A recent Groupon adventure led me to the heart of Cottonwood, AZ. The town is best known for its abundance of wineries and wine tasting rooms. But you would be remised if your day trip to Cottonwood did not include a visit to THAT brewery.
THAT brewery is located in the back of a small industrial park. The warehouse-style building, parked tractor-trailers, and pallets of empty kegs leave no doubt that authentic craft beer is being brewed and canned onsite.
The tasting room comfortably seats a couple dozen patrons. There are several wooden picnic tables spread throughout the bar area and production floor. The walls appear to be adorned with reclaimed hardwood. You also see a couple of chalkboards displaying what’s on tap and a string empty beer cans that have been converted into lights. The wood cabin décor is fitting for this small town mountainside brewery.
Word of caution; the Cottonwood THAT brewery location does not have a kitchen so I recommend carbing up before your arrival. Small prepackaged snacks are available from behind the bar, and complimentary popcorn is typically available (unfortunately the popcorn machine was out of order on my visit).
The brew will not disappoint. With 12 beers on tap, you are bound to find something to your liking. I opted for the RoadRash IPA. This American style IPA weighs in at 7% ABV. It has a vivid clear amber hue crowned with a thin foam head. Before your first sip, you will pick up on subtle floral and citrus aromas. Grapefruit, pine, and pleasantly dank hops are the most prominent flavors in this well-balanced IPA.
A day trip to the north is mandatory to escape the sweltering summer heat of the valley. Make sure your road trip itinerary includes a stop at a small town craft brewery. Don’t forget THAT!
-AZ Survival Guide
My clothes smell like barbecue! You know you’ve experienced authentic barbecue when the aromas of smoke have attached themselves to your T-shirt.
West Alley BBQ is Chandler’s newest barbecue joint, and they’re doing it right. West Alley features all the traditional offerings you would expect at a Tennessee style barbecue restaurant with a couple of other mouth-watering curveballs.
First ordered is the loaded smoked potato. This colossal potato is weighed down with your choice of smoked meats. Beneath the barbecued meat, you’ll discover layers of spicy cheese sauce, fresh chopped chives, bacon, sour cream and a drizzle of their house-made barbecue sauce (available in hot or mild).
I opted to crown this potato with brisket ($3 upcharge, but worth it). This entree is what dreams are made of. The brisket arrives smoked to perfection. The other more traditional elements of the baked potato deliver everything you would desire in the classic meal. The spicy cheese sauce has a little kick and is a tasty surprise.
Next to be sampled is the smoked pulled chicken plate. The pulled chicken appears on top of a slice of white bread accompanied with fried pickles and your choice of 2 additional sides.
The moist and tender pulled chicken has a delicious lingering smoke flavor that makes this dish challenging to stop eating. The thin crispy fried pickles attempt to steal the show. I strongly recommend that you don’t leave West Alley until you’ve sampled the fried pickles!
The bar that separates the traditional indoor dining space from the outdoor tranquil seating area is serving up serving up some decent cocktails.
My favorite is the Tennessee melon mule. This cocktail is a well-balanced combination of watermelon vodka, lime, and ginger beer. It is refreshing but straightforward and easy to sip.
I’m not a fan of the Blue Riff Electric Slide- this neon green rum and blue curaçao cocktail comes in a bit too sugary for my liking. So if sweet is not your thing, then this will not be up your alley.
In an area of Chandler that is becoming saturated with restaurants, West Alley is offering up a chance to try something different. I recommend following your nose to see what’s smoking at West Alley BBQ!
111 W Boston Street
Sunday – Thursday: 11 a.m – 9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.
-AZ Survival Guide
I’ve spent most of my life marveling at photos of Antelope Canyon. I can remember seeing these awe-inspiring images featured on computer screen savers, magazines and Instagram feeds. But it wasn’t until recently that I even knew where the canyon was located. After discovering that the canyon was just a mere 290 miles away from my front door, my wife and I began to plot out a road trip to Page, Arizona.
To my surprise, I learned from some quick internet research that you can’t just take a leisurely self-guided stroll through the canyon. The canyons (there are actually 2- an upper and lower section) are located on Navajo grounds. There are only a few Navajo owned companies permitted to give guided tours. Tours will run you about $25 per person, and you are also charged an $8 (per person) parking fee. All and all, it’s a fair price for the opportunity to look upon the most beautiful collection of rocks on earth.
