Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Watering Holes of Historic Downtown Yuma

Yuma is a small agricultural town in the southwest corner of Arizona.  A friend who used to live there jokes that during her time in Yuma the Golden Corral Buffet was the most exciting place in town.  But Yuma is changing, most significantly with the revitalization of historic downtown Yuma, and there are some really good and exciting craft beer and wine bars popping up for locals and travelers alike.

Prison Hill Brewing Company

Prison Hill Brewing Company Beer Flight Yuma Arizona

As we approached Prison Hill Brewing Company we were greeted by the quote, “Every loaf of bread is a tragic tale of grains that could’ve become a beer but didn’t.”  Luckily other grains were saved from such a tragic end and instead made it into Prison Hill Brewing Company’s craft beers.  Prison Hill Brewing Company opened its doors on August 30, 2014, and the brewery is the labor of love of Nathan Heida, Amy Biallas, and Chris Wheeler.  Nathan and Amy previously opened The Pint House Bar & Grill across the street, but decided to take Yuma’s craft beer scene to the next level by working with their friend Chris Wheeler, Prison Hill’s master brewer.  Prison Hill Brewing is the first and only craft brewery in Yuma.  There are no other craft breweries within 110 miles. 

Prison Hill Brewing Company Restaurant and Bar

Clearly Yuma was ready for a craft brewery because Prison Hill is selling their beer as fast as they are brewing.  Prison Hill has three to five of their beers on tap at any one time, along with other craft brands.  Most of the recipes have been tested by Chris Wheeler six to eight times before production for the brewery, and one recipe is 20 years old.  It takes one month for Prison Hill’s beers to go from grain to glass and all are brewed in-house.  The plan is to have five to seven staple beers and rotate additional seasonal brews.  Coming down the pipeline is a session pale ale with a gravity of 1.032.  The label will feature the mug shot of Chris Wheeler’s great-grandfather Jesus Gill Sr. who served three years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.  It seemed like fate considering Gill’s inmate number was 1032.  

During our visit we tasted the three Prison Hill brews available on tap.  Devil Dog Brown was brewed in honor of military appreciation week.  Devil Dog Brown is an IBA (Indian Brown Ale) which starts as a brown, achieved using Belgian candy sugar, and finishes hoppy.  Repeat Offender is a session beer, though the 5.0% ABV is a little higher than what was planned.  My favorite was the Whoop-Ass Winter Ale, which tastes like Christmas in a glass.  When they were brewing the beer people kept stopping by and asking what was cooking because of the aromatic nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and orange peel included in the brewing process.

Yuma’s Main Squeeze

Yuma's Main Squeeze Yuma Arizona

Yuma’s Main Squeeze is Yuma’s only winery.  Yuma does not have the climate to grow grapes, so owner Fred Earle imports grapes from around the world to craft the wine lineup.  Fred’s son is the main wine maker and all the wine is made within the Main Street winery.  Yuma’s Main Squeeze also serves food including panini, pizza, and cheese plates, and sometimes has live music on the weekends.  Patrons can either choose a wine tasting flight of five or purchase wine by the glass. 

During our visit Yuma’s Main Squeeze had ten wines available for tasting: Yuma Crossing Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Australian Shiraz, Dynamic Duo (a Cabernet and Merlot blend), Malbec, Rat Pack (a Cabernet, Syrah, and Zinfandel blend), Strawberry Riesling, Raspberry Rose, Back Cherry Pinot Noir, and After Dinner Coffee Port.  My favorite wines were the Yuma Crossing Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Dynamic Duo.  The Gewurztraminer is bright, smooth, and off-dry.  The Dynamic Duo, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot grapes from California, is a full-bodied red with a fruity aroma reminiscent of jam.  The biggest shocker was the After Dinner Coffee Port.  It smells more like a coffee stout than a dessert wine.  I wouldn’t think that a coffee flavored port would work, but it does.  They make this special port once a year around the holidays and carry it until it runs out, which usually happens in March.

Old Town Wine Cellar

Old Town Wine Cellar Yuma Arizona

Not really a bar, Old Town Wine Cellar is still a place you can go to have a drink.  Old Town Wine Cellar is a wine shop (which also sells some beer) located in part of the old 1920s Sears building on Main Street.  Old Town Wine Cellar opened in 2003 and offers wine tastings Tuesday through Friday as well as monthly Saturday Afternoon Beer Tastings. 

We participated in a Saturday Afternoon Beer Tasting where we got to taste some beers we had tasted before and some we had not.  The beer tasting lineup included Weihenstephaner Krystall-Weissbier from Bavaria, Germany, Malheur “10” Golden Ale from Belgium, Lagunitas IPA from California, Unibrou Maudite Amber Red Ale from Canada, Rogue Brewing Hazelnut Brown Nectar from Oregon, and Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout from England.  The owner Mike Shelhamer obviously has a lot of fun curating his wine and beer selection.  The wines featured in the wine tastings change every week and Mike is the one who will be pouring your tastings.

The Pint House Bar & Grill

The Pint House Bar & Grill Yuma Arizona

Before Prison Hill Brewing Company, there was The Pint House Bar & Grill. Nathan Heida and Amy Biallas opened The Pint House in 2012 in an effort to bring to Yuma what other towns like nearby San Diego and Scottsdale have, craft beer.  There are lots of bars in Yuma selling the usual lineup of big name beers, but the craft beer movement hadn’t really made it to Yuma yet.

After over two years The Pint House is going strong, converting Yuma residents to the craft side and enticing customers not only with its craft beer, but also its great food.  Just to give an example of The Pint House’s varied craft beer lineup, we enjoyed Mudshark Morning Buzz from Lake Havasu, Historic Piehole Porter from Flagstaff, Wasatch Pumpkin Porter from Park City, and Bison Gingerbread Ale from Berkeley.  With so many beers on tap, many of which we hadn’t had before, it’s an added plus that they’ll provide one free taste if you’re unsure of your selection.

While Yuma isn’t a craft beer and wine mecca, it is starting to dip its toes into the craft scene and is so far doing a great job.  Visitors who are used to a plethora of craft bars at home will be happy to find these unique watering holes in Yuma’s historic downtown.

Thank you to the Yuma Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip to Yuma and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.