On a sunny, bright day in Flagstaff, sometimes there is nothing better than sitting outside on the patio of a brewery and enjoying a refreshing, cold beer.
And when I mean beer, I’m not referring to the big corporate companies like Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors that pump out bland liquids like Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light to every restaurant, grocery store, and bar in America.
I’m referring to beer created by microbreweries, especially the ones local to Flagstaff.
Right now, Flagstaff has six different breweries: Flagstaff Brewing Company, Lumberyard Brewing Company, Beaver Street Brewery, Mother Road Brewing Company, Wanderlust Brewing Company, and Historic Brewing Company.
About a half hour away in Williams is Grand Canyon Brewing Company, which is the third largest brewery in all of Arizona by production.
In addition, Dark Sky Brewing Company will open its doors in the next few months on Beaver Street, right between Birch Avenue and Aspen Avenue.
Also, Historic Brewing has partnered with Grand Canyon Wine Company and Proper Meats and Provisions to create a Barrel and Bottle House for customers to enjoy the many craft beers by Historic, food from Proper, and a retail shop. This opened recently south of the tracks on San Francisco Street.
While it seems like Flagstaff is quickly becoming a well-established craft beer community, Nathan Friedman, owner of Wanderlust, thinks the town has a long way to go compared to larger beer cities in the country.
“I think Flagstaff is behind still. We’re still not a well-informed beer drinking community. You go to the bars and look at what their number one sellers are and maybe they have some big sellers in terms of their IPAs or Belgians, but if you go looking for a sour in this town, you’ll find only one and it’s [at Wanderlust],” Friedman said. “If you go to someplace like Portland, half of their beers are sours. They have stuff imported from all over the world. We aren’t there yet.”
Many cities like Denver, San Diego, and Portland are known for being some of the great beer hubs in the country. Within just a few blocks, you can hit several breweries, and each will have many different tastes and styles all unique to their own processes.
Even though it’s small in scale at this point, the integration and development of craft beer in a town like Flagstaff is right on time.
“A segment of the US society has gone through this pendulum swing of, ‘I don’t care where my food comes from, I don’t care where my goods come from, make it in China, I’m going to eat at McDonald’s,’ and it’s kind of swung back the other way,” Friedman said. “Now I not only want to know who made whatever I’m using, but where it was made, and I want to see if I can make it myself.”
It makes sense.
If you want to grab Italian food, you’ll go to locally owned Mamma Luisa’s before stepping foot in a franchise Olive Garden. Diablo Burger and Mama Burger are the first choices before Five Guys. A local will look at you quizzically if you say you prefer Starbucks coffee to Late for the Train or Macy’s.
This is because supporting local businesses is one of the things Flagstaff is good at.
This applies to beer as well. Flagstaff residents want to know who is brewing the beer and where the ingredients came from.
For instance, the 928 Farmhouse Ale from Wanderlust comes from wild, local yeast retrieved from apples. It makes the beer completely unique to Flagstaff and Wanderlust, and it is a flavor you won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Craft beer itself is gaining popularity purely because people are finally appreciating a return to craftsmanship. Not only are Americans acquiring a taste for good, quality beer, they are learning how to match beer with food, just like what a sommelier does for wine.
Some breweries are able to keep up with trends in their beer. Sriracha is a popular hot sauce, and Rogue Ales, a brewery in Oregon,took it and made a Sriracha Hot Stout Beer. At Historic, there’s a golden lager called Undercover Cucumber that features a refreshing cucumber taste – something that’s also trendy in the United States.
In the craft beer market alone, there’s been a 22percentdollar increase in sales across America.
Clearly, people are picking up the trend, and enjoying it thoroughly.
So thoroughly, that many people are turning to home brewing.
Blake Walter is the president of the Northern Arizona Craft Beer Association that’s right here on NAU’s campus. He’s been home brewing beer for about four and a half years.
The club has brewed with Mother Road, creates their own brews in the HRM kitchen, and even grows their own hops.
Because the school is a dry campus, the students are not allowed to actually ferment the beer to create alcohol, but it still allows teaching HRM majors the tricks of the trade.
“It’s a cheap, fun, cool hobby,” said Walter of home brewing. “If you’re a beer drinker, you can get a pretty cool set-up of 5 to 10 gallons for $1,000. You always have to buy caps if you want to bottle it, and you can buy one gallon kits at World Market.”
Walter suggests using a program called Beersmith to help with the process. It’s a home brewing software that allows you to follow recipes, listen to podcasts, and read articles. There are different versions, too. The home brew program allows the user to make one barrel of beer. All you have to do is type in ingredients you wish to use and it’ll tell you how to do it.
One of the downfalls of home brewing in Flagstaff is the lack of a brew store. The last one that was here shut down a couple of years ago and the closest one is in Prescott. Fortunately, all the necessary supplies are sold online.
“You can start your own yeast, or reuse it. But equipment is an issue. If something breaks, you’re not going to jump online and buy something, you need to go to the store. And [having a store] would help with general knowledge and any questions you might have,” Walter said.
While Flagstaff may never see a brew store in town again, there are plenty of brewers around town that are more than willing to give advice.
Home brewing is just one result of the explosion that is craft beer. The creation of many bars, breweries, and taprooms across the U.S. shows that the industry is trying to make a statement against the typical beer corporations.
Even Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law in March allowing microbreweries to sell their products at other breweries, to expand their operations, and it ultimately encourages microbreweries in Arizona.
Even though many places around Flagstaff are taking on a slow, controlled growth, there seems to be a promising future ahead for this little town to become known for its beer.