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Beer Reviews

HopShock I.P.A.

SanTan Brewing Co.
Chandler, AZ

Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
ABV: 7.1%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Nigel’s first trip to the Valley of the Sun came in March of 1993, making our trip earlier this year in March the 20th Anniversary of that initial foray. I didn’t realize that at the time and I actually just now did the math in my head, so needless to say it was the least anticipated 20th Anniversary celebration ever.

Much has changed in 20 years in the Phoenix metro area. The population has nearly doubled, from 2.4 million in 1993 to its current estimate of 4.4 million. What used to be cotton fields on a two-lane road through the desert en route from Sky Harbor Airport to my grandparent’s place in the Northwest Valley is now a 10-lane freeway and home to University of Phoenix stadium, which recently hosted a Super Bowl. I don’t recall much smog in 1993; in 2013, it was hard to see the peaks of the White Tank Mountains that lie a mere 20 miles from my parents’ house on a sunny day. In 1993, I remember riding through miles upon miles of picturesque Sonoran Desert on our way to Lake Pleasant, north of Phoenix. I even recall stopping for a soda at a cool Old West-style general store. Lake Pleasant now lies on the northern fringes of the cities of Peoria and Phoenix and that general store is long since demolished, not far from a Home Depot off a bustling suburban intersection.

While the economic downturn of 2007 hit the Valley harder than most areas and caused growth to come to a screeching halt for a few years, one thing has been booming in Arizona since then:

Craft beer.

I recall a trip in 2005, in which Nigel travelled from the Northwest Valley to a tiny brewpub on Camelback Rd. and Central Ave., nearly an hour of city driving. Now known as Sun Up Brewing Co., it was then called Sonora Brewhouse. It was a hole in the wall with so-so beer and crowded atmosphere, but it was the best we could do at the time. Most grocery stores had nominal selections from a few Western brewers, not surprising considering that they were all chains. Stumbling upon A.J’s Fine Foods, an upscale grocery store in Scottsdale, was like hitting the jackpot for Nigel, as their beer selection was more than double of what I had discovered elsewhere.

Restaurants in the Phoenix area in the 2000s rarely went beyond Blue Moon or Fat Tire; finding a restaurant with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap was about as common as spotting a Sasquatch. Heading to the ballpark for Spring Training? Good luck. You might as well stick to the souvenir soda … at least you get to keep the cup.

Fast forward to 2013 and things have changed exponentially. Though late to the craft beer boom, Arizona is now moving forward at turbo speed, with new breweries and brewpubs popping up faster than the lights from alien spacecraft over the Sierra Estrella … 35 in all as of July 2013. Granted, most retailers are still chains, but places such as BevMo! and Total Wine have made it much easier to locate a large selection of craft beer. Unfortunately, the warehouse/chain nature of these stores often makes freshness an issue, and I’ve had more than my share of skunked product from these behemoth chain stores.

As for the ballparks? Most have improved, and some are outstanding. Peoria Stadium, host of the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners each spring, has always been the best of the bunch, and they keep getting better. Buy a lawn seat, relax in the sun, and enjoy the best craft beer stand in all of Spring Training right there in the outfield. Glendale, host of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as Surprise, host of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, have a few spots where a craft beer lover can wet their whistle on a hot day without being offended by macro swill. Sadly, Maryvale Stadium in Phoenix, host of my hometown Milwaukee Brewers, is held hostage by a sponsorship from MillerCoors, and serves nothing but chilled urine on tap.

One of the best takeaways I had from our March visit to Arizona was first discovered at a Padres-Angels game in Peoria. Our favorite craft beer stand had something called Devil’s Ale on tap, and the brewery, SanTan, was generating quite a bit of buzz in the Valley. SanTan is based in Chandler, a suburb southeast of Phoenix, and their canned creations are quickly filling the shelves at many Valley grocery and liquor stores. Devil’s Ale is an American Pale Ale, and it was a clean, crisp take on the style that really hit the spot on a 90 degree day.

A trip to Bev Mo! in Peoria a few hours later led to the discovery of other canned offerings from SanTan, and I picked up a sixer of HopShock IPA despite finding it VERY difficult to pass up their porter, called Sex Panther (I did later purchase some Sex Panther to bring home to cellar). I sampled a few HopShocks while in Phoenix, and brought the rest home to review.

HopShock is a fairly strong version of a standard American IPA, with an ABV checking in at 7.1 percent and an aroma that indicates right off the bat that SanTan is not messing around when it comes to using Northwest hops. The pour reveals a coppery brew with a pillowy white head about a finger deep that slowly dissipates, leaving some residue on the side of the glass. Medium sedimentation topped off with medium lacing … yep, it’s an American IPA, no doubt about it. It looks just fine in the glass, nothing out of the ordinary.

Aromas are pleasant and give the rare treat of experiencing a fine craft IPA poured from a can, though slowly but surely that rarity is becoming more common. Huge aromas of Northwest hops, with the standard notes of pine, citrus zest, and floral bitterness and hints of earthy malt please the nostrils and cause me to stop for a moment and realize I’m actually drinking a beer from Arizona.

The flavor is solid, but is nothing out of the ordinary. I’m coming to expect this from the plethora of new breweries that are popping up like rabbits across the country … many of the “basic” styles that are expected to fill a year-round lineup (APA, IPA, Wheat, Amber, Stout, Porter, etc.) are brewed by the book. Depending on the skill of the brewer and the willingness of the brewery to step outside the box a bit, it can take time to develop a signature brew and/or style, or a unique twist on the standard original style. This seems to be what plagues HopShock. I don’t have nearly enough of a sample size to rate SanTan overall, but so far I have no reason to believe they won’t be a legit, successful brewer for many years to come. However, HopShock is just another American IPA. It’s crisp, refreshing, aromatic, and packs a little punch. All good things. However, it has not one single characteristic, short of coming from a can, to separate it from hundreds of other decent American IPAs on the market right now. It has the expected balance of crisp, floral, piney Northwest hops and earthy malt backbone. There are hints of zest citrusy to break up the toned-down earthy notes, making sure it’s not monotonous. Columbus and Amarillo hops, two-row malted barley … all good, but not utilized to the point that they are anything but average. It’s crisp and refreshing on a hot day, but too strong to be a session brew. Mild aftertaste that doesn’t offend. It’s a good beer, but I feel like I’ve had it hundreds of times before.

All in all, SanTan’s IPA is a solid, by-the-books attempt at one of America’s most popular beer styles. On the plus side, this is far and away the best American IPA I’ve sampled from an Arizona brewer, though the sample size is relatively small. SanTan seems to have the tools in place to make an impact on the craft beer scene in Arizona and the Southwest, and I can but hope that they continue to experiment, improve, and make a name for themselves. Much has changed in 20 years in the Valley of the Sun, here’s hoping SanTan and others can make it a craft beer destination down the road.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on September 9, 2013.
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