This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
This piece was written by Jack Muldowney.
In the Southwest, it’s Arizona rising as far as craft beer goes. With a statewide brewing scene that’s just starting to make waves, folks are turning to cities like Tucson for a look into this recent beer ingenuity. Here, the desert provides a unique range of ingredients to aid its breweries large and small. And you’d be remiss to write off a brewing scene as trending as that in “Old Pueblo.”
Founded in 1995, Barrio Brewing Co. is Tucson’s venerable stalwart of the recent craft beer wave. This is the type of brewery that made a name brewing approachable IPAs, and they still make a pretty damn good one; you’ll find it on tap all over town. But with mainstay styles still consisting of a blonde, amber, hefeweizen, and a couple pales – the selection won’t exactly knock your socks off. However, with recent explorations including a Scottish ale, white IPA and a java stout, it might be worth it to keep your eyes peeled for more Barrio. – 800 E. 16th St, Tucson
Situated within an old train depot at the edge of downtown, you’ll find Borderlands Brewing Co., which opened for business in 2011. Possibly the most unique brewing space in town, this spot is chock-full of character, which includes the impressively-in-scale brightly colored exterior mural that can be seen for blocks. Once inside, you’ll enter a bright, airy, loft-like interior complete with a wide spectrum of offerings on the beer menu. Founded by a Chicago expat, BBC mixes it up by producing several dark ales, sours, traditional styles and even some fruit beers–plenty to fill your flight. – 119 E. Toole Ave, Tucson
More in line with what we are accustomed to in the big city, Dragoon Brewing Co. is definitely the fast-growing big brother in town. Known for their namesake west coast style IPA, the beautifully minimalist taproom offers one of the larger local ranges of brews, from the Stronghold Session to ones from the old world like the Munich-style dunkel, Munichorn. Thanks to new state legislation–and plenty of square footage to can those IPAs–Dragoon has positioned itself nicely to be the next big thing to come out of the desert. – 1859 W. Grant Rd #111, Tucson
At this industrial park “secret,” it’s incredible what the father and son team behind this nanobrewery, and their frankensteined soup kettle brew setup, are capable of creating. Iron John’s Brewing Co. is hand bottling every batch of their swing-top bottled beers–and that is saying something considering their tasting room cooler contains roughly 20 unique brews. With 20+ years of experience as a homebrewer, John Adkisson takes the term “artisanal beer” to a whole other level, developing a depth of flavors that would make any Michelin Star chef jealous. Consider ingredients like Geisha coffee, Anaheim green chiles and mole poblano alongside traditional styles, for a beer lineup that will keep you on your toes. The small taproom offers small tastings as well as bottles to go of their always evolving menu. – 245 S. Plumer Ave #27, Tucson
Since opening in the summer of 2015, Public Brewhouse has prided themselves on brewing the beers they like to drink. Founded by a pair of homebrewers with different tastes, you’ll find plenty of dark beers [thanks to brewer Don Rubino], and more hop-forward brews [thanks to partner Cody Van Haren]. For a taste of the local fruit of choice, check out the prickly pear-spiked Pink Funk-n-ade Sour. With their back-alley location, a block off of busy 4th Ave, Public is a welcome respite to grab a couple pints. Their nearly open air taproom is also situated behind the impressive Ermano’s craft beer bar. If that’s not enough, they encourage their BYOF(ood) policy, and the bartenders and patrons are friendly and quick to suggest great local fare. – 209 N. Hoff Ave, Tucson
With one of the more centralized downtown locations, Pueblo Vida Brewing comes highly recommended–not just by us, but likely anyone you talk to on the Tucson brewing scene. Their quaint, but trendy taproom and in-the-know clientele let off just enough of that too-cool vibe, without really meeting the definition. Their long bar greets you as soon as you walk in the door, as do their friendly bartenders–and with a recent expansion, you’re sure to be finding more people vying for a seat at the bar. Once there, you’ll be quick to order one of their solid IPAs. They’re a’plenty at Pueblo Vida. – 115 E. Broadway Blvd, Tucson
Sentinel Peak Brewing Co. sits a bit further from the action in Tucson, but with plenty of space to grab a seat at their Midtown location. Situated in a strip mall, this brewery founded by a trio of (still-active) firemen has thoughtful intentions. Aside from also turning their homebrew obsession into a quite large brewpub, these brewers also keep local charities in mind, as is evident with their ghost chili ale, Overhaul, which sends its proceeds to benefit Firefighters vs. Autism. Sample a 6oz pour of this beyond spicy ale if you dare–or if you just want to surprise your friends. Or, you can sample another local brew on the other end of the spectrum, with the only take on Mexican beer we saw, the refreshingly light Salida del Sol. – 4746 E. Grant Rd, Tucson
Ten Fifty-Five Brewing’s no frills taproom is tucked into an industrial park, but that shouldn’t fool you. Since 2013, the nanobrewery has been drawing a loyal stream of locals who don’t mind going out of their way for a good beer. The tap list made up of approachable beer, ready to please anyone’s palette. The pinnacle of their brewing ingenuity is showcased in their breakfast inspired Coffee & Doughnut Stout, that matched the description to a T. Keep on drinking, by sampling the all-Arizona-ingredient, My Valentine, the award-winning Two Suns Citra DIPA, and their flagship, Leap pale ale. After a few years of consistent brewing, it makes you wonder how much longer until they outgrow their small office park brew space. – 3810 E. 44th St, Tucson
Coffee Stout, 4.7%
Not coffee and donuts, but still a roasty favorite.
