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Alex Philips

Opening a business next to a cemetery comes with the possibility of hauntings, but Grand Canyon Brewing D.O.S. Alex Philips isn't worried. Photo by Mike Williams

The freaks and geeks of the Masters of Brewtality crypt have always had a special place in our withered black hearts for Grand Canyon Brewing. Beyond being a standout example of a craft brewery that executes all the classic styles with perfection while still pushing the creative envelope, their aesthetic tickles that homegrown Southwestern side of us in oh-so many wicked ways. Their brewery in Williams is quintessential Old West in every sense with wood as far as the eye can see as well as skulls everywhere and a monumental fireplace with massive leather couches that beg for long conversations on a winter day. Really, it’s probably the skulls everywhere.  But, again, all of it makes for one of the most visually stunning breweries in the state and absolutely worth checking out if you’re passing through.  

With this in mind, you can naturally imagine the cries of elation that spread through the murky depths of the MOB crypt when we found out Grand Canyon was opening a sister location right here in Flagstaff. Located in the former residence of Buster’s Restaurant and Bar and the never-quite-got-it-together Trail Crest Brewing Company, the new spot is a fantastic take on its iconic look, but perfectly adapted to the Flagstaff feel. Rustic pool tables and shuffleboard fill the back room, the newly expanded patio is massive and shade-covered in the afternoon, the bar top is perfectly spaced for conversation and, of course, there’s a gigantic stone fireplace with luxurious couches. Everything about this place just screams, “We’re posting up for a while and it’s gonna rule!”

We caught up with Director of Sales and all-around great guy Alex Philips this month to chat about Grand Canyon’s new endeavor and were immensely pleased when he groggily told us he’d literally just crawled out of the woods. As frequent crawlers ourselves, we thought it’d be nice to take a kindred spirit on a proper Masters of Brewtality adventure, so instead of sitting at the establishment we’re featuring, we loaded up our brand spankin’ new Canyon Cooler insulated backpack (which we can’t recommend enough—that thing keeps beer ice cold for three days and is as rugged as a monster truck) and headed directly next door to Calvary Cemetery. As most of you know, Masters of Brewtality maintains a series of underground tunnels and assorted lairs under all of the Flagstaff cemeteries, and Calvary is no different. Tap the right sequence of doors on the urn niche and a fake panel slides aside revealing a weathered staircase descending into darkness. This is where we’ve hidden our VIP lounge. Granted, it’s just a mini fridge with three milk crates, it drips tomb sludge and is full of spiders, but we blew our entire budget on the secret doorway. Those things aren’t cheap… Fortunately, Alex is easygoing and brought a full afternoon’s supply of Grand Canyon’s fantastic American Pilsner. Summer is on its way out, so you’ve got to get the lighter brews in before everything turns full pumpkin, and this pilsner is one for the books. Coming in at a reasonable five percent ABV and brewed with Saphir and Mt. Hood hops, it goes down easy and answers the question, “Could I have five more?” with a resounding, “Yes!” The IPA is solid as well, and unlike other competitors, doesn’t completely grind your face off with an avalanche of pine-flavored Armageddon.  

It bears mention that the new spot, which opened Aug. 22, the 13th anniversary of Grand Canyon Brewing Company’s initial debut, is chock-full of liquor, too, just like its flagship location. All of the company's signature bottles are on deck, including one of the best rums in the state. We can’t recommend this enough—hints of mango and pineapple with a sweet sugar base make it perfect for anything. And food! The kitchen just recently got up and running and it’s been churning out delicious burgers, salads and other standard bar fare as well as plenty of vegan options. Alex recommends the mac and cheese, and the starving ghouls down in the crypt are all in agreement. The distillery is putting a heavy emphasis on whiskies as well, with all the standards plus a plethora of exotic and distinguished varieties. The fireplace seating practically begs to be paired with a smooth glass of fine smoky bourbon on a snowy evening.  

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This wouldn’t be a Masters of Brewtality column if we didn’t ask Alex if he was worried about any wandering ghosts from the cemetery next door or if there was concern about the possibility of a finale-from-Poltergeist scenario. What’s the plan if there’s a slight earthquake and suddenly there are coffins and skeletons popping up through the floors and the bar manager starts screaming about how they didn’t move the bodies?   

“We’re not too worried about any of that, but we have been taking bets on who’s going to get drunk and streak through, though,” he says with a laugh. 

Truly a man after our degenerate hearts. Until next month, cheers!

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