The Year in Beer 2020

Logo shamelessly appropriated from Untappd.

Welcome to the AzBeerTraveler’s “Year in Beer Review” for 2020.

Well, that sucked.

Let’s just accept the fact that COVID’s effect on Arizona’s beer scene is a given. From closures (Helio Basin) to downsizing (Sleepy Dog, Lochiel), to event cancellations and the AZ Craft Brewer’s Guild selling coupon books (eh, it’s OK) to make up for lost revenue, there is no part of Arizona’s beer scene that has not been impacted by COVID. With that out of the way, here is a short list of other key beer stories and observations from Arizona in 2020:

Top Arizona Beer Story

Top Story: Tombstone comes to Phoenix, calls itself Tombstone-North.

Nov 2020: Still using signage from Helio Basin.

Thousands of beer-loving Arizonans rejoiced at the news in the second half of 2020 that Tombstone was coming to Phoenix and taking over the space formerly occupied by Helio Basin. My lone visit this year in early November showed the takeover is a work-in-progress. That’s understandable, since the ‘North’ space is maybe four times the size of the original Tombstone taproom so there’s lots of space to fill. On the plus side (as if you need more pluses to drink Tombstone beer), Tombstone North has a full kitchen.

One of these things doesn’t belong…

Runner up #1: Growler USA-High Street closes. This is a selfish pick, as Growler was kind of my home-away-from-home. The closure was NOT COVID related, but rather due to a landlord lockout.


Growler USA gamely soldiered on through the summer lockdown, offering limited hours and often going to take-home only options, while still maintaining upwards of 50 taps when beer was simply hard to get. To survive COVID and then have this happen sucks. Here’s to Mikey, Sandy, and Michelle, wherever you are.

Take one last look…

Runner up #2: 12 West opens their Mesa “event center” and it is glorious.

Beer Surprise of the Year

This category celebrates the beer that I totally expected I’d hate but ended up loving. This year, the honor goes to: Energy City Aloha Sunrise Sorbet IPA.

I’m not sure what to make of the whole Drekker/Chonk/Milkshake/Mouthfeel so thick you gotta eat it with a Spoon craze. Drekker’s good once in a while, as a finishing beer, perhaps. But I can’t fathom drinking something like that all the time. Energy City has seemingly made the style a bit…tidier. Imagine a citrus/pineapple smoothie ala Drekker without all the glitter and you are in the right ballpark. Yumm-o

Runner up #1: Tombstone Buck Nutty. You don’t expect much when you drink an English Brown but this was delicious.

Great things in a small package.

Worst Beer of the Year

Worst beer I had in 2020 was Hell on High from Rinuskiai, a quad bock from Lithuania.

Must be an Eastern European thing…

I read all the reviews on Untappd before I tried it…they warned me. At 14%, it was all burn and no flavor. They were right. I scored it a dreaded “.25” on Untappd, the lowest possible rating. Unpalatable.

Best Beer of the Year

Simple Machine, Hoplifting.

Hands off…this one is mine.

This was the first beer of Simple Machine’s new “Bitter Bandit” series—a lineup of higher IBU/ABV brews. At 7.5% and 90 IBU you’d expect some lip puckering. It is hop-forward, yes, but not to the point of sacrificing the malt. This is a sweet, smooth, surprisingly easy drinking IPA. I’ve had this multiple times in 2020 both on draft and in cans. The last time I was actually at Simple Machine, I killed the last keg. I can’t wait to see what the next beer in the Bitter Bandit series is.

Runner up #1: Pure Project, No Signal. I had it once, way back in April. I rated it 5.0. I haven’t found it since.


My Untappd Year

Untappd offers users a few year-end stats. My top brewery of 2020 was Tombstone (no surprise). My #2 brewery was Simple Machine (again, not a surprise given I drive past it on my way to work every day. Actually, I should say, “I drive past it coming home from work every day.”  That’s more accurate!).

My most checked-in beer was Guinness, which I was not expecting. Untappd now offers a badge for checking into a single beer 100 times. I must be shooting for that.

Here’s hoping 2021 is a better beer year (shouldn’t be hard).