My co-pilot and I embarked on our road trip at 4:30 AM on a cool late November morning. A cooler filled with Red Bull, snacks, and a bagged lunch stayed within arm’s reach. The Hamilton the Musical soundtrack filled the space between conversation for most of this 4-and-a-half-hour drive. At that hour, the highways were dead, and the frequent changes in elevation caused the Honda Fit’s thermometer to dip south of 32 degrees periodically. Around 6:30 AM the desert landscape awoke with a vivid pastel sunrise. Hues of cotton candy pink and purple painted the sky. I regret not stopping to take a photo, but we were on a relatively tight timeline.
We booked a 10:00 AM tour with Ken’s Tours. I recommend booking your tour as far in advance as possible since whole days sell out quickly. Two people in line in front of us did not have reservations, and they were told the next available time for a tour was in 5 hours. I also suggest booking the earliest time slot available. As the day grows so does the line to enter the canyon. We waited about an hour to enter the mouth of the lower canyon. Our guide told us that during the spring and summer on the weekend, afternoon wait times could be just shy of 2 hours.
Once in line, time moved quickly. Our knowledgeable tour guide filled the minutes with stories of rats, giant snakes, and cougars that he as personally encountered in the depths of the canyon. He then gave all 14 of us in our tour group a quick impromptu photography lesson. He had specific instruction for the ideal camera settings for an iPhone or Samsung smartphone. He also had some advice for slightly more complicated cameras. If your goal is to leave this experience with some highly likable Instagram photos, you can rest assured that your mission will be accomplished.
At 11 AM we entered the lower Antelope Canyon by descending a winding metal staircase that took us five stories below the earth’s surface. I was immediately overwhelmed by the majestic rock wall formations illuminated by beams of light trickling in through the canyons surface. Millions of years of rush water currents have sculpted countless beautiful soft edged nooks and crannies in the rock’s face. Every surface of the canyon is wallpapered with tiny endless horizontal lines leading you deeper into the canyon. The experience was somewhat like venturing through a giant wrinkled corduroy blanket in the middle of the desert. The total length of the lower canyon trail is less than a half mile, and with stopping to take photos and admire a multitude of different rock formations, it took us about an hour to walk the distance of the canyon.
After exiting the Canyon and taking a moment let our eyes adjust to the daylight we then embarked on the short 8-mile drive to Horseshoe Bend. No trip to Page, AZ would be complete without also visiting Horseshoe Bend. This destination is also an iconic natural wonder that’s located less than 10 minutes away from the canyon.
No tour guide needed for this spot. We parked in the dirt lot which is free of charge for the time being (rumor has it there will soon be a fee to access this national treasure) and we next followed the crowds up a loosely packed dirt trail. It’s about a quarter of a mile mostly downhill walk to reach the brim of this canyon. By this time of day, the temperature had reached the mid-80s, and the skies were clear blue. There were hundreds of people gathered at the edge of the bend to gaze upon this geological wonder.
Looking down the 4,200 feet to the turquoise ribbon of the sparkling Colorado river will take your breath away. As I approached the edge of this mammoth gorge to execute the mandatory selfie, I became keenly aware that there are no fences, guardrails or safety nets to interrupt an unwanted plummet. This canyon is best-observed mid-day due to the harsh shadows cast by the early morning sunrise and late afternoon sunset.
We found that 45 minutes was enough time to take in the beauty of Horseshoe Bend adequately. We then set off for the quarter mile uphill trek back to the car.
Similar to the small towns surrounding the Grand Canyon, the town of Page offers little to no thrills. We were hard pressed even to find a restaurant located close to any of the main roads we were on. Page, AZ is the perfect one day adventure. If you are attempting to make a weekend out of this road trip, I suggest securing lodging in Flagstaff or Sedona, AZ. These towns may be a couple of hours away but offer much more in regards to dining and nightlife.
Regardless of where you live, I strongly recommend planning a trip to one of the most majestic locations on the planet. A journey through Antelope Canyon will never be forgotten. My only regret was not embarking on this adventure sooner.
-AZ Survival Guide
You wouldn’t find a shortage of places to grab a drink in Old Town Scottsdale and most offer some pretty cool ambiance. But if you are searching for the best brew with a view, I recommend a visit to Goldwater Brewing Co.
With so many quality original brews on tap, you really couldn’t go wrong with any choices. A flight of 4-6 samples may be your best option.
If you are seeking one of the most unique beers being brewed in the Valley, I suggest ordering up their Crimson Clouds. This limited release ruby red hazy IPA weighs in at 6.3% ABV. This beer features captivating citrus and ripe tropical fruit aromas. I’ve been told that their are strong prickly pear flavor notes in this IPA but to the best of my knowledge I don’t recall every eating a prickly pear. I would describe this complex beer with flavor elements of honeydew melon, papaya and hints of grapefruit. It might be hard to describe but it’s easy to drink.
