April 10, 2014

The Arizona Beer Scene Is Movin' On Up

I first got into craft beer back in 2002 when living in San Francisco. I thought the beer scene in the Bay Area was the bee's knees and that nothing could ever top it. I was drinking Russian River before the hype train rolled into the station, and fawning over all the cool new beers trickling into the stores. Then I moved back to Arizona in 2005 and saw my craft mojo fading fast. The local scene was flat, beer bars and stores were sparse, and where the hell was my Russian River!?

Fast forward to 2014: Our great state's beer scene has done a 180. A plethora of breweries have opened their doors to thirsty patrons. New beer bars, stores and distributors are setting up shop across the Valley. And what might be the biggest reason for our state's exponential growth: the community. Allow me to elaborate.

The number of new breweries popping up is astonishing. According to Ed Sipos' book, Brewing Arizona, the state boasted 22 breweries as of July 1, 2012. Folks, that number has now nearly doubled. And with the beer boom we're in the midst of, I don't expect this trend to slow down anytime soon. The more the merrier, I say —  more choices, more creativity, more new experiences. And our breweries are gaining some well-deserved recognition. Four Peaks, Fate and Lumberyard, to name a few, have won medals at prestigious beer festivals like the Great American Beer Fest, and Arizona Wilderness was recently named the best new brewery in the world by RateBeer.

Beer bars & stores
Back in the day (okay, the early 2000s), it was harder to find bars and stores that served a rotating selection of craft beer — Papago, Tops and Sun Devil come to mind. That most certainly is not the case any longer. The proprietors of those establishments, Ron Kloth and Greg Eccles, paved the way for the bevy of beer-centric bars and bottle shops we now see around town. And just in time, because we're seeing a flurry of new out-of-state breweries making their way to Valley of the Sun shelves, and we need all the shelf space we can get. Which brings me to...

Hold the phone, Founders is coming to Arizona? We're the only state west of North Dakota to have Bell's on our shelves? Yup, and yup. You have your hard-working local distributors to thank for the mind-numbing selection of beers available locally. Little Guy Distributing was the original main player in the craft beer distributing scene. They may not be around anymore, but today there many well-regarded distributors like Crescent Crown, Pitcher of Nectar, Golden Eagle and Hensley bringing us the goods. Some may say we're going to hit the over-saturation point. I say nay. Variety is the spice of life, ya know.

Last but certainly not least, a shout-out to the Arizona beer community. As I mentioned earlier, our beer scene was fairly dormant for quite some time. Sure, we had some good local breweries and a decent selection of craft beers available to us, but our state was definitely not in the conversation of one of the best in the nation. Well, now it is. And our community of beer-swilling enthusiasts is a key factor. From the Arizona Craft Beer Lovers Facebook group to the Arizona Society of Homebrewers, I've never seen such a tight-knit collection of beer lovers who hang out with one another regularly. Friends are formed. Bonds are made. And, most importantly, local beer businesses are thriving. That's what a community is really all about.

So the next time someone tells you Arizona isn't a worthy beer destination, take the time to educate them on everything that makes this a great beer state.

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