It is no lie, Americans love their beer and lots of it.
According to The Beer Institute's most recent findings, Arizona’s annual beer consumption rests at 36.4 gallons per person, which falls close behind the leading state of Nevada at 44 gallons.
However, quantity isn’t the area of interest today. The trending focus is on smaller breweries, or microbreweries, that generally host a more profound range of distinct native flavors. According to the brewers association, “Craft beer is beer that is brewed by small, independent and traditional brewers with the finest quality ingredients and is conducted on a limited basis or seasonal basis.”
Craft beer invites home brewers to reach into their channels of creativity and experiment across the vast spectrum of flavor potential. The edgy full-flavored products are evidence to the character of the brewer and unbinding constructs of the industry. People are washing down frothy local suds by the numbers.
In fact, according to the Department of Liquor License and Control, the Arizona craft beer industry pumps in “$278 million to the Arizona economy, and almost $10 million in state sales taxes and an additional $590,771 in state excise or luxury taxes.”
Gary Glass, the director of the American Homebrewers Association, said they estimate that there are at least 1 million U.S. residents who make beer at home. “That is a conservative estimate, so the actual number is likely higher than that,” Glass said.
Home brewing has been growing exponentially over the last several years. “Membership in the American Homebrewers Association has grown on average by 20 percent per year every year since 2005,” Glass said. “At the retail level, the average gross revenue has ballooned from 2009 to 2011 from 16 to 24 percent.”
According to the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, “To qualify as a microbrewery (series 3) in Arizona, annual production requirements begin at 5,000 gallons and cap out at 1,240,000 gallons maximum per calendar year.”
Today, the US has 1,989 microbreweries, which is more than any other point since the 1880s. In terms of sheer numbers, California (261), Washington (134), and Colorado (127), sit atop the totem pole as the nation’s top three microbrewing states.
Lee Hill, the communication and special projects director of the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control said, “Five years ago, at year end in 2008, there were 31 microbreweries in Arizona. At year end in 2012, there were 55 microbreweries in the state.”
Pima County contributes seven microbreweries to the state’s total. One microbrewery in particular that has skyrocketed to the forefront of Arizona’s craft beer industry is Borderlands Brewing Company.
Located on 119 E. Toole Ave. a former scrappy produce lot turned rustic warehouse is where home brewers and now microbrewery owners, Blake Collins, Mike Mallozzi and Myles Stone call home.
Strapped with an $2,000 budget, the ideal start-up of a microbrewery was out of the question. The financial situation was a minor setback, but one that they would manage to work around. “We spent many months behind the scenes finding (and fixing) a building, setting up brewing equipment, and convincing our friends, families, and neighbors that we were worth their investment,” Stone said.
The cost of rent, the purchase of brewing tanks and round-the-clock labor were mounting astronomically over their heads. “The learning curve was steep. Our former brewing procedure was to get out the sauce pot, place the sauce pot on the stove, light the stove, and then brew. That process got remarkably more complex when the new tanks arrived,” Stone said.
Quietly, the crew elected to open up to the public on Dec. 10, 2011 with only a few batches of their signature Prickly Pear Wheat and Santa Rita Amber. The public got wind of the opening, and the crew couldn’t meet the thirst demand for the number of people. “We were completely honored and a little caught off guard by the response,” Stone said.
The next several months, the crew continued to perfect the recipes and tackle new ones to incorporate into their repertoire. “We took a few risks and created some new beers,” Stone said. Some panned out, like our Noche Dulce Vanilla Porter and Ol’ Loco IPA, and some are still ongoing projects,” Stone said.
After being shut down in early December, Borderlands re-opened Jan. 25 to celebrate their expansion. The Agua Bendita, which is a season barley wine, and the Apollo Pale Ale were the first experiments to get a public testing. “The Apollo Pale Ale is a sweet, citrusy ale that was supposed to be an experimental beer for us to test out a new style of hops, but the response was so positive that we are almost definitely going to keep it on our permanent line up,” Stone said.
Others, like their La Morena, which is a perfumed nutty brown ale, and their Vienna lager, which is a celebration to the mineral-rich water of the Southwest desert, remain in the works.
Prior to the expansion, Borderlands had the capability to serve walk-in traffic. After the expansion, which included hopping from experimental 6-keg batches to four 40-keg batches and extending the operating hours from two days a week to four days a week, they now have the pleasure and potential for more opportunity outside of their three distribution centers: Monkey Burger, Loft Cinema and Dry River Pizza.
“Our master expansion plans include bottling and furthering our distribution supply, but that is down the road,” Stone said. “As for now, we still have a ways to go to meet our goals, but the relief of not having to worry about running out of beer is comforting.”
The quest for better beer has begun. There isn't a better time to be a beer enthusiast, or at least until tomorrow.