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Craft breweries bubbling up in the West Valley
Those thirsting for local craft beer in the West Valley have reason for cheers: The West Valley is catching up to the rest of the Valley’s — and the nation’s — emerging craft brewery scene.
At least five new independent breweries opened in the area recently and more are to follow. So far, owners of the breweries said business is booming.
Neal Farrell opened Peoria Artisan Brewing in downtown Litchfield Park at the end of 2013. It was the first brewery to open west of Loop 101.
“The response has been amazing,” said Farrell, who now serves nearly 400 patrons at his 23-seat taproom that includes a food menu. “People love having someone local and yet will travel for new breweries. We have had people come from Apache Junction.”
Jared Dubina opened his European brew pub, Dubina Brewery, in Glendale last August. Last month, he served his European-style beer to about 3,300 patrons, most of them Millennials.
“Each month, we’ve experienced a 12 to 15 percent growth, month over month,” Dubina said. “That’s really good.”
A first for Avondale
Avondale native Ryan Whitten, a home brewer for 11 years, said he is spending almost all his savings — $150,000, plus some funding from an investor — to create the 8-Bit Brewery. Whitten, a 31-year-old online marketer, said his hobby “turned to a passion that turned to an obsession” that’s finally panning out.
The West Valley’s brewery owners don’t view each other as rivals. They are friends, they said. And they often brew collaboratively, experimenting with different brew techniques and helping each other.
“The brewing community is awesome. None of us look to each other as competition,” Whitten said. “We’re a very tight-knit community, and our competition is domestics like Bud Light, Miller Light and Coors.”
The collaboration helps them promote their craft.
“Somebody who drinks craft beer gets really intrigued by it and wants to try other people’s stuff,” Dubina said.
Rob Fullmer, who heads the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, said there are 3,000 breweries across the country, with about 60 in Arizona.
He estimates its value in the state at about $60 million in direct impact and $1.2 billion in indirect impact, creating about 4,000 jobs.
“For one brewer job, it’s estimated there are 45 jobs outside the brewery that supports that job,” Fullmer said.
The growing interest in home brewing has run parallel with people wanting to start breweries and explore new flavors, along with the natural food movement, he said. This has spurred interest across the state.
“But I think you’re seeing them on the west side because of the landscape,” he said. “You have a concentration of new development out there that’s probably getting into maturity and some of the entertainment areas and shopping areas are being established, just like it was 10 years ago in the East Valley.”
Fullmer said a lot of excitement is being generated by these neighborhood breweries.
“It just goes back to how we’re maturing as a city and we’re getting away from those big developments and we’re wanting to meet our neighbors and we’re wanting to do things in the community,” he said. “To have a place somewhere where you can walk to or bike to that’s close to your house, I think a lot of people want that.”
Flavor, taste testing are key
Whitten said craft beer’s popularity hinge on their unique flavors. “We’re on smaller systems, so we can experiment, we can put stuff in a beer that hasn’t been put into beer before,” he said.
One example is his imperial stout, which has ingredients Mayans put in their chocolate — honey, Mexican vanilla, Mexican cinnamon, annatto powder, ancho chili pepper and Peruvian cacao nuts.
“I love making beer and I love watching people drink the beer that I’ve made,” he said. “I’ve been to a couple of events and watched people’s faces light up, and it’s great.”
Whitten’s brewery incorporates a beer tasting room that can accommodate 46 people, with 14-foot ceilings and equally tall windows. It isn’t exactly tucked away in a neighborhood, but he said it’s a great location for a production brewery such as his.
“A production brewery’s location is not quite as important as it would be for a restaurant,” he said. “People don’t normally stumble upon them. They’ve already had the beer at a bar and want to go to the brewery.”
As 8-Bit’s opening draws near, Whitten reflected on the roller coaster journey of creating his business. It was a major decision by him and his wife to fund it almost entirely by themselves, and the couple plans to work the brewery without hiring staff for now.
They are using a homemade keg washer to clean their 68 kegs, two at a time. Practice runs have been successful. Helped on by video game music, Whitten is making the first batches of the beer and nostalgia abounded in the brew house.
“It’s pretty much complete,” he said.