The Story of Arizona Beer Traveler:
UPDATED: February 16, 2019
I came to alcohol much later in life. Despite wine being a regular presence in my home growing up, I never had much of a palate for it. I dabbled in beer briefly while I was a college exchange student, but it did not go well. Those embarrassing overseas experience only served to delay my experiences with drinking. Outside of those brief moments, I never drank alcohol in college.
It wasn’t until I was nearly 35 years old that I tentatively embraced beer. Living in southern California and among the plethora of fine Mexican food restaurants my disposal, an ice cold cervesa was nearly a requirement at each meal. For many years, I would cautiously order a Corona with dinner, but not venture much further than that.
My appreciation for beer leapt forward when I moved to South Carolina. I worked for a conservative para-church organization who mandated that all employees live a dry life. Now, I have affinity for cultural conservatism and am comfortable with Judeo-Christian teaching, but the pirate in me would not stand still for that. I would clandestinely seek out various brews while simultaneously looking over my shoulder. Mostly, I found Sam Adams (whose dramatic rise in market share from 2009 to 2011 ironically matched my discovery of its products). Jim Koch made a believer out of me.
By 2013 I had relocated back to Arizona. Late that year, I found myself on a business trip to Washington D.C. and in the famed Birch and Barley restaurant, home to 555 taps. When my server learned I was from Arizona, he quipped, “You’ve got a great beer scene growing out there.” Not knowing what he meant, but trying to save face at the same time, I replied lamely “sure.” Upon returning to Phoenix, I was determined to understand what my Birch and Barley server meant and to never be unprepared for another beer conversation again.
To my surprise and delight, my server was right.
In 2013, the Arizona beer scene was booming. Craft breweries were starting to pop up everywhere. My research revealed dozens of breweries all over the Phoenix area as well as across the state. I had work to do. I discovered the Arizona Craft Brewer’s Guild and poured over their resources (maps, mostly). I found North Mountain Brewing (they were the closest brewery to my work) and I was simply amazed at the variety of beer they offered…the endless possibilities that result from the brewing process. It taught me that the creativity—the ART—that goes into making beer is downright sublime. The craft brewing industry has moved beer a long way away from its “less filling, tastes great” days.
From North Mountain, I ventured to other breweries, including 8-Bit, Dubina, Verde Brewing, and The Shop Beer Company. I’ve visited beer festivals all over Arizona. I hosted a beer dinner for my work colleagues. Like the robot in Short Cut, I need more input and I’m not talking about just the beverage. I want to know beer…academically. I work for an educational company, so it makes sense. I began devouring books about beer—its history, the ingredients, manuals for tasting. If I wrote a book about beer someday, it would be about beer and religion (not beer AS a religion, but beer’s role in religion throughout history).
My interest in beer led me to the Cicerone organization, a national company that educates and certifies beer professionals. Their mission, if I could summarize it, is to enhance the beer drinking experience by educating people about all aspects of beer, including the history of it, the brewing of it, and the serving of it. It's kind of like a wine sommelier, except for beer. Their mission and my interests seemed made for each other. So, in December 2017 I began studying to become certified in my beer knowledge.
For eleven straight months, I studied non-stop. I devoured almost half a dozen books about beer. I created this website to help me journal about beer and reflect upon what I was learning (writing is a great way to study!). In July 2018 I passed the Certified Beer Server exam and in December 2018, I earned the title of Certified Cicerone®.
Since my uninformed conversation at Birch and Barley in 2013, I’ve learned that Arizona is a great beer state. We have some amazing brewers and amazing tasting beer. We may lag behind California, Oregon, and Colorado in the total number of breweries, but the quality of our beer is first-rate. As I travel, I want to document my visits and discoveries. Thus, this website is moving into its second life--it's not just a place to study for the Cicerone exam; it's a place to share about Arizona beer.
One of the things I appreciate about beer is the total drinking experience. Beer, admittedly, has a bad reputation. It's both the poor man's wine and the college frat boy's party punch. In reality, beer is a complex beverage. The delicate science behind brewing beer would make Stephen Hawking weep. More so, as an aromatic beverage, beer can become strongly connected to specific memories. The first time I opened a Grolsch (probably in 2014), I was immediately transported back in time to Germany and my first beer experiences, embarrassing though they were. So, as I travel, my observations are not just focused on the drink, but the experience of it: the places, the sights, the sounds, the memories born from it. I want to find places where the beer is not only memorable, but the total experience of being in a specific place and drinking a beer is just as important as what you are drinking. Put another way…it’s one thing to drink a Guinness, but drinking a Guinness IN Ireland I’m sure is something else entirely.
My hope is that this site becomes a resource for you to help you explore all the beer Arizona has to offer.
About Our Approach:
Any casual observer of cyberspace can see that blogging has gone visual--bloggers today tend to create video entries, rather than written ones. Part of this has to do with the innate performative element of the internet: in order to get noticed, you have to have a big personality and a hysterical video (short enough to go viral). To make it big on the interwebs, you gotta go big!
I eschew that approach. [The fact that I used the word "eschew" should clue you in as to my feelings about all this.]
In short, this blog is dedicated to the written word. What you will find here are (hopefullly) thoughtful reflections about Arizona beer and breweries. I tend to visit a brewery at least twice before I write about them. In cases where distance makes that hard, I try to wait a while before I write. I want to think deeply before I write. The internet has a way to making people talk before they have thought things through, resulting in unending apologies and retractions. I try to avoid all of that by being slow to speak.
I like photography and am always trying to find new ways to photograph beer. The photos you see on the site are all taken by me. Neil Postman, my media hero, would probably be OK with photos accompanying the text, but TV is right out. So, no video here.
There are other reasons for this approach too: I have a face for radio, a quasi-need to remain anonymous, etc. So, let's just leave it at that. I drink, I think, I write.
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