Scottsdale, AZ - On the sun filled, wind accented morning of April 17th (2010), we woke up to the sound of chirping from the native birds of Arizona. After a cup of coffee, some breakfast, we reviewed the upcoming events being featured during the Scottsdale Culinary Festival. Visitors to Scottsdale and the surrounding area this would be our second year attending the Great Arizona Picnic.
Now in its 32nd year (circa 1978) the festival which is sponsored by the Scottsdale League for the Arts, is a celebration of all things gastro. From culinary exhibits, cooking classes, celebrity chef meet and greets. The festival has it all and before you even get a chance to try the food, spirits, wine, and craft beer.
Arriving at 11:30 AM near one of the many entrances, we couldn't help but soak in the warm weather (potentially reaching the mid-90s), as we admired all the various vendors, chefs, and volunteers making their way in and out of the gates. The doors opened, we made our way to the 21 and over station so that we could get approved arm bands, prior to checking out the various 'gardens'.
Besides the various ethnic and comfort foods featured at this event, the festival boasts many sponsored 21 and over areas. If wine is your thing, then you are invited to spend 5 tickets for a glass of wine inside the Robert Mondavi – Discover Wine Tour garden, or if you feel inclined you can sample Bacardi, Patron, or Absolut spirits in their respective beaches and tents.
With our wrists wrapped with the familiar 21 and over bracelets, we made our way through the large park area, which was located on the same grounds as Scottsdale City Hall, Public Library, and the Scottsdale Civic Center. As we made our way past food vendors featuring all manner of ethnic cuisine, we couldn't help but notice the many fountains, flora, and statues littered around the park.
But, soon we spotted a sign which guided us in the direction of our focus, the Southwest Festival of Beers. Sponsored by New Belgium Brewing, the over one acre beer garden, featured over 200 beers on draft and in bottles. Nearing the entrance we produced our admission tickets and after small technical hiccup with my wife (she was re-routed several times to the wrong booth, before finally getting the necessary entree armband), we were inside the artificial fence.
Looking around we couldn't help but admire the sheer openness of the layout. So with a few tickets in our hands we walked around the area checking out some of the local breweries.
Additionally there were many from California including, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker (and Nectar Ales), and Stone. Some of the ones that made us stand up were Full Sail (Hood River, OR) and Pyramid Alehouse, mostly because of their Pacific Northwest origins. Biggest shock for us was finding Bells Oberon (in bottles) and Ska (in bottles) beers, cooling in ice.
As we wandered around the area, we noticed various volunteers, brewers, and brewery representatives making their way around, explaining their beers to those who were unsure what they wanted. Eventually we each settled on a particular beer, with my first being a Papago Coconut Joe Coffee Stout. The beer although dark in color, was light on the palette, and produced a good balance of coconut aroma and the sense you were drinking cold coffee. This beer did not last and soon we were off for our next beer with one of us settling on an Irish Red from BJ's and the other a Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary (Ken & Fritz). Beers in hand we continued to take in the warmth of the sun, and review the occasional beer related t-shirt.
Overall we noticed plenty of shade, room to walk around, and above all a great deal of food being offered by some of the breweries as well as nearby vendors. At one point however, we felt the need to reach for a glass of water from a nearby fountain. Unfortunately the only source of water that was easily found inside the beer garden was a booth that featured 20 ounce bottle of water at 3 dollars a piece. After making this purchase we decided to explore the other areas of the Great Arizona Picnic which included the discovery of two drinking fountains in different areas of the grounds.
As it turns out, our decision to wander outside of the beer garden was a good one as we discovered fried pastries, cupcakes, and cookies not too far away from us. With a mini-cupcake in each of our hands, we made our way to see what other creations, confectionery or grilled we might find. Overall, the grounds produced numerous barbecue, southwestern, and even Asian offerings for us to taste if we were willing to part with between 3 to 7 tickets. Instead of paying for picnic sized portions and picnic sized prices we instead continued to look around for possible deals.
With each footprint left in the concrete parking lot, sidewalk, or the lush green lawn, we noticed more and more people arriving to take in the joy of the Great Arizona Picnic. Eventually we made our way towards the exit to see what else we would find around the downtown area. We will be back next year (weather and plane ticket allowing), thank you again GAP and the Scottsdale League of the Arts, we continue to be impressed.
Want to see more photos? Check out the Flickr site …