Ty Young receives the order and recedes to the rear of the bar. He pulls down on the beer tap, and a hazy golden ale fills the frosted pint glass. After releasing the tap and waiting for the head to form, he lifts the beer and places it on the counter. The brew slips into the hands of the customer and lets off a fruity aroma as he takes a sip.
“I used to be a reporter for the Arizona Republic,” said Young, who has been bartending at World of Beer for more than a year. “I got tired of crime scenes and dead bodies — this is more fun.”
World of Beer, located at 350 E. Congress St., is a tap room stocked with more than 600 beers from around the globe. While the refrigerators have a supply of brews from places like Brazil, China and Germany, the draughts stay reserved for the best local craft beer.
The beer industry in Arizona is growing rapidly. The economic impact of craft brewing in the state grew from $290 million in 2011 to more than $650 million in 2013, according to the Brewer’s Association annual report on craft-beer production. That was accompanied with a 2 percent decrease in sales for the national market.
In Tucson, the number of breweries registered with the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild has risen to 11 from three in last five years. And at least four more breweries are on their way in 2015.
Here’s a quick look at the past, present and future of the craft beer industry in Tucson:
Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company, located just off campus on University Boulevard, 8565 E. University Blvd., has been serving its own beer since 1991. The beer is made at Barrio Brewing Company, 800 E. 16th St., which is the oldest brewery in Tucson.
The l-shaped bar is like its beer — simple and classic. There are a few stools, taps, and televisions, but not much in terms of decoration. The bar sells between 10 and 20 homemade beers, but nothing past that, according to bartender Mason Smith.
Smith, who has worked at Gentle Ben’s for 2 1/2 years, said that people tend to drink craft beer for two reasons: it supports local businesses and has more flavor than mass-produced beer.
“Whenever you do a small batch, you can take more risks, and you can end up with more flavor and a higher alcohol content, which people like,” he said.
The most popular beer at the restaurant is the Barrio Blonde, a light, crisp starter beer with a slight malt flavor, which is the longest-running beer in Arizona history. Another staple is the Nolan’s Porter, a complex, dark and rich ale, which was awarded the gold medal for Best Porter in America at the Great American Beer Festival in 1998.
However, Smith said his favorite beer is the Barrio Blanco, a white Indian Pale Ale that has citrus and grapefruit notes.
“It’s not very malty, so it’s a very easy drinking IPA,” he said. “It’s going to be a classic.”
Smith said that craft beer industry has exploded in Tucson in the last five years. Despite an increase in competition, the brewing community is tight-knit and meet together regularly. Barrio Brewing Company has even lent equipment and offered advice to start-up breweries.
“It’s a very friendly community and a very supportive industry,” Smith said.
Eric Raines reaches for his glass at World of Beer and downs a Rillito Red Ale, which has been a fixture of Tucson-based Nimbus Brewing Company, 3850 E. 44th St., since 1996. The amber ale is known for its hazy red color and doughy taste, and lets off a sour aroma as he takes a sip.
“As long as it’s not bitter, I’ll drink it,” he said.
The ale is one of the local brews available at World of Beer and is a favorite of Raines, a tech support agent at Intuit who drinks microbrews three or four times a week.
Raines has been drinking craft beer for five years, making the switch because he was tired of the watered-down taste of Bud Light. He started experimenting with beers like Blue Moon before focusing on microbrews.
“(Craft beer is) a lot different than the regular everyday beers,” he said. “They use a lot of different ingredients, so it’s really flavorful.”
Raines is thrilled with the explosion of the craft beer scene in Tucson and doesn’t even mind making the drive downtown from his east-side home for a pint.
“It kind of spiked a little after I got into it, so I’m very thankful that it’s not so much a rarity,” he said.
Raines’ only critique is that the breweries in Tucson have a narrow range of beers and flavors.
“I don’t know if more breweries is the answer, but more diversity of bars means more options,” he said.
Linette Antillon fills a phone order for a customer while standing behind the bar at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company, 115 E. Broadway Blvd. Behind her are shelves stocked with growlers, pint glasses and beer flights. If you don’t sit at the j-shaped bar and opt for the adjacent tables, you can get a good look at the tubes and barrels of the brewing system in the back.
When Antillon and her boyfriend, Kyle Jefferson, graduated from the University of Arizona in 2009, they always dreamed of opening a brewery. But it took a little while for that dream to become a reality.
Realizing there weren’t a lot of jobs available in Tucson, the couple moved to Seattle, where Jefferson picked up an internship with a commercial brewer. After he learned the business from the ground up, they returned to the desert.
After 1 1/2 years of looking for a space and another year for remodeling, they opened Pueblo Vida Brewing Company in October. It’s one of four breweries that have opened in the downtown corridor since 2010.
“I’m really happy to see the beer scene starting to grow and really have a craft scene presence here,” Antillon said.
Jefferson makes the beer in the back of the microbrewery using a seven-barrel system, which allows him to make seven beers at once. He came up with the recipes and only “brews what he likes to drink,” Antillon said.
From grain to glass takes on average of 12 to 14 days, she said.
Of the beers on tap, three are mainstays: a Bavarian Hefeweizen, a wheat beer with a banana and clove aroma; a Northwest IPA, an Indian Pale Ale with citrus and grapefruit flavors; and an American Breakfast Stout, a chocolate-flavored dark beer. The rest are seasonal.
“Each one has its own flavor, profile, aroma — everything,” Antillon said. “When you drink a craft beer, you’re savoring it a lot more.”
Even though the craft beer scene in Tucson has “exploded,” she said that the local brewing community is a friendly and supportive industry. This fits into the idea of craft beer, which is a community thing.
“It’s not really competitive,” Antillon said. “It’s a really fun industry to be a part of.”
There are roughly 60 members of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, an organization that promotes and protects breweries in the state. That is a more than 100 percent increase in five years, said executive director Rob Fullmer.
Fullmer attributes the growth to a strong home-brewing culture in Arizona. The state has experienced a shift to more urban housing development and more jobs in fields where people don’t see the creation of something start to finish.
He also believes craft breweries fit into the concept of the “third space,” with the first two spaces being home and work. People are looking at ways to connect with their neighbors, and tasting rooms are becoming a preferred option.
“Brewing is kind of a throwback,” Fullmer said.
With the explosion of microbrewing in Arizona, the guild introduced Senate Bill 1030 in January. Current Arizona law states that breweries that produce less than 40,000 barrels a year can be classified as microbreweries. However, once they surpass that amount they are reclassified as producers and run the risk of being shut down.
None of the breweries in Arizona have surpassed the 40,000-barrel threshold yet, he said. However, that number is too low because breweries experience an average growth rate of 18 percent.
The bill was moved to floor last week, and the Senate will vote on it soon, Fullmer said.
“We’re part of the community and need to have a way to grow,” he said. “Just like any business, (the breweries) want certainty and clarity in the law. They want to have a 5- or 10-year plan.”
Fullmer believes that the brewing industry in Arizona still has room to grow. He thinks that a city like Tucson could house up to 50 small breweries.
“We’re not going to be like San Diego, we’re not going to be like Philadelphia,” Fullmer said. “We’re just going to be different.”
Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 501B: Travel Writing class.