UPDATED FEBRUARY 2022–From Gold Medal hefeweizens and fruit beers to imperial stouts, we have the best Flagstaff craft beer pairings to match eight of our favorite hiking trails. Don’t miss the Flagstaff breweries map to pinpoint locations of all nine Flagstaff breweries.
'Millie Brite Xtra Pale Ale' by Flagstaff Brewing Company, one of the first Flagstaff breweries
Pair with: Lava River Cave Hike
Lava River Cave Trail, aka ‘The Lava Tubes,’ is an intermediate .3-mile (.48 km) out and back hike. Although short in distance, the experience is long on excitement. It is slow going as you pick your way among the rocks inside the black hole. Since the lava cave is a natural icebox with temperatures around 42°, I recommend taking this excursion during summer months.
Make sure to bring several headlamps for each hiker and extra batteries as backups. Once, I fell in the cave and I can tell you that it was no fun as the sloping cave floor is strewn with sharp rocks and jagged boulders. My shins were a bloody mess. So be sure to wear sturdy footwear and bring plenty of water. Click here for directions to the trailhead.
Step Out into the Lite
After spending time underground, it’s good to step out into the light – with a light beer. You’ll find the Millie Brite Xtra Pale Ale at Flagstaff Brewing Company on historic Route 66. The single-hopped American Pale Ale is definitely an easy sipper. (I’m thinking the name makes a nod to Miller Lite, what do you say?)
Brewed with Cascade hops, this handcrafted beauty is brewmeister Stu Howe’s favorite, so, of course, I had to try it. I think Millie Brite’s light citrusy profile makes for an excellent apres-hiking beverage. (6.1 ABV 49 IBU.) At Flagstaff Brewing Company, one of the first breweries in this charming mountain town, they still mill the grain in-house, use traditional German lager yeast and cold condition their brews at 36°, which is even cooler than the lava cave. With a full bar, they also have one of the largest selections of whiskey-beer pairings in Flagstaff, which was recently named Arizona Craft Beer City by Arizona’s governor.
'Conserve and Protect Kölsch Style Ale' by Mother Road Brewing Company, which has two Flagstaff breweries
Pair with: Sandys Canyon Trail No. 137
Sandys Canyon Trailhead is just down Lake Mary Road from the Arizona Game and Fish Department Flagstaff Office. It only stands to reason that we should match this trail with Mother Road’s Conserve and Protect Kölsch Style Ale when a portion of the proceeds of the ales’ sales go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD.)
If you swing by Lake Mary before starting your hike, you may observe bald eagles, osprey or elk that the AGFD helps manage and protect.
The three-mile (4.8 km) out and back Sandys Canyon Trail is only minutes from downtown, but I always feel like I am miles away from civilization when trekking this wide canyon. I’ve actually walked from the trailhead at Lake Mary Road all the way into Flagstaff, coming out of the woods at Sinclair Wash near Sam’s Club (4.8 miles /7.7km.) You can do the same by following the Arizona Trail north towards FR301A and Butler Avenue – download a map. From Sam’s Club, it is a ten-minute walk to Mother Road Brewery and Taproom at 1300 E Butler Avenue.
Après the Sandys Canyon hike, wash down the dust with a refreshing Conserve and Protect Kölsch Style Ale at either of the two Mother Road Brewing Company locations. (See the Flagstaff breweries map below.)
The color of the lively, crisp ale is deep champagne, while subtle aromas and flavors including pear and lemon. (4.3 ABV 19 IBU.) I love the graphics on the cans by local design artists Jen Saunders and Paul Berg. The art reminds me that a portion of what I paid goes to the Arizona Game and Fish Department for the conservation of more than 800 wildlife species.
BTW, Mother Road Brewing Company’s Tower Station IPA is the top-selling Arizona-brewed IPA in the state, so don’t miss a taste – or pint – of that one while you’re there.
'Salt River Lager' by Historic Brewing Company: Gold Medal Flagstaff Craft Beer
Pair with: Beale Wagon Road Historic Trail #61
Follow in the footsteps and camel tracks of Edward Fitzgerald Beale, who, in 1857, charted one of the first roads to the West. What? Camel tracks? Yes, twenty-two camels from the Middle East carried supplies and tools for Beale and 50 pathfinders when they came through this area. Click for directions to this historic trail, which can be accessed near Parks, 19 miles (30.6 km) west of Flagstaff.
After exploring a historic trail, make tracks to Historic Brewing Company in east Flagstaff. The brewery won Gold (2019: Great American Beer Fest) for their Salt River Lager, which has hints of salt and lime. (4.8 ABV 18 IBU.)
You can also sample the suds in the brewery’s tasting room, Historic Barrel+Bottle House, located right in Southside Flagstaff at 110 S San Francisco St. (See the Flagstaff breweries map below for the brewery location.)
'Humphrey’s Hefe' by Lumberyard Brewing Company
Pair with: Humphreys Trail No. 151
Humphreys Trail is where I train when I’m planning high-altitude hikes in places like Peru or New Zealand. The challenging trail weaves through aspens and spruce forests until it reaches timberline and then climbs to the highest point in Arizona: Humphrey’s Peak at 12,633 feet (3,851 meters) above sea level.
The trailhead of this 11-mile (17.7 km) out and back is at the north end of the lower parking lot at Arizona Snowbowl resort.
After such a demanding trek, you’ll want something light, and I think the mild Humphrey’s Hefe fits the bill. This Gold Medal winner (2007: Great American Beer Festival) is a German-style wheat beer. The lightly hopped, unfiltered and yeasty hefeweizen is highly effervescent and slightly sour with flavors and aromas of cloves and bananas. Ask for it at Arizona Snowbowl Agassiz Lodge, or make your way downtown to Lumberyard Brewing Company.
