With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. The third state we’re putting under the microscope is The Grand Canyon State, Arizona. This wild and arid state has more folks residing there than we expected, ranking 15th in total population (over 6.7 million), is supported by the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild and at last count houses roughly 70 breweries and brewpubs in total. Much of Arizona is desert and forest wilderness, so the bulk of their breweries are found in metropolitan Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff. As of 2013, the state ranked 19th in total breweries and 31st in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation.
Brewing in Arizona started in 1864 with the opening of Park Brewery by Alexander Levin, in Tucson. Levin, like many brewers in the early days, came to be as a result of the mining boom, yet they also struggled to overcome the harsh conditions the state posed with a limited raw materials available, water with high alkalinity and an abundance of transportation issues among many other issues.
After the state’s early entry into Prohibition in 1915, the boom of new breweries post-1933 saw one survive longer than all others, the Arizona Brewing Company. Despite the great depression and multiple changes in ownership, the Phoenix stalwart kept the flame alive until eventually being overtaken by Canada’s Carling Brewing in 1964, a century after Levin opened the state’s first brewery.
Brewing in Arizona was jolted back to life in 1988 with Electric Dave’s Brewing opening in the border town of Bisbee (after successfully lobbying the state legislature to make it so) and the Bandersnatch Brew Pub in Tempe, both of which have since closed. Yet without those early pioneers the craft beer scene in Arizona wouldn’t be quite as diverse and successful, winning 84 medals at the Great American Beer Festival over the past 25 years and flourishing with more variety than ever.
Three Breweries We Like That You Should Check Out
Arizona Wilderness Brewing (Gilbert, AZ) – As one of the state’s best known upstarts, they were declared one of the “ Top New Brewers in the World” by ratebeer only 4 months after opening their doors in September 2013. Funded initially by a strong Kickstarter campaign, Arizona Wilderness has created over 78 different beers in that time, featuring funky spins on classic styles such their excellent Berliner Weisse varieties and big tasty IPAs. Their one location in suburban Phoenix houses 6 taps, not to mention an excellent pub menu.
Four Peaks Brewing (Tempe, AZ) – Open since 1996 and winner of more GABF medals than any other brewer in the state (12), Four Peaks has been prolific as the state’s largest brewery with over 40,000 barrels produced annually (now possible following the cap increase allowed by SB 1030’s passage). Follow that with three brewpub locations, a seven year canning legacy and cult favorites like their award winning Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale and Pumpkin Porter, it’s a must stop destination, even if only passing through at their Sky Harbor Airport location.
Thunder Canyon Brewery (Tucson, AZ) – One of Tucson’s earliest craft brewers, Thunder Canyon has led the charge in creating quality beers at both their Foothills Mall and Downtown locations. In existence since 1997, they’ve racked up 10 GABF medals for various styles including their popular Countdown Honey Brown, Road Runner Red Lager and most recently for their Dark Lightning Milk Stout. We recommend checking out their Downtown location which boasts the largest dining rooms in town and over 40 beers on tap.
Huge thanks to Ed Sipos and his book Brewing Arizona for historical background.