No longer a novelty, it’s an industry

Domestic beer is not enough for Arizonans. The craftier the better.

This is especially true in Tucson.

“Southern Arizona, well particularly Tucson, has more breweries in the city of Tucson than the city of Phoenix,” Rob Fullmer, executive director of Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, said. “Tucsonans are able to walk or bike to a brewery these days.”

Flashback to 1991 when Barrio Brewing Company was created in a location where customers could walk and bike from the University of Arizona campus.

The company started brewing at a restaurant on University Boulevard, now known as Gentle Ben’s. By 2006, Barrio expanded and moved to a location near downtown Tucson.

Now, Barrio Brewing Company is the largest brewery in Southern Arizona, according to Fullmer.

A brewer for Barrio, Luke Edward, said just last year the company has sold over 11,200 barrels, or 22,500 kegs

The company expanded from only selling kegs. Barrio cans three of the beers it makes: Barrio Blonde, Barrio Rojo and Citrazona.

The market for Barrio in Phoenix continues to grow and now the company has expanded to Sierra Vista, Bisbee and Douglas, according to Edward.

Edward has been working with the company for the past four years. And since his time at Barrio, he said he has seen about 15 new breweries open in the Tucson area.

But it isn’t a competition for all the breweries in the area.

“With the other breweries in town, it’s not so much competition but feels more like family and seeing how everyone brews their stuff,” Edward said. “I think we really do support each other nicely… it’s tight knit.”

One way the breweries around town integrate is through beer festivals.

The Arizona Craft Brewers Guild held the third annual Baja Beer Festival on April 7. It brought in over 1,000 people and 23 breweries from the state of Arizona.

These festivals give community members a chance to learn about the different breweries, and it also gives the brewers an opportunity to interact with customers.

“Being in a brewery, we’re always handing out the beer to the distributors so when we get to really interact with customers, I find it really cool,” Edward said about the Baja Beer Festival.

Ten years ago, there were only 31 microbreweries in the state of Arizona. That number has risen to 110, according to the Annual Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

But the rise of the craft beer industry does not stop in Arizona. It’s growing in every state.

A report released by the Brewer’s Association states that small and independent craft brewers saw a 5 percent rise of volume in beer in 2017. Over 990 new breweries opened in 2017.

There are eight new brewers in planning within the state of Arizona, according to the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild website.

“The beer industry in Arizona is going to continue to adapt,” Fullmer said. “We still have a lot of opportunities for small breweries that want to service their neighborhoods and want to bring people into their taprooms.”

Liz O’Connell and Ciara Encinas are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact them at eoconnell@email.arizona.edu or ciaraencinas@email.arizona.edu.

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