Wednesday 16th May 2012
I'd arrived in Williams the previous evening at about 22.30. After checking in to a motel I managed a couple of pints in a Pizza restaurant that had a bar. Can't remember what the beer was but, it wasn't from one of the major domestic manufacturers. A lot of Williams closes at 22.00 so the Grand Canyon Brewery was out of bounds that evening.
The major part of this day was taken up with travelling from Williams to the Grand Canyon South Rim and back by train. There is a daily train from Williams over the 64 miles to the canyon operated by the Grand Canyon Railway, yet this was not the one I travelled on. For the previous two days there had been a special train travelling from Los Angeles operated behind a steam locomotive. Whilst drinking in that pizza restaurant bar the night before I heard it whistling its arrival in town over three hours late, and this was to continue on the return to LA, following its visit to the Grand Canyon.
On an only slightly hazy day we set off across the desert behind two steam locos. One belonged to the Grand Canyon Railway and is only occasionally used.
Because of the conditions in this part of the USA all steam locos are oil-fired. Just one line side fire in this area can be devastating and there was actually a red alert in force and it was still a few days before the fire alert season.
In an interesting move the local steam engine is fired using waste cooking oil from the restaurants in Williams and at the canyon. As it wasn't pulling the train on its own, I couldn't confirm whether or not it smelt like a chip shop, as I am told.
At the canyon the light was good, so good that I could see two large birds circling well over a mile away. An expert happened to be there and reliably informed me they were Californian Condors. If I'm not wrong, they're the world's largest flying bird and there's less than 200 pairs left. If the canyon alone wasn't so magnificent, this sight would have made the trip worthwhile.
Meantime our trusty steeds arrived back to the station after turning for more servicing and water, see photograph.
I visited two bars located in the lodges and managed to get Grand Canyon Pale Ale in one and Stout in the other so I was a happy bunny.
On arrival back at Williams I went directly to Grand Canyon Brewing. The brewery is behind Cruisers bar and I was surprised to find that there were still people in there.
I entered and asked if I could take some photographs. This permission was readily granted by Brewmaster Andrew Carricato and after the equipment was suitably recorded for posterity we started talking about the brewery. The location was soon adjourned in favour of the bar.
It transpired that Andrew's mother is English and came from County Durham in the Northeast. As a result, his knowledge of British brewing and the social life was very good. I also learnt a lot about Grand Canyon Brewing. When you see the operation it seems incredible that it was first established in 2007. Although it has morphed several times since, it is amazing to think that their first (or was it second?) brewery was bought on EBay and it wasn't until it was delivered that they realised exactly what had been purchased!
There was once a Tasting Room in the brewery before it expanded. As the owner John Peasley, and his family also owned Cruisers it was a natural fit. A lot of money has been spent on the decor of the bar and, like so many in this area, is a shrine to the open road specifically Route 66, see the photographs.
Grand Canyon Brewing, since its modest start, has now risen to being the 4th largest in Arizona in just five years.
They have six core beers: American Pilsner, Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale, Raspberry Wheat, White Wheat, Starry Night Stout and Sunset Amber Ale (5.4%).
I'd had Pale Ale and Stout at the Grand Canyon itself so Andrew arranged tasters of the others that I hadn't previously tried but he was insistent that I tried a pint of American Pilsner and so I did.
I didn't regret it. Normally I prefer ales in a straight contest with lager styles but this was a revelation. I thought it was as good as the best that the Czech Republic can produce, with good body and a bitter taste from the correct hops followed by a wonderful lingering hop finish. Everything was in the right proportions, fantastic!
I also tried their seasonal beer, Shaggy Bock. This is made with the local naturally growing herb(?) Shaggybock that imparts a taste similar to Juniper. I have to say it was OK, although I would doubt I would order a repeat.
At that point Erik Atherton, Assistant Brewer arrived in the bar. It transpired that the reason they were so late in the brewery was that Erik wanted to try out some of his home-brews on experienced taste buds.
Andrew told me about the plant they brew on. It's a 15 barrel plant but, if my notes are correct, they can push it to 30 barrels. There are 14 fermentation vessels with capacities up to 30 barrels. They even have one 60 barrel vessel which I guess is used to lager the Pilsner.
I asked him about the beers and that the company didn't really push the boundaries as much as other breweries. The answer was simple. At the Grand Canyon and in touristy Williams they are selling their beer to people who have never drunk it before and they wish to provide something that is remembered with pleasure, without alienating them with extreme tastes. As Andrew said "everybody has heard of the Grand Canyon". The implication is that the beers should be part of the total enjoyable experience of the visit, and they should be remembered similarly. I'll drink to that!
Many other things were discussed that evening, mostly not remembered for the usual reasons. However I must thank Andrew and the team from Grand Canyon Brewery for their wonderful hospitality.
Grand Canyon Brewery, 233 West Route 66, Williams AZ
Open: Daily 11.00-22.00
Williams is served daily by Amtrak's South West Chief train
and also Greyhound and Arizona Shuttle buses.