Brewing Arizona: A Century of Beer in the Grand Canyon State
Over half the states in this country are now the subjects of books about the beer culture within their borders. Many of these are focused on the growth of the modern beer movement and are produced by travel-oriented publishers with the beer tourist in mind.
A smaller number of such books, however, are inspired by a passion for brewing history, and Brewing Arizona (The University of Arizona Press, Hardcover, $39.95, 360 pp) belongs in that group. Author Ed Sipos is a longtime member of the BCCA: Originally the Beer Can Collectors of America, the organization has been renamed the Brewery Collectibles Club of America to better reflect its membership’s interests in all things breweriana.
Many beer geeks are unaware of the powerful role the collecting community has played in the beer revolution. Homebrewers, who challenged the limited range of mainstream beer, get much of the credit for fueling the growth of craft brewing over the past three decades.
But breweriana enthusiasts have helped to keep America’s diverse brewing history alive for even longer—since the 1950s in the case of some of the most dedicated adherents—by documenting their collections, sharing these histories at conferences and meetings, and publishing. In that vein, Brewing Arizona not only gives the reader a good picture of the modern beer scene in the Grand Canyon State; it also puts the scene in historical context.
Arizona does not have the deep brewing history of, say, Wisconsin or New York, which both had hundreds of breweries by the time the first brewery opened in the Arizona territory in 1864. But Arizona’s early breweries faced unique hardships that give Sipos’ story added punch. Hops and barley were hard to come by, brewing equipment had to be transported by pack mule, and water was scarce, with much of it unsuitable. The high temperatures wreaked havoc with the brewing process. Add to these difficulties the challenges of operating in a region beset by frontier lawlessness, hostilities between settlers and the Apache, and conflict between cattle ranchers and sheepherders for a picture of true “Wild West” brewing.
Early chapters of Brewing Arizona are devoted to an account of every brewery that operated in the half century between the opening of the first brewery and the onset of Prohibition. For many years, there was debate over whether a native brewing industry was necessary, or even viable, given the availability of imported beer from Los Angeles, St. Louis and Milwaukee, and the attempts by those same outside interests to undermine startups in Arizona.
Arizona went dry in 1914, four years before national Prohibition was enacted. Following repeal in 1933, it took some time, and a number of failures, to reestablish beer brewing in the state. The sole success was Arizona Brewing Co. of Phoenix, which would go on to create A-1 beer, a dominant regional brand. National consolidation swallowed the Arizona Brewing Co. in the ’60s. The brewery itself was the only one operating in the state when Heileman closed it in 1985.
Two years later, the Arizona legislature legalized microbreweries and brewpubs, and Arizona joined the modern beer era. A few of the early participants maintained a touch of Arizona’s historic pioneer eccentricity, including “Crazy Ed” Chilleen, whose Cave Creek Chili Beer featured a whole Serrano pepper in each bottle, or the brewer who funded his business by dealing marijuana on the side.
But in time, more conventional craft brewing in Arizona became competitive on a national scale, with familiar names including Nimbus, Tommyknockers, Mogollon and Papago. Today, there are about 50 brewing companies and a thriving brewers’ guild. As Arizona brewing comes to resemble the rest of the country, the beer is no doubt much better, but the reader can’t help but miss the attacks on stagecoaches and the saloon brawls of its earlier, feistier days.
Throughout Brewing Arizona, Sipos goes into painstaking detail—probably more than an average reader needs to know—about openings, acquisitions, site selection, expansion, name changes and closures. For lovers of brewing history, his account is definitive and well-illustrated throughout, mostly with color photographs.
An appendix, modeled after and complementary to Dale P. Van Wieren’s American Breweries II, tracks every brewery opened or even proposed over the past 150 years, listed by city, then chronologically.
A beer tourist hoping to use Brewing Arizona as a guide to current micros and brewpubs will be disappointed, and it’s a pity that Sipos, who clearly has all the information on hand to construct at least a minimal list of locations, did not include one here. But that was not his intention, an this is not a guidebook—as is evident from its 10-by-10 format. Brewing Arizona is meant for the historian and collector interested in a good read and a solid reference work.
This story appears in the May issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.