Traveling from Arizona brewery to brewery and trying a craft beer at each is an experience in of itself. And whether you’re a resident or just passing through, one of the state’s 96 breweries — and counting — will be able to satisfy not only your taste buds but leave you wanting to try another unique craft beer. Ranging from Flagstaff to Tucson and Mesa to Phoenix, craft breweries are continuing to increase their presence in Arizona, each with their own unique brews and complementary menus.

“Arizona has always enjoyed a wide variety of styles,” says Rob Fullmer, executive director, Arizona Craft Brewer’s Guild. “I think what’s really sold it here is having more of these breweries in your neighborhood that can offer that personal connection. I think now breweries are in the hyperlocal phase and they have to have good beer, but they have to celebrate being good business people, being accessible, providing hospitality and being responsive. I think that’s what’s made them successful.”

According to 2017 statistics from the Brewers Association, Arizona ranks 19th in the country for the number of craft breweries and 33rd with 1.9 breweries per 100,000 adults aged 21-plus. In Arizona, 147,728 barrels of craft beer are produced per year, and the craft brews sold in Arizona generate $1 billion in economic revenue.

“I think checking out breweries and the local beer scene is one of the last great reasons to travel in terms of providing an experience,” Fullmer says. “Most of our breweries are experiential.”

Tasty tourism

“Craft beer and tourism go hand in hand these days,” says Ken Wilson, director of sales at Lumberyard Brewing Company in Flagstaff. “For example, Grand Canyon National park is just 80 miles north of the brewery. When people travel, they take the local beer experience home with them. A beer story seems to always attach itself to travel experiences these days and with all of the great local breweries in Arizona, it’s no doubt part of the visitor experience and something they seek out as a complementary piece of their trip.”

Since it was established in 2010, the award-winning Lumberyard Brewing Company has contributed to the growing craft beer presence in Northern Arizona. With seven breweries in Flagstaff alone, Wilson says the city has become a craft beer destination.

“We are proud to be a part of the great beer that is being produced in Flagstaff,” Wilson says. “We package and keg our beer for distribution and send that statewide via our distributor, Hensley Beverage. They are an Arizona-based, family-owned company and they are a great partner in helping us get our beer out statewide to promote our brewery and the great beer coming from Northern Arizona.”

Lumberyard Brewery is part of the Historic Railroad District in Flagstaff. Wilson says the front half of its building was built in 1890 and the back — where the brewery is located — was built in 1910. As Beaver Street is one of the original brewpubs in Arizona, Wilson says the Hanseth family helped establish brewing in Arizona when they built Lumberyard and began packaging and distributing beer via the Hensley, which Wilson says increased the presence of Arizona beer in stores and led to a larger distribution footprint for several Arizona beers.

“Beer has provenance and it matters that we are brewed at 7,000 feet and in the cool pines of Northern Arizona,” Wilson says. “Our building was a huge part of the community when it opened in 1890 and it is again today.”

Wilson says the charm of the old brick building shines through. You can sit on the patio and watch the trains roll by, see weary hikers getting off of the Grand Canyon shuttle and walk to the bar for a celebratory pint or enjoy a great conversation over award-winning beers.

Statewide trend

In addition to the growth in Northern Arizona, Metro Phoenix has seen an increase in breweries across the Valley.

“Arizona Wilderness is proud to be a part of Arizona’s emerging craft beer sector because we feel inspired to tell the stories through each beer that we craft to represent our state’s agricultural community, while striving to highlight conservation efforts,” say Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware, owners and founders of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company in Gilbert.

The brewery utilizes local ingredients with inventive recipes, say Arizona Wilderness’ owners and founders. Menu items include the Peanut Butter & Jalapeno Jelly Burger, Pork Belly Sliders and Bacon and Beer Cheese Covered Duck Fat Fries.

“The union between our beer and food derives from Arizona and its agriculture, as well as utilizing our brewing resources — like including the local Sonora white wheat berries in our salads and the excess wort to craft our gravy for the Poutine fries,” Buford and Ware says.

Buford and Ware emphasize the local first philosophy of the brewery, showcasing Arizona ingredients throughout their menus.

“We elevate our crafts by incorporating Arizona-grown and malted barley into each beer we brew, while finding overall inspiration from the true love we have for our state.”

One of their special projects is a Sonoran Prince Sour Ale, which is fermented in French oak with the combination of Arizona-grown and malted barley, mixed culture and locally grown peaches.

“We recommend all to visit Arizona Wilderness to experience the high level of pride we have for our product and state and more importantly to meet our educated and enthusiastic staff members who make it all happen,” they say. “We offer a boutique style encountering to control each individual’s visit to ensure you are leaving with the highest satisfaction.”

Southern charm

Tristan White, general manager at Dragoon Brewing Company in Tucson, wears many hats. His responsibilities include sales, marketing, and retail operation of the taproom. White says when Dragoon Brewing opened in 2012, there were five other breweries in Tucson. Now there are more than 20.

“When we opened, we self-distributed, meaning we made and sold our beer, then delivered and serviced all of our retail partners,” White says. “It’s a lot of very hard work and it allowed us to make some really strong relationships with bars and restaurants — and also gave us some street cred.”

Since Dragoon signed with wholesale partners in 2015 due to restrictions in volume to self-distribute, White says Dragoon Brewing has been able to continually grow and add more wholesalers around the state.

“We are constantly involved with other brewers in both technical brewing and workplace safety,” he says. “We also brew with brewers around the state, share ingredients and processes. Beer is a pretty fun industry, full of great people.”

White says Arizona has come a long way in regards to beer’s economic impact on the state.

“Arizona has a lot of ground to cover,” Fullmer says. “The Phoenix market itself has different character areas, so I think it’s important for our breweries to capture that,” Fullmer says. “Tucson is different from Phoenix. Flagstaff and Havasu have a certain character. I think because we’re small and hospitality focused and customers appreciate knowing the people at the brewery, those are where our strengths lie and breweries will continue to be successful if they understand what they do well and they take advantage of it.”

By the numbers

Beer distributors deliver tremendous economic value to Arizona. Here’s a look at the numbers:

34: Distributor facilities

2,986: Employees

$237.1 million: Wages and salaries

$3.9 million: Economic impact on communities — support of charities,  local events and economic development

$283.7 million:  Federal, state and local taxes

$1.5 billion:  Total economic impact