‘The beer scene round here has been growing like crazy,’ says Matt Trethewey of the Beer Research Institute brewpub in Mesa, Arizona. ‘We opened at the end of November 2014, and a couple more have opened since we’ve been here. For the longest time Arizona was dominated by two microbreweries, Four Peaks and SanTan, but now craft brewing is booming and at the last count there were 65 microbreweries in Arizona. People think Mesa is just a suburb of Phoenix but Mesa is the 3rd largest city in Arizona and yet there was only one brewery for 500,000 people.’
Matt started BRI with his buddy Greg Sorrels. They’re both Mesa boys and were both into home brewing.
‘There are similarities between home brewing and commercial,’ says Matt, ‘but the timing is different, and scaling the recipes isn’t straightforward. The recipes don’t go in a linear fashion. The chemistry all changes. At home we were doing 11 gallons at a time, now we’re doing 155 gallons, and if we make a mistake it all goes down the drain! We’re committed to quality. In a public setting, you have to be consistent. At home if a batch turns out a little different you drink it anyway. Commercially it has to be consistent.’
Matt and Greg built their brewpub the way they wanted it. There are no TVs and not even wifi.
‘We want people to sit and talk,’ Matt says. ‘We want to be part of the glue that brings a community together.’
So what kind of beers do Matt and Greg make? ‘We like strong beers,’ Matt explains. ‘Most of our beer is over 6% and the majority over 7%. Our Lolli is 8.2% but it tastes like 5% so is dangerous! We call it our sucker punch. We haven’t yet used local ingredients like agave or chili, which some people have done, but we might. We do use local peaches for our 9.8% peach seasonal, though.’
A few miles away at Arizona Wilderness Brewing in the neighboring city of Gilbert, they do use local ingredients in their brews, and some unusual ones at that. Their innovative approach certainly hasn’t done them any harm.
‘We opened in September 2013,’ says General Manager Matt McCormick. ‘In 2013 RateBeer voted us the best new brewery in the world, then Esquire voted us the best new brewery in the USA.’
Some of their unique beers are on the flight before me, and like most things they brew are named after Arizona wilderness areas. The Wet Beaver Wit combines beet and coriander, their Blonde Stout has Arizona’s Superstition Coffee in it, while the Guntzer has pine cones smoked over pecan wood.
‘We did a pecan pie beer aged in bourbon barrels,’ Matt says. ‘We’ve used rum and tequila barrels too. We’re also one of the few brewing companies that use White Sonora Wheat, which was on the verge of extinction. Steve Sossaman at Sossaman Farms down the road in Queen Creek helped bring it back.’
‘Now that the scene is growing,’ Matt Trethewey says, ‘you’re not only getting variety, you’re getting better quality. There isn’t really rivalry, it’s more cooperation, though when I say there’s no rivalry you still want to be the best! When you see what other guys are doing you have to up your game.’
One way to see what several of the Arizona brewers are doing is to take an Arizona Brewery Tour, another business that’s booming alongside the breweries, as co-founder John Alvarado says.
‘We started about two and a half years ago, and have probably added about 18 breweries to our tours in the last couple of years. We now have three buses. We even have people come on our tours who don’t drink beer!
‘We usually include a pub that brews its own ale to sell on site. We’ll include a larger facility and maybe a nano-brewery too. We like to show a range of places. We’re trying to expand people’s palates. The guys from the Beer Research Institute actually joined one of our tours to see what everyone else was doing.
‘The tour is good because the area around Greater Phoenix is so sprawled out. Cab rides are expensive. There are now over 60 breweries in Arizona, and three more are opening in the next few weeks that I know of. We have a group coming into Phoenix from Vegas just for the beer!’
It’s clear the beer scene in Arizona is booming, especially around the Phoenix area – beets, wheat, coffee, and all.