All of their distinctive craft beers are best enjoyed on their upstairs patio (preferably at sunset). Next time you find yourself in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale and you are in search for some tasty brews and complimentary jalapeño popcorn, stop by Goldwater Brewing Co.
Monday – Thursday: 4 PM – 11 PM
Friday: 4 PM – 12 AM
Saturday: 1 PM – 12 AM
Sunday: 1 PM – 8 PM
-AZ Survival Guide
If you have the good fortune of finding yourself in the modern mecca of micro-brew known as Flagstaff, Arizona make sure you swing by Mother Road Brewing Co.
I strongly recommend setting aside a sunny Saturday afternoon to embark on a self-guided tour of all the amazing breweries that Flagstaff has to offer. Just make sure a stop at Mother Road is on your agenda.
This brewery features ample dog-friendly outdoor seating and access to gourmet pizza served up by Pizzicletta (attached to the brewery).
Mother Road is also pouring a delicious beer that is showing up on taps all around the greater Phoenix area, Tower Station. This IPA weighs in at a hefty 7.3% ABV. It’s extremely cloudy with an orange and copper hue. It has a fresh citrus and tangerine aroma with tropical papaya and apricot flavor notes.
Mother Road Brewing Co. is a must visit tasting room for all Arizona craft beer enthusiast.
-AZ Survival Guide
The core of downtown Mesa is being revitalized! Locally owned Cider Corps cidery and tasting room is serving up a dozen original, unique and delicious hard ciders. Current offerings range from “Tried & True” (a dry hopped cider with a clean, crisp and bright traditional apple cider flavor) to the “MH84 AKA Mango Grenade” (a sweet cider that starts with topical mango notes and finishes with a surprising hint of habanero heat.)
The large simple modern-industrial tasting room is the perfect venue to sample a flight of apple cider served up in a baking tray. With so many varieties of cider on tap you are bound to find at least a couple concoctions that please your palate. Friendly and knowledgeable owners are more than willing to offer up recommendations and break down the science behind the Cider.
Cider Corps is a refreshing addition to downtown Mesa and the Arizona microbrew community. We recommend that you swing by and see how you like them apples.
Cider Corps Facebook page
Currently open Saturdays 12 PM – 12 AM – look for new hours in 2018
-AZ Survival Guide
Hop Social is one of the newest restaurants to stake claim to the highly coveted real of Chandler Boulevard. Hop Social occupies the space previously held by Elephant Bar.
This standalone building has been extensively remodeled. The exterior features an elegant upscale look. The first thing you observe prior to walking through the main entrance is the well-lit ample patio space. This promises to be the perfect place to enjoy an AZ winter al fresco dining experience.
The interior design is also quite impressive. The dining room features an interesting play on modern and vintage ascetics with the focal point of the space holding a striking set of large emerald green tufted sofas. The overall feel is a nice contrast from the multitudes of basic chain restaurants that surround this establishment.
In an unprecedented move, Hop Social kicked off their “soft” opening weekend by giving away meals! I can confidently speak for all Phoenix area foodies when I say I hope this is a trend that catches on. Hop Social sent out a lunch and dinner invitations offering meals to local residents from 11/16-11/18.
My wife and I were limited to ordering two specific entrees during this soft opening. I went with the Caesar Salad and the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger. The Caesar Salad was fit for a king. It arrived with ample amounts of shredded Parmesan and house made croutons all coated with a creamy dressing. Now I’ve never had a burger that’s been life changing but this was pretty delicious. The bread was fresh and soft and the beef was juicy and cooked to perfection. The salty thick cut smoky bacon took this decadent sandwich to the next level. The side of coleslaw was so-so, bit bland and uninspired. I would suggest going with the rustic thick cut French fries when it’s your turn to choose a side.
The most difficult choice of the night was picking a drink. With 52 craft beers on tap this was somewhat of a weighty decision process. With the word “hop” in the name I anticipated this dilemma. Fortunately with beers like Tower Station (by Mother Road Brewing) and Papago Orange Blossom (by Papago Brewing Co) you can’t go wrong.
Hop Social also hosts happy hour twice a day 7 days a week! With an extensive beer list, eclectic and reasonably priced food menu and prime location Hop Social will be a welcomed addition to Chandler Boulevard.
Visit the Hop Social website
-AZ Survival Guide