As if Friday weren't reason enough to celebrate, today is also the official start of Arizona Beer Week. It's a week-long showcase of Arizona's growing craft beer industry, with events across the state. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris Kohl reports on Flagstaff's presence in this burgeoning field.
Inside the brewing room at Mother Road Brewing Company, owner Michael Marquiss shows off a special beer he and his staff recently made to celebrate their first year in business. "We brewed an Imperial Porter on our anniversary, November 17th", Marquiss says. "One bottle of this will be poured into next year's beer and then this is a tradition we'll carry on every year."
Mother Road is a small brewery and tap room located along the original 1926 alignment of Route 66. And it's one of the latest craft breweries to open in Flagstaff. Marquiss - a long-time home brewer - says he traded in a disappointing career in appraising to open Mother Road. He wanted to create a brew house that catered to, what he calls, "Flagstaff's strong beer culture." "We joke around here that Flagstaff has a collectively large craft beer liver", Marquiss says. "They know their beer up here and they're not ashamed to tell you about it."
Knowing beer is Shawn MacKenzie's job. He's an assistant brewer at Mother Road. He says, "on average, we're running maybe 1,500 gallons of beer a week. It's about as big as a backyard swimming pool, fairly large." MacKenzie grew up watching his father brew beer. And as an adult, he followed in his dad's footsteps. It was at a beer festival in Oregon a few years ago that MacKenzie decided to get serious and go to professional brewing school. "I was talking to a brewer about how to get into the industry. He said we don't hire anybody that hasn't been through this program", MacKenzie says.
There are a handful of brewing schools in the world. Munich, Chicago and U.C. Davis all have prestigious programs. And a growing number of people - including Shawn MacKenzie - are going online. The American Brewers Guild - or ABG - offers a brewing and science engineering distance learning program. There's a 2-year waiting list to get in and people from all over the world apply. Christine McKeever is admissions manager at ABG. "Right now I have someone in Panama. I have someone in Chile. We've had Japan, Australia, England, Iceland, pretty much everywhere", McKeever says.
ABG students go through about 6 months of online coursework, followed by 5 weeks at the Guild's brewery and laboratory in Middlebury, Vermont. Class sizes are limited to just 24 students with only 2 sessions a year. And that, McKeever says, is by design. She says, "the main reason for us limiting our class size is a reluctance to flood the market with too many trained brewers at once. We want everybody to be able to find work."
There is much more opportunity for work in the craft brewing industry now than there was 20 years ago. That's about the time Al Henes opened The Flagstaff Brewing Company. "Brew pubs were not the norm they are now", Henes says. "Craft brewed, fresh beer was not widely accepted back then".
Henes was only 22 years old when he and a friend opened the brewery. At that time, he says not many people really understood the concept of craft brewing and pub culture. But, 20 years later Henes says Flagstaff's beer is so popular, it's attracting visitors. He says, "now that we've got enough breweries in town that we offer a diverse palate, people are traveling to Flagstaff specifically for pub crawls to taste local beer".
There will be plenty of beer tasting during Arizona Beer Week as more than 100 breweries will be represented. And while Al Henes is glad to see so much focus on craft beer, the veteran brewer is also taking the celebration in stride. He says for him, every week is beer week.