‘Cielo Oscuro B2 Stout’ by Dark Sky Brewing Company
Pair with: Buffalo Park Loop Trail
The two-mile (3.2 km) trail that loops Buffalo Park is on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS pronounced ‘foots’) and is very close to all of Flagstaff’s breweries. The trail, aka Nate Avery Trail, is a wide gravel path that offers outstanding views of the San Francisco Peaks, of which Mount Humphreys is one.
Nighttime hikes are relatively easy because of the trail’s level terrain. Buffalo Park is positioned on a flat mesa. Take a headlamp that has a red light to help with your night vision as Buffalo Park is one of the best places to experience Flagstaff’s dark skies. Flagstaff was the first to be designated “International Dark Sky Community.”
So what better place to belly up after viewing thousands of stars at Buffalo Park than Dark Sky Brewing? I recommend Cielo Oscuro, which means dark skies in Spanish, of course.
The American Imperial stout (12 ABV) is aged in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon barrels. The dark beer is brewed with agave syrup, cassia bark, chipotle peppers, vanilla and Brazilian coffee roasted by Ground Control in Litchfield Park, AZ. I asked the brewer why he didn’t use a local coffee company, and he said that he did. I’ll have to sample some of his other micro-batch experimental beers to learn more.
‘Westfork Guava Sour’ by Wanderlust Brewing Company
Pair with: West Fork of Oak Creek, Trail No. 108
I love all the creek crossings on this 7.2-mile (11.6 km) out and back trail, but so does everyone else. You’ll meet lots of people from all over the world on West Fork, a heavily trafficked passage. But don’t let that “sour” your mood – there’s enough wonder here in the canyon for everyone. Tip: Call of the Canyon parking ($10 per vehicle) at the West Fork trailhead fills up every day by 9:30 a.m., so go early. Located in Oak Creek Canyon on Arizona State Route 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona.
“Traditional Ales for Unexplored Trails” is one of Wanderlust Brewing Company’s slogans, so after your foray into West Fork, head to the brewery for a Westfork Guava Sour (4.3 ABV 30 IBU.) The fruited sour is tart due to its pre-fermentation addition of lactobacillus and post-fermentation addition of organic guava puree.
The rustic brewpub is off the beaten path, but it’s such a great place to swap hiking stories. Open Wed-Sun.
‘Sunset Amber Ale’ by Grand Canyon Brewing Company: New to Flagstaff Craft Beer Scene
Pair with: Lava Flow Trail at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
This easy one-mile (1.6 km) loop trail follows the Bonito Lava Flow at the foot of Sunset Crater Volcano. I enjoy bringing visitors to this trail because the interpretive signage explains the unique volcanic geology of the Flagstaff area.
Explorer John Wesley Powell named this cinder cone ‘Sunset Crater’ because some of the cinders are red and orange, the color of a sunset. From here, I like to drive on to Wupatki National Monument to hike on trails that lead to various pueblo ruins.
The perfect pairing for the hike at the edge of Sunset Crater is, of course, Sunset Amber Ale. The traditional American Amber Ale by Grand Canyon Brewing Company pours a vibrant red color with bronze and gold highlights. Perhaps just the hues that impressed John Wesley Powell when he first saw Sunset Crater. The medium-bodied brew has a high level of sweetness with a malty finish. (5.4 ABV 25 IBU.)
Grand Canyon Brewing Company from Williams, Arizona, just opened its Flagstaff location on Milton Road near the Northern Arizona University campus.
‘Red Rock Raspberry’ by Beaver Street Brewery, a Longtime Flagstaff Craft Beer Fave
Pair with: Sunset Trail
Follow the Sunset Trail east of the parking lot at Schultz Tank on Schultz Pass Road high up the mountains just outside the city limits. You’ll pass two human-made ponds that we call “tanks” here in Arizona. Raspberries grow along that part of the trail, which is why we pair this amble through the berries with Beaver Street’s Red Rock Raspberry.
The path is currently open from Schultz Tank to Little Bear Trail. However, after the junction of Little Bear, Sunset Trail is closed due to the remnants of the Museum Fire. That part of the Sunset Trail remains closed until October 1, 2020. Find driving directions to Schultz Tank in the San Francisco Peaks area at the Coconino National Forest website.
After some hopefully fruitful raspberry picking, head to Flagstaff’s first brewpub, Beaver Street Brewery. I have to admit that of all nine Flagstaff breweries, Beaver Street is my favorite. The wood-trimmed bar at once reminded me of Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, where I hung out in Duluth, Minnesota. Consequently, when I first moved here over 25 years ago, this is where I chose to chill.
The Red Rock Raspberry, a light ale with a reddish tint, is a perfect après-hike beverage. I find that the distinctive light raspberry flavor is not overbearing, but is instead quite refreshing. (4.4 ABV 20 IBU)
Flagstaff Breweries Map
This Flagstaff breweries map is courtesy of DiscoverFlagstaff. In fact, the folks at DiscoverFlagstaff also have a Flagstaff Brewery Trail Passport. When you collect stamps at each of the Flagstaff brewery locations, DiscoverFlagstaff rewards you with a commemorative beer glass. The nonic pint glass (the traditional English pub glass) is imprinted with “Arizona’s Craft Brew City.” Get the details and download your Brewery Trail Passport now.
Check out hotel prices and more information about staying in the charming mountaintown of Flagstaff, Arizona.
*ABV = Percent of alcohol by volume
**IBU = International Bitterness Units scale, a gauge of the bitterness of a beer.
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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