Located at 119 E Toole Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701
Open Mon 4p-10p; Tues 12a-10p; Weds & Thurs 12p-9p; Fri & Sat 12p-10p; Sun 12p-5p
At some point around the Fall of 2014 I got the stupid idea to visit every single microbrewery in the state of Arizona and write about my experiences. This blog was born out of a deep-seated desire to explore the state that I’ve now called home for over a decade and mapping every single brewery seemed like a great starting point for planning my travels.
Since starting this blog in December of 2014 I’ve managed to write one blog entry a week without fail and have reviewed just under twenty Arizona microbreweries. I’ve easily logged over a thousand miles throughout my travels so far and have encountered some beautiful, fascinating corners of Arizona, some of which I didn’t even know existed twelve months ago. This blog project has opened up a new, adventurous chapter in my life and I’ve realized that, for a Classy Alcoholic such as myself, there is no greater joy than discovering a new microbrewery with an amazing collection of beers that reminds me why I condescendingly roll my eyes at sobriety as much as I do.
This blog has not yet uttered a negative word about an Arizona microbrewery because I respect people who dedicate their lives to bringing more beer into the world. Which is why I want to make sure to say that I’m not trying to insult, or diminish the great work of, any microbreweries that I’ve visited and written about when I tell y’all that Borderlands Brewing Company in Tucson is, without a doubt, the best microbrewery I have been to in the entire state of Arizona…(up to this point).
I promise you that I did not come to this decision lightly. Since starting this project I’ve had more amazing beers than I can describe, have met more amazing brewers and bartenders than I can count and have drunkenly whipped my junk out in public during happy hour more times than I can remember.
I’ll admit that, despite my love of craft beer, it sometimes feels like I can hardly taste the difference in beers anymore when they’re a similar style. My palate is like the Denny’s waitress who’s been working the graveyard shift for forty years. She dearly loves that cigarette she gets to have during her ten-minute break but it’s not like she cares what brand she’s smoking. It’s just the only joy she gets during her grueling, twelve-hour shift and knows it’s infinitely better than going back to meth again.
Which is why I love that Borderlands makes a point to be adventurous with the style of beers they brew. Apart from incorporating as many local ingredients as they can Borderlands beers truly taste like the Southwest. Yes, Borderlands has an IPA and it’s a good one but it’s very light on the hop kick. I liked it because I’ve been kind of burnt out on anything overly hoppy lately and this one lets the other citrusy flavors shine. I doubt genuine hopheads would love it but let’s face it, you can get a goddamn IPA at any microbrewery in the country. And I would go into a long lecture right now about how the explosion of popularity in IPAs in the U.S. is probably rooted in colonial mindsets and white privilege…but I’m sure a shitload of ponytailed grad students already wrote that essay a thousand times over so let’s just move on.
The beer that best represents Borderlands in my mind is the Prickly Pear Wheat.
The color is gorgeous and the fruit flavor is sweet but muted so it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking a Hawaiian Punch or anything. The prickly pear fruit is harvested locally and, while that particular type of cactus can be found in other areas of the U.S. it’s truly more a staple of the Southwestern desert. It doesn’t matter where you get prickly pear-based drinks, they always taste better in Arizona. Just like how crawfish always taste better in Louisiana and how Coldplay always sound better after your girlfriend dumps you for that cholo she met in her AA meetings. Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones, Christine. Come back. I CAN STILL TRY TO FIX YOU, BABY!!!!
Anyway, Borderlands also has a beer on tap called the Citrana Wild Ale which is a sour Gose (pronounced “goze-uh”). A Gose is a style of beer that originated in Germany but Borderlands does something completely different with it by souring the hell out of it. The Citrana is like having a glass of liquid Sour Patch Kids and it’s without a doubt the best sour beer I’ve ever tried. Most sour beers have only the mildest of sour, citrusy flavors that make them taste watered-down and weak just like the drinks you’re coerced into buying from the little lemonade stand that your neighbor’s kids set up. No, I don’t like your gross cup of shitty Country Time lemon water, Timmy, but I’ll put a dollar in your little tip jar anyway if you leave me the hell alone and also tell your hot mom I said hi.
If the Citrana’s sourness is too strong for your tastes (or even if it’s not) I highly recommend you ask the bartender to mix it with the Prickly Pear Wheat. This mellows out the sour kick and amplifies it with the Prickly Pear taste. Not to mention that it makes a fucking beautiful-looking beer.
The Prickly Pear/Citrana mix was vaguely reminiscent of the gorgeous Arizona sunrise that we’ve all woken up to from our front lawns where we passed out facedown after a long night of heavy drinkin’ and cop avoidin’.
One of Borderlands’ more recently popular beers is the Horchata Cream Ale. Horchata is a milky, sugary drink that is made in different variations across the world and is very popular in Latin American and in Mexican restaurants all throughout Arizona. The traditional Mexican horchata has a cinnamon and vanilla taste to it and Borderlands replicates that recipe with a delicious beer that uses actual Mexican cinnamon.
Borderlands also embraces the non-racist spirit of the Southwest with their beer names. Their nut brown beer is called “La Morena” which is a Spanish phrase used to describe a tan-skinned woman, usually with dark brown hair and eyes. La Morena is made with hand-roasted pecans grown in the town of Green Valley, which is about an hour south of Tucson.
There are six beers on tap at Borderlands and a flight will run you a measly $8.
Their sixth tap will usually rotate in something special and you’ll just have to go and discover what’s new for yourself. But just when I thought I had tried all the good-ass beers that Borderlands had to offer I got a whole, bonus beer shoved right into my drunk, fat face.
Borderlands recently canned their most popular beer, the Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter. This beer is described to me as “a dark beer for people who don’t like dark beer.” Well I like dark beers a lot and that description had me prepared to taste some weak sauce bullshit…but I will admit that I absolutely loved the Noche Dulce.
This beer is made with real Mexican vanilla and has a very mild coffee flavor that amplifies the taste. It had a very light body and went down smooth for a beer that was as dark as this was. The vanilla flavor hung out just under the surface so that it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the beer with sweetness and it lingered on the palate after every sip.
Apart from the beers being absolutely delicious the tap room looks awesome. It’s housed inside a hundred-year-old produce warehouse and there’s a beer garden just outside with a full bocce ball court. There’s usually food truck out on the beer garden and live music every single weekend.
Borderlands is the only brewery I’ve been to so far that feels like it couldn’t exist anywhere else but in my beloved state of Arizona. I loved my visit here so much that I decided to give this brewery an award. Seriously, I made them a classy plaque that looks like this:
I also wrote them a letter of recognition that I mailed with their award and you can read it in its entirety right here.
Notice that I called Borderlands Brewing Company the best microbrewery in Arizona “up to this point.” Which means that I don’t expect this place to rest on its laurels after being awarded the most prestigious award in the history of Arizona’s craft beer industry. I expect Borderlands to continue growing, continue experimenting and to continue brewing innovative beers lest they be stripped of their status. The Classy Alcoholic does not take these recognitions lightly.
Thank you for your excellent work in the craft beer industry, Borderlands Brewing Company. And I will see you again soon.