of pride. For some people, it’s just the spectacle.”
Arizona Strong Beer Festival, Steele Indian School Park, 300 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, 480.365.9000, arizonabeerweek.com/arizona-strong-beer-festival, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 10, $50-$60, 21+.
For other fun events around the Valley, visit our events page.