Everyone loves a good underdog story.
I particularly love a good beer underdog story.
Most people know my disdain for “big beer.” Not only are their brews mostly uninspiring, they dominate grocery store shelf space and leave little room for independent breweries. I’d rather champion places like Barnstar, Verde Brewing, and Copper Brothel.
Now you can add Black Horse Brewery in Linden, Arizona to that list. A recent visit while meandering through northern Arizona revealed that Black Horse is not only surviving the pandemic, one could say they are thriving.
First…I’m sure you are asking, where the heck is Linden, Arizona? Linden is more-or-less in-between Heber-Overgaard and Show Low along AZ 260. It’s probably the third most unlikely place for a brewery, right behind Barnstar in Skull Valley and Edge of the World in Colorado City, on the border of AZ and Utah.
When I last visited them in 2017, Black Horse had not been open very long. The tap room was more-or-less still under construction and they lacked indoor plumbing. But, for a young operation, they were brewing an incredible number of diverse beers. Now, the tap room features indoor bathrooms and the brew floor sports seven fermentors—four large and three tabletop versions. More importantly, Black Horse is looking to upgrade to a 10BBL system.
In chatting with the beertender that day, I learned Black Horse has had enough success over the years to entertain moving from a 3BBL to a 10BBL brew system. It seems they’ve had great local support from the surrounding community and from walk-up beer travelers like me. They’ve been self-distributing sixtel kegs around Show Low and garnering a name for themselves, but with distance being an issue, self-distribution becomes harder to do. Come to find out that small breweries can only secure outside distribution IF they are 10BBL or higher. Thus, the push to move to 10BBL.
So, what about the beer?
I did a quick sampling of six different brews on my recent visit and settled on two: Not So Frail Pale Ale and Black Stallion Schwarzbier.
The Not So Frail Pale Ale had a distinct flavor that hits you quickly up front—not overly hoppy, not overly malty—just big flavor. The longer I sampled it though, I realized it lacked the distinct bite of a Pale and became a bit cloying. Since Americanized Pale Ales derived from British bitters, you’d expect some degree of astringency or irritation in the mouthfeel. Not so here. The flavor was enough to sustain me but in the end, it seemed a bit sweet for a Pale.
The Black Stallion Schwarzbier was a whole different story. Schwarzbiers are lagers that use dark malts but never push into roasty or burnt territory, like an Irish Stout/Foreign Extra Stout or some Porters. It’s a notoriously difficult line to balance (being dark without being roasty) and Black Horse pulls it off with Black Stallion. Smooth with just a light hoppiness. I liked it so much, I got a can to go.
In the end, Black Horse seems poised for future growth. The fact they’ve survived the lockdown/pandemic this long seems incredible. I was told they went three months without grain deliveries yet managed to keep the doors open.
I said I love a good underdog story.
Black Horse Brewery is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and the occasional Sunday.