Balanced and refreshing for 6%, this pale is a staple on their beer list.
Pale Ale, 7.3%
18,000 SF of brewspace for this IPA couldn’t be wrong.
Fire & Flavor
Green Chili Ale, 7%
A spicy beer for those who wouldn’t think they like spicy beers. Try this.
Ghost Chili Ale, 5%
A spicy beer for those who like the heat. Gimmicky, but worth the dare.
Wheat Ale, 6%
One of the better prickly-pear flavored offerings, in a town where prickly pear is king.
Built in 1919–and the location of the capture of gangster John Dillinger –this Tucson institution has more history than this paragraph can hold. But it wasn’t the tales of a public enemy that lead us to the Congress, it was quips of a local legend, known as Tiger. Thomas “Tiger” Ziegler has been behind the Tap Room bar since 1959. He has become such a fixture that for his 80th birthday, the hotel’s bar was renamed ‘Tiger’s Tap Room.’ While 83 years young, he’s as quick as ever with a joke, insult, or pull from the tap.
Ermano’s Craft Beer & Wine Bar
At the head of popular 4th Avenue, sits the swanky and well-considered Ermano’s. Run by a pair of former Michiganders, this bar has a sensibility for Midwest inspired beers and fare, as well as a really attractive interior. If this spot were in Chicago, it’d hang well with any of the better beer spots around. Cozy, cool and a magnet for local regulars, this one is easy to recommend. Oh, and there is a brewery out back: Public Brewhouse.
Tap & Bottle
Similar to our friends Beermiscuous here in Chicago, Tap & Bottle is half beer bar, half bottle shop. Enjoy a pint or flight from one of twenty plus taps, or help yourself to one of hundreds of bottles from the coolers lining the back of the shop. Every beer in the bar is available to drink on-site or take to-go. With tons of natural light and bistro tables, this is the perfect place to explore beers from around town or around the country. Check out their calendar, T&B is constantly hosting tastings, tap takeovers, food trucks, and local bands.
Taqueria Pico de Gallo
There are a number of taco joints here in Chicago, and quite a few of them are very good. But they just can’t compare to the experience we had at Pico de Gallo. We made a beeline from the airport to this highly recommended no-frills hole in the wall. Everything here screams authentic: the homemade corn tortillas, the best carne aside we had on our trip, and the pickled vegetables served with every meal. Add to that, the surprisingly great fish tacos. I’m not sure where you get fish in the desert, but who are we to question a great taco? – 2618 S. 6th Ave, Tucson
Lindy’s on 4th
Lindy’s is a burger joint. A big, oversized, greasy too-tall-to-eat kinda burger joint, with a punk rock theme. You’ve been to one of these before, but here it’s as good as it gets, among a sea of taco joints. Go for the Texas Belt Buckle or the Velvet Hammer. Opt for a crisp beer to wash this mound of grub down. Also, be prepared to take a nap once you’re done. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, grab it to-go and head over to nearby Public Brewhouse to keep the night going. – 431 N. 4th Ave, Tucson 85705
Keeping in theme, Tania’s 33 is yet another no-frills Tucson joint. And again, authenticity is king. At Tania’s, you’ll get a heaping plate full of Mexican served up on styrofoam. We went with an array of cheap tacos served up on their famous tortillas, along with super fresh salsa and tamales. Don’t be dissuaded by the window-less location on Grande Avenue. Once inside, you’ll have your choice of fixin’s at a more than reasonable price. – 614 N Grande Ave, Tucson 85745
Casks & Cooks
This event was the perfect way to cap off our weekend trip. Held at the Loew’s Ventana Canyon, Casks & Cooks is a beer and food pairing like none you’ve likely been to before. It almost serves as a makeshift mini food festival. Four of the hotel’s chefs get paired with three of Tucson’s best breweries to showcase the best of the local grub. All the while utilizing various ways of harnessing fire to create unbelievable food. Whether it’s using old world Sonoran techniques to create dishes like braised lamb belly barbacoa and underground pork ahogadas (to pair with Dragoon’s West Coast IPAs)–or grilling massive T-bones smothered in a Ten Fifty-Five based mole, Casks & Cooks is a craft beer and meat lovers dream. Oh, and there were also bonfire S’mores and beer ice cream for dessert. It is highly recommend that you book your trip around one of these events. Currently, Cask & Cooks is held twice a year (June & October), but due to popularity it is looking to become a quarterly event.
