Story and photos By Rachel Verbits, October 2016 Issue.
Few things are as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot day. And thanks to the recent surge in craft breweries, local beer lovers can almost try a different Valley brewery every day of the summer season without ever stepping foot in the same establishment twice. Almost.
In August, azcentral.com reported that there are now more than 70 breweries across the state, up from about 30 just a few years ago.
Lucky for gayborhood residents, that includes Helton Brewing Co., located at the northwest corner of Indian School Road and 22nd Street.
According to the brewery’s website, this 10,000 square foot space that was once a tire warehouse will provide the operation with room to grow and to eventually bottle its signature craft beers.
Even before the doors opened in May, the buzz (no pun intended) surrounding the new brewery was hard to ignore, largely due to the fact that the founder is famed brewmaster and certified cicerone Brian Helton.
With nearly two decades dedicated to the beer industry, Helton has crafted more than 60 brew varieties and has won multiple World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival awards.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by friendly staff and invited into the taproom, which was quickly filling up during happy hour. Here, patrons can sip their pints at high-top tables that provide the perfect view right into the brewery. That means you can actually watch the newest Helton brews go through the fermentation process while savoring your current selection. And if you’re wondering what exactly is getting mixed up next, there’s a large chalkboard menu above the bar to let you know.
In the meantime, the menu boasts five house brews, which include a pilsner, a crisp, malt-forward nose, light body and a classic lager finish; an amber ale, “easy drinking” with a sweet caramel malt profile and floral hop finish; a Scottish ale, which is deep and complex with a smooth malted character; and an IPA that delicately balances citrus, floral and fruity flavors.
For anyone who prefers a darker brewski, there’s the Helton Milk Stout on Nitro, which offers rich, roasted flavors that compliment the silky mouthfeel and finish with semi-sweet chocolate and coffee notes.
Upon my server’s recommendation, I started with the pilsner, which was crisp and distinctly fresh, followed by the chocolatey flavored milk stout, which was creamy, smooth and absolutely delicious.
If you’re feeling indecisive or just want it all (both of which are OK by me), fret not! Helton offers beer flights, which ring in at just $1.50 for each 4-ounce taster. Of course, there are also wine and guest beers to choose from, too.
However, if you have a more pairing-oriented palette, you have to check out the massive chalkboard above the bar that lists featured cheeses, mouthwatering charcuterie boards, as well as the cheesemonger’s pick of the week that will pair perfectly with Helton’s current beer selections.
After perusing the cheesemonger’s picks, I opted for the cheese board that featured Lamb Chopper, sweet, creamy and semi-soft fresh sheep’s milk Gouda; Dry Jack, which is a dry and flakey cow’s milk cheese with nutty flavor; and, lastly, the English-style Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, which is both dry and sharp.
Another stellar recommendation from our server was the sausage board, which was served with crostini, artichoke hearts, baby dills beer mustard and horseradish aioli. Bonus points because the smoked Polish and chorizo Sausage came from Shriner’s Fine Sausage right here in Phoenix.
Not only did these two boards pair spectacularly with my beer selections, but the flavors of the meats and cheeses also complimented each other so well, that ordering both are a must if you ask me. The taproom also offers limited menu selections à la carte, including grilled sandwiches and sweet and savory Belgian waffles. (A beer and a Belgian for brunch? I think so.)
As part of its mission of “education through taste,” Helton Brewing Co. offers Beer and Cheese 101, a pairing class lead by local cheesemongers and Helton’s head brewmaster that’s designed to help patrons learn more about the food and drink they’re being served.
The brewery also invites its customers to join them when tapping a new beer. And if getting the first taste of a new brew isn’t special enough, Helton Brewing Co. is one of the only places in Arizona to offer raclette cheese during their tapping parties. Raclette is a delicious dish of melted cheese slathered over potatoes and vegetables that’s gaining popularity in such major cities as New York and is not to be missed if you’re lucky enough to try it.
The best part about this new addition to the Valley’s suds scene is that the fun doesn’t have to end when your pint glass is empty: cheese and charcuterie are freshly wrapped and displayed by the front counter, waiting to be taken home and enjoyed with a growler of your favorite Helton beer. The worst part: deciding on a favorite. Cheers!
Helton Brewing Co.
2144 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix
Tasting room hours:
Tues-Thurs, 3-9 p.m.; Fri, 3-10 p.m.; Sat, noon-10 p.m.; Sun, noon-7 p.m.; Mon, closed.