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What others are saying about Wren House
We expected a decent response from the brewers we emailed asking for submissions. We did not expect to get nearly 400 IPAs in total. But the boxes of bottles, cans, crowlers and growlers (and even a couple plastic soda bottles) kept coming. In the end, our fridge was stocked with 386 IPAs from every region of the country, as well as a few from outside the States. For perspective, there were 312 entrants in the American IPA category at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival—the largest beer competition in the country.
Every year since 2014, the Arizona Society of Homebrewers (the nation’s biggest homebrew club) hosts and judges a competition among all the breweries pouring at the Strong Beer Festival, awarding medals in seven general categories and naming a sole beer Best in Show. This year, Happy Camp was that beer. It’s easy to see why the hazy imperial IPA won—its intense nose is like a mango-strawberry-grapefruit smoothie, while a sip adds peach pits and tangerine peel to the blend atop soft, sweet breakfast pastries. The dry finish with citrus peel bitterness is slightly higher than we see in most New England IPAs, but the finish is squeaky-clean and the 8.6% ABV is nigh unnoticeable.
Wren House could have been just like any other neighborhood bar in Phoenix — but it's special. Not only do they brew their own beer, they do it in a stylishly designed, repurposed house that dates back to 1922. That means some cool Phoenix history, and even cooler: cold craft beer. At this small scale, the brewery nimbly built a cast of dependable beers that run the gamut from Jomax Oatmeal Stout, brewed with coffee from the local Press Roasters, to the Hi Jolly American Wheat Ale, which folds chamomile and local desert honey into each batch. Finally, we've got a brewery and bar that reflects a new, tasteful, and modern vision for Phoenix.
Ruling societal norms dictate that beverages stay within their assigned daily territories: coffee in the morning; beer and wine after 5 p.m. You know the drill. But Wren House, one of the new stars of Phoenix’s revitalized brewery scene, is having fun mixing things up with a coffee- and oatmeal-infused beer that, God forbid, you might consider drinking before noon.
In a market rife with so-called “mole stouts” bursting with overwrought cinnamon and cocoa flavors, Olmec is a breath of fresh jungle air. Phoenix-based Wren House crafts this 12% stout with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon and chiles, but whiskey barrel-aging tames and unites the adjuncts like a team of Blue Barracudas fighting off the temple guard. Wet whiskey barrels yield vanilla and toffee in the nose, deepening into cinnamon, roasted chiles and dark, earthy chocolate. There’s a tangy, sticky molasses quality to the chile/chocolate crossover; turbinado sugar and black licorice scents increase this. Like a melted dark chocolate bar studded with peppers, earthy roasted peppers transition on the tongue into baker’s chocolate seamlessly, while the barrel smooths out the edges and weaves vanilla into the mix, and the 12% ABV is about as hard to find as the Shrine of the Silver Monkey.
Between the weather and the culture, Portland, Ore., and Phoenix don’t have much in common. Drew Pool couldn’t do anything about the weather, but he wanted to try and do something about the beer. Pool, who had worked for Intel in Oregon, took over an old bakery in the center of Phoenix and got to work turning out a strong lineup of year-round beers under the guidance of former Big Sky brewer Preston Thoeny. “I think that kind of set us apart here in Phoenix,” Pool says of his focus on core beers. “Our IPA right now—we’ve been sold out for a week or so because we can’t keep up with demand even though we came into a super-saturated IPA market.”
This terrific little brewery set in a 1922 house features a clean design with white subway tile, a wood-topped bar and tables. The creative beer menu features the delicious Jomax Oatmeal Stout, made with Ethiopian beans roasted at the local Press Coffee. After fermentation, the beer is blended with cold brew coffee and creates a robust, memorable flavor combination.