North of downtown, in the Catalina Foothills, you’ll find a beautifully expansive desert resort, in Loews Ventana Canyon. With a distinctly 80’s design, it’s rumored that the architect took several cues for the interior design from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style. Despite it’s dated bones, this resort spares no expense in modern amenity. The rooms are more than ample (and recently renovated) space to find respite from the desert heat, as is the massive pool. Plus, each room has its own terrace balcony overlooking the foothills in the distance. You can even follow the in-resort stream up to it’s source in the hills, a surprisingly free-flowing (depending on time of year of course) waterfall which acts as a beacon among the sea of cacti. The hotel is beautiful, the views are tranquil, and the bars are stocked with local craft beer. What else do ya need?
A short drive into the desert will lead you to this multi-airplane hangar space, equipped with just about any type of aircraft ever engineered. Seriously. – 6000 E. Valencia Rd, Tucson, 85706
You’ll likely get mixed opinions on this popular stretch of road that cuts through town. Loaded with bars, restaurants and fed by the rebuilt street car system, 4th Avenue draws all types. From college students to older free spirited desert dwellers, 4th Ave attracts all. And it hosts enough street festivals over the course of the year to offer something for anyone. – E 4th St, Tucson, AZ 85705
University of Arizona
Whether you’re a Wildcat fan or not, there’s no denying U of A’s presence in Tucson. Their sprawling campus and in-the-middle-of-it-all stadiums make it hard to miss. If you’re there in the fall, catch a football game on a lively Saturday. If you’re there in the spring, it’s their basketball team that will be all the talk. – Tucson, AZ 85721
Taproom Manager, Dragoon Brewing Co.
Favorite Tucson beer? Dragoon Stronghold Session.
Favorite non-Dragoon beer? Pueblo Vida’s Breakfast Stout.
Must-visit bar? Danny’s just off the U of A campus, or Hotel Congress.
Best tacos… Aqui Con el Nene
When you’re not working what’re ya doing? Trail Running at Gates Pass or BBQ’n.
Best beer scene… Portland.
If you weren’t working in craft beer… I’d be working with spirits.
Owner, Tap & Bottle
Favorite Tucson beer? Pueblo Vida Galaxy IPA.
Must-visit bar? Dragoon’s taproom.
Best tacos… Pico de Gallo.
When you’re not working what’re ya doing? Traveling around Arizona.
Favorite beer scene… Albuquerque
If you weren’t working in craft beer… I’d be working in education, perhaps a career councilor at U of A.
Favorite Tucson beer? Dragoon Flash Dance
Must-visit bar? Arizona Beer House
Best tacos… Pico de Gallo
When not working what are you doing in Tucson – Coaching my daughter’s soccer team, The Sparkling Dolphins
If you weren’t working for VisitTucson… I’d be an interstate trucker.
Favorite Tucson beer? Pueblo Vida Northwest IPA. So bomb.
Must-visit bar? Obviously Ermano’s, especially Ermano’s back bar aka Schnurrmanos.
Best tacos…Boca Tacos & Tequila!
What’re ya doing when not working? Most of my free time is spent camping and climbing on Mt. Lemmon. Arizona weather is too good to pass up being outside.
If you weren’t working in craft beer… I do Communication research with a focus on children and media effects, so somthing along those lines.
Photography by Jack Muldowney.
This feature, the first in our Beer Travel Guide Series, is in partnership with VisitTucson.org.