Thunder Canyon Brewery: A Reviewby Jim Gressinger on Jul. 04, 2012, under Southern Arizona Breweries
It was brought to my attention recently that our Southern Arizona Guide website lacks a local brewery section. Stung by such criticism, I set out to rectify this regrettable oversight. But there was this little problem. Well, actually several.
First, I didn’t know much about beers. Thus, I enlisted the able assistance of one Michael Polletta, who owns Print Management here in Tucson. (If you need any kind of printing, from business cards to 4-color brochures, I highly recommend Michael’s services.)
Nevertheless, I did not choose Michael as my sampling partner because of his expertise in the printing industry. Rather, Michael used to brew beer himself and I needed his insight into the vast and ancient subject of brewing beer so I could produce meaningful reviews.
Second, I’m not much of a beer drinker. More the elite, snobby, NPR-listening kind of wine connoisseur. Well, that’s not precisely true. Hell, I’ll drink cheap box wine from Safeway. But I particularly enjoy the fine dry Sauvignon Blanc varietals from New Zealand (Kim Crawford, Nobilo, etc.), almost any Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and several of the better Pinot Gris wines from Argentina and Chile. Clos du Bois Sauvignon Blanc from the North Coast of California is also a favorite.
Third, I started my research (sampling) for our new section with a fixed notion of what a good beer tastes like. Having spent the better part of my 19th year going to university in Mexico City, I developed a taste for Corona and Dos Equis (XX).
In the intervening years, when it was really hot outdoors and I’d worked up a sweat mowing the lawn, etc., a really cold Corona or Dos Equis was super-fine refreshment.
Now you know my beer preferences and prejudices. On to reviews of 4 Southern Arizona breweries over the next week or so. This is the order in which Michael & I went about our work.
- Thunder Canyon
Thunder Canyon is a pub in the Foothills Mall. When you walk in the front door you can see the giant stainless steel brewing tanks. Yet, the first impression is of a somewhat unauthentic craft brewery. I mean, it’s in a shopping mall.
But to the owners’ credit, they’ve taken a sterile commercial space and made it feel more or less like an old-timey public house.
So much for first impressions. How was the beer, food, and service?
Our waitress was Lauren. She was knowledgeable, pleasant, and efficient. We each ordered a sampler rack of 14 different craft beers and an appetizer. Michael ordered the Catalina Fingers, large chicken strips in spicy pale ale batter, breaded and deep-fried. These came with both BBQ and ranch sauce for dipping.
I ordered TCB Dip: artichoke hearts (which I love), scallions, parmesan cheese, and sour cream served in a bread bowl with a side of fresh veggies – broccoli, carrots, and celery. I do not like broccoli and gave mine to Michael.
Michael said his chicken appetizers were OK. My TCB dip was not as flavorful and rich as I have had elsewhere many times. So we both awarded TCB food 3-Saguaros: OK, average, ordinary, nothing to write home about.
I should point out that we didn’t have a full meal here. The menu is extensive with many varieties of typical American comfort food: pizza, burgers, sandwiches & salads, etc. Maybe next time.
TripAdvisor customer reviews average 4-Circles (very good); Yelp customer ratings averaged 3.5, somewhat better than average. The general consensus seems to be that people liked the beer better than the food. Certainly, that was Michael’s and my impression. Methinks the good people of Thunder Canyon put a lot of love into brewing their beers, with less focus on their food.
Speaking of beers, how were they? Thanks for asking.
The sampler included 14 beers in 14 different 4 oz. glasses – at least twice as big as an ordinary shot glass. Some we liked, others not so much. But this conclusion is strictly personal taste. Neither Michael nor I cared for the lighter varieties. The Deep Canyon Amber was a little too “Lite” for our tastes.
Nor did we care for the wheat beer (Windstorm Wheat). Michael told me that wheat beers are a favorite German summertime drink, with lemon added on occasion. Sounds awful. On the other hand, Ms. Karen likes wheat beer, so maybe it’s a girl thing
Nor did we like the sweet and/or fruity beers:
- Orange U Glad is a wheat beer, not real “hoppy”, with a slice of orange for decoration. Too fruity.
- Bee’s N Berry: more berry than honey – but too sweet nonetheless/not at all subtle. Perhaps a young woman would like this one – along the lines of a Shirley Temple.
The Sandstone Cream Ale tasted somewhat like Budweiser. Good Vibrations IPA was a lighter version of their Thunder Canyon IPA, which we both considered to be a good India Pale Ale.
Michael and I both remember 2 Belgium lagers, which I understand have to ferment at colder temperatures than ales. But can’t say we care much for either. Seemed too mild, not enough bite. On the other hand, they could have been ales. After a dozen samples, we were luck to remember our own name.
Strange Brew was a loser. Kinda flat, no aftertaste, and a bit sour. But the Thunder Canyon IPA was totally worthwhile. It’s a medium pale ale, plenty “hoppy”, lots of alcohol, and a delightful bite aftertaste. Excellent!
As Michael and I made our way to the darker beers, things got even better. Their Blackout Stout is a lighter version of Guinness with a chocolate colored head (foam).
I do like Guinness Original/Extra Stout. No, not the one you can buy by the can in America. Guinness does not travel well. I’m talking about the real stuff at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin fresh from the barrel. Delightful!
While our adventure to TCB was my first beer sampling, I was beginning to learn something about myself. The more a craft beer resembles Guinness, and the higher it is in alcohol, the more I like it. For me, a craft beer should be “hopped up”, otherwise why bother?
The Thunder Canyon IPA and their Warhead Stout were our favorites.
The Warhead was fairly malty. It was easy to taste hints of dark roasted malt, toffee, and black current. This combination gave the totality a bit of a molasses flavor. That and the 12% abv made Warhead THE winner.
Recommendation: do go to Thunder Canyon Brewery. Try the sampler. You’re bound to find one or more that will make you want to come back again and again.
Review #2 to follow in a few days.