Beer Brewing in Arizona

Ever since I wrote the first blog for St. Germain Cellars about Thumb Butte Distillery, I became curious about the history of beer brewing, distilleries, and wineries in Arizona. This will be the first of three blogs in the series, where I’ll cover beer brewing. I will cover the history of Arizona Distilleries and wine production in separate posts.

In the 1860s local beer became a more important staple for miners and settlers. Beer did not travel well due to carbonation and was very easily prone to spoilage. Refrigerated transportation was either not invented yet or not practical yet, and thus beer did not travel distances well. Technology of metal pressure kegs were not yet in use, only wooden barrels. In comparison, wine and distilled spirits were not carbonated and contained higher alcohol by volume (ABV), so there was less possibility of spoilage during transportation. In terms of beer quality, Prescott, Arizona was considered to make the best beer, most likely due to a climate of lower temperatures and less chalky water.

As it turns out, the early history of beer production and selection of the Arizona territorial capital paralleled each other. Prescott and Tucson both vied for the designation of the new capital of the Arizona Territory. Abraham Lincoln and the government of the United States eventually chose Prescott (named after historian William Prescott) because Tucson had sympathies for the Confederacy and Prescott was sympathetic with the Union. The original temporary capital was selected as Fort Whipple, about 5 miles away from what is now Prescott, Arizona.

Eventually Phoenix, the vast area between Prescott and Tucson, would develop in importance of beer production, population growth, and become the State Capital of Arizona.

Breweries Listed by Chronology, Location, and Importance

Tucson

  • Pioneer Brewery (1864-1872)   

Pioneer Brewery may have possibly been the first brewery in Arizona Territory and was set up to supply miners and mining camps.  

  • Tucson Brewery (1870-1870)
  • Park Brewery (!870-1886)
  • French Brewery
  • Southwestern Brewing
  • Gentle Ben's/Firehouse (1992-1995)
  • Gentle Ben's/Barrio (1995-present)

The brewery portion of Gentle Ben's was removed from the University Ave. location and reinstalled in Barrio Brewery in 2007 while the pub portion remains open today near the University of Arizona.

  • Nimbus (1997-present)
  • Borderlands (2015-present)

Prescott 

  • Arizona Brewery (1867-1886)
  • Pacific Brewery (1867-1897)
  • Prescott Brewing Company (1898-1899)
  • City Brewery (1876-1899)
  • Arizona Brewing Company (1903-1915)
  • Prescott Brewing Co. Brewpub (1994-present)
  • Prescott Brewing Co. Microbrewery (2012-present)
  • Granite Mountain Brewing Co. Nanobrewery (2012-present)
  • Black Hole Brewing Co. (2014-present)
  • Oak Creek Brewing (1995-present)
  • Superstition Meadery (2014-present)

Prescott was considered to have the best beer, in the late 1880s, over breweries in Phoenix and Tucson, possibly due to cooler weather and better water than the the heat and chalky water of the deserts of Phoenix or Tucson. The Prescott area also had better access to ice-a necessity to produce lagers and pilsners. This was before electric refrigeration.  

I found it interesting and although I did not chronicle all the times that breweries were sold or changed management, but quite frequently ownership or management changed every 6 months to 2 years. Also what jumped out at me was the large number of these men that had German names who frequently went from one brewery to another. I have said before that German immigrants were extremely influential to the beer brewing production in America.

Phoenix Metro Area and Maricopa County

  • Arizona Brewery (1933-1964)

Arizona Brewery became Carling in 1964 and also National Brewing 1966-1975 and G.Heilman/Carling National  (1975-1985).

This version of Arizona Brewery even though now closed-produced more beer than any brewery ever has even to this day. It was famous for A-1 Pilsner. Antique signage and memorabilia for A-1 can still be seen today outside Arizona bars and saloons across the state of Arizona. Arizona Brewing also produced Carling Black Label and Colt 45 Malt Liquor, to name a few.

  • Phoenix Brewing Company (1900-1901)
  • Sonoran Brewing Co. (1996-2004)
  • Four Peaks  (2004-present)
  • BJ's (2001-present)
  • Phoenix Ale Brewery (2011-present)
  • OHSO (2012-present)
  • Santan  (2007-present)
  • Papago (2001-present)

There are many more breweries in the Phoenix Metro that are too numerous to mention, therefore only the historic or most notable have been listed here.

Flagstaff

  • Flagstaff Brewery (1882-1892)
  • Beaver Street Brewery Whistle Stop Cafe (1994-present)
  • Flagstaff Brewing Company (1994-present)
  • Mother Road Brewing Company (2013-present)
  • Sterling Springs Brewing Company (2011-2012)
  • Wanderlust Brewing Company (2012-present)

Williams

  • Williams Brewing (1895-1911)
  • Grand Canyon Brewing (2007-present)

Stay tuned for more about the wineries and distilleries in Arizona.

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Jim St. Germain

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.