February 3, 2011

Of Re-Starts, Starts-Ups and Endings

"I didn't want to do what was right. I didn't want to do what was wrong. I just wanted another beer." - Don Younger
We have three stories this week about starting up, starting over or coming to an end.

Old World 2.0
Last weekend I attended the re-opening of the Old World Brewery tasting room at the former Phoenix Capital Station Post Office. The brewery is not yet operational, according to Jeff Olson. They are waiting for a certificate of occupancy before Southwest Gas will connect their service which could take a few weeks. Still, there was beer- Nitro Blond and 4Leaf Red provided by a contract brewing arrangement with Flagstaff's Mogollon- and some things to celebrate.


Old World's move into the hardscrabble neighborhood of 25th Avenue and Van Buren is somewhat metaphorical of its Rock and Roll existence. It's hard enough to get a brewery up and running, tougher still to move so shortly after you get up and running. It seemed to be a move into a good deal of unknown.  At the opening, it was clear that there was still a long road ahead, but Jeff seemed to have the team on a managed growth regimen. We can all debate the circumstances of the move and reports of some lactic character migrating into the Wit and the Red in the latter days of the Deer Valley days, but craft beer can be about redemption too. Last weeks beers were clean and flavorful. I'm going to give them a clean slate and well wishes. Craft beer in the Estrella neighborhood certainly would be an indicator that Phoenix is ready for a cultural change.

A New Brewing Landmark on the Horizon
We've seen a surge of craft beer bars in the last year including recent newcomers The Garage on Bethany and Flanny's in Tempe. It seemed like we might be due for some new brewery start-ups. After a few months of running down some brewery-in-planning rumors, I picked up the trail for North Mountain Brewing.

Apart from the window graphics on the smallish office suite near the tri-corner area of Dunlap, 7th St and Cave Creek Road, there is nothing that indicates that this will be the site of Sunnyslope's first brewery. You need to talk to Robert Berkner to understand how the recently gutted shell will be transformed into neighborhood focused brewpub.

Robert, a native Phoenician, recounted how the seeds of his current vision began some 20 years ago during the micro-brewery boom. He spoke about how he almost chose to go down the craft beer path about the time that Coyote Springs had just closed and Four Peaks was just starting up. There were some opportunities and possibilities, but he was led back to family business.  Success in other areas, led to a successful small business of his own and a lifestyle that allowed him to begin a family and raise 3 children.

North Mountain Brewing
Fast forward to today and Robert is eager to take the path that, years ago, he had not. He describes the bar area where 6 taps will serve classic styles and a few seasonals. He has a chef lined up currently working in the state that will be revealed as they get closer to opening. Together they have planned a menu that will feature beer foods of the world as well as seasonal offerings and an emphasis on brasied meats.

Outside, he paints in gestures where the wrap-around patio will go and the site of the future outbuilding that will house a 15 barrel brewhouse sometime in the next 8 months. He walks me over to the adjacent suite and points out the landmarks of the space's former seedier past. "It used to be a massage parlor and yes, it was raided. I'm not sure how much of that we're going to discuss with customers" he jokes as we laugh about the possibilities.

The possibilities.  It's early in the process and Robert begins to reel back in a bit on what might be changing with his plan and some of the details are still in flux. Construction, permitting and market forces will certainly impact the timetable and influence the vision. He returns to the the principles that will he feels will make this brewpub successful. There is a strong desire to have a beer-centric pub that integrates into the village of Sunnyslope. He credits his family and past experiences owning and running businesses and believes that will carry through any of the gaps that he might have as a first-time brewery owner. His passion when he speaks is steady and measured. If the timetable seems ambitious to you then you are in agreement with some of the local industry people that I've talked with, but you can't help but get excited about the picture he's painted.

Legacy Lost
Don Younger outside of Falling Rock
I can't let the week go by without mentioning the passing of craft beer icon, Portland Publican and racanteur Don Younger. Having only met him a few times and speaking with him in-depth one time, I'll leave the tributes to those that knew him better and reflect on his larger impact.

Despite being credited for birthing the entire Portland beer scene, you will be hearing hundreds of stories about how engaging and open Don was. That he would just as easily strike up a conversation with an beer neophyte or brewing legend  is something I can attest to.  We've lost some great breweries here in Phoenix and a few notable figures have left, but there really isn't a comparable figure to Don. We do not have many of the things that make a city like Portland a premier beer destination. Our beer culture story will be unique. We do not have favorable water our climate is harsh, our city is lacking some connective tissue and we will most probably not have a Don to lead us- at least not with the sheer will and physical presence of Younger. 

The quote at the top of this post is Don's and I think it fits both breweries pursuit of beer. They aren't looking to set a blueprint for anyone or to determine what beer everyone should have in their hands.  They're looking to get their next beer- in their own vision and on their own terms.

If you are excited as I am about seeing this vision, join me in following North Mountain Brewing on their Facebook page.  As I get this ready to publish, we're just hearing about a new start-up in Tucson called Dragoon Brewing. We've also been following Flagstaff's Mother Road Brewing. Exciting times!


  1. Couple of broken linkies there at the bottom... I think you were pointing to:



  2. Thank you Eric.

    That's why they call it blargh-ing.