Craft brewing is the latest and hippest trend to hit the country since the wine heyday in the 90’s. Thanks to the movie Sideways, America fell in love with wine and the upscale lifestyle associated with it. There is no movie, song or celebrity endorsement for the recent craft beer surge in popularity, just the desire to break away from the same old thing produced by the large macro breweries in this country.
The recent explosion on craft breweries is at epic proportions and according to the Brewers Association, there are now over 2,000 craft breweries in the United States with more than 350 new breweries to open nationwide in the last year alone! Tucson is becoming a hotbed for this trend with two breweries opening up in 2012 and 2-3 more on the horizon. What makes this even more incredible is that overall beer sales have decreased in the past year except for the craft industry that has been delighted with a 12% increase in sales so far in 2012. Brewers Association Director, Paul Gatza was quoted saying “Beer passionate Americans are opening breweries at a rate faster than any time since the day Prohibition ended for the beverage of moderation. There is nearly a new brewery opening every day of the year, benefiting beer lovers and communities in every area across the country.”
Hotel Congress Beverage Director, David Torkko is a certified sommelier and has noticed the trend by offering beer pairings and brewery dinners at the Hotel’s quaint Cup Café. Building on the popularity of those dinners, Torkko came up with the idea of holding a local brewery face-off competition and announced the inaugural Born & Brewed: The Tucson Beer Cup. The competition pits six local Tucson micro breweries in a head to head blind taste test for a chance to be voted Tucson’s best beer. Each brewery will put up two of their best beers for the public to taste and the winning beer will be featured in the Tap Room of the Hotel for a year. Here is a quick rundown of the competitors.
1. Nimbus Brewing Company 3850 E. 44th St. http://www.nimbusbeer.com
What began as a small, local brewery in the spring of 1996 has grown into the largest brewery based in Arizona with three 150-barrel fermenters that stand nearly 30 feet tall and holding nearly 5,000 gallons of beer each. They offer six styles of beer and have locations statewide with bistros in Tucson and Scottsdale. The original brewery is hard to find off of Alvernon, but when you do, you’ll never forget your trip there.
2. Borderlands Brewing Company 119 E. Toole Ave http://borderlandsbrewing.com
Borderlands was started in 2010 by close friends and avid home brewers, Mike Mallozzi and Myles Stone. Mallozzi and Stone aren’t your typical bar/brewery owners as Mallozzi has his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Stone is in medical school. Shortly after opening, they brought on one of Tucson’s most respected homebrewers, Blake Collins. The three offer six different styles of beer out of their facility in the Warehouse Arts District that was built in the 1900’s and located just south of the train tracks for the authentic Old West feel.
3. Dragoon Brewing Company 1859 W. Grant Rd. #111 http://www.dragoonbrewing.com
Dragoon is the new kid on the block, opening up this Spring with only two beers, but those two beers were amazing. They currently brew six styles of beer that consistently impress their customers. They opened with the normal brown and IPA but have since explored into newer styles like the Saison Blue, a traditional Belgian farmhouse ale with a healthy 7.1% ABV, the Uno Russian Imperial Stout a big, black and strong beer coming in at 10.4% ABV and the Ojo Blanco, a Belgian style witbier with a spicy banana clove flavor.
4. Thunder Canyon Brewery 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd. http://thundercanyonbrewery.com
Located at the Foothills Mall in the northwest portion of the city, Thunder Canyon has been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. After opening in late 1997 as a brewpub, they have expanded into a full service restaurant offering contemporary bistro cuisine and hand crafted beers. They have 15 barrels on premises and currently offer 12 different styles on tap including the Cuppa Joe Porter, a coffee flavored porter, Strawberry Lightning and their award winning India Pale Ale.
5. Barrio Brewing Company 800 E. 16th St. http://barriobrewing.com
Barrio Brewery along with Gentle Ben’s are local treasures that have graced the Tucon landscape for over two decades. Gentle Ben’s began brewing a stone’s throw from the University of Arizona campus back in 1991 with three styles and have since expanded to eight including an Oatmeal Stout, a gigantic ale brewed with more than 100 pounds of oatmeal, the Taylor Jane’s Raspberry Ale and the newly named RichRod Red after the new U of A football coach. The Barrio is located just southeast of downtown and across the street from the railroad tracks and offers discounted beers when the train rolls by, gotta love that!
6. 1702 The Address Brewing 1702 E. Speedway Blvd. http://www.1702az.com
When 1702 opened up its craft beer and pizza emporium on Speedway in the heart of the University of Arizona campus, students rejoiced. When they started carrying 46 different craft beers on draught from across the country and the world, beer aficionados rejoiced. Now that the guys at 1702 began brewing their own beer, you guessed people are rejoicing. I have sampled their IPA and Double IPA and was impressed by the depth and flavor of both beers.
The Battle of the Beers happens Friday night, September 21st in the lobby of the Hotel Congress from 7-10pm. For $20, attendees will receive 12 tasters (2 from each brewery) a keepsake mug, gourmet beer snacks and will have 2 votes for Tucson’s Best Beer & Best Specialty/Seasonal Brew. The food that will be served looks incredible as Executive Chef Mike Byrer & Sous Chef Tony Coluci have outdone themselves once again. The first offering is a house made jalapeno bratwurst with pickled cabbage and spicy Sonoran mustard. Secondly, there are St. Louis Riblets – mesquite smoked with a spicy honey BBQ sauce. For those non-meat eaters, there are also offering a vegetarian chili with white, black & pinto beans with tomatoes, seitan, peppers and spices. Complimentary pretzel sticks, house smoked spicy peanuts and mini jalapeno and cheddar biscuits will also be served. There will be live music and the hotel will host an after party from 10pm -1am for the general public with all brews available for purchase. They did sell out the advance tickets, but I have been told that there are a limited amount of walk-up tickets available.
Hotel Congress 311 E. Congress St. (520) 622-8848 http://www.hotelcongress.com