The history of beer is as long as human civilization itself. Archeologists trace the first brewing back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Before modern refrigeration, beer was often safer than water, not to mention richer in flavor and calories, which made it the perfect drink for laborers.
In Arizona, beer brewing has contributed to the development of the desert state’s economy and identity. As the craft brewing industry has exploded since the 1980s, Arizona developed its own signature beers and beloved breweries that are rapidly gaining popularity in the state and around the country.
Early history of brewing in Arizona
In the mid-19th century, western states attracted thousands of migrants looking for a fresh start and to make their fortunes, who often ended up worked on railroads or in mines. The demand for beer and meeting places where miners could socialize after their day’s labor called for an entrepreneur.
Alex Levin saw an opportunity and founded the first recorded commercial brewery in Arizona in 1864. Levin and other early Arizona brewers faced significant challenges, including alkaline water and unstable supply routes for brewing supplies through the untamed Western terrain.
In the 1880s, Levin hired Columbus Glasmann to manage the Park Brewery and set his sights on the town of Quijotoa, Arizona to establish a brewery and dance hall. However, when a line of the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, out-of-state beers started flooding into Arizona’s market. Many local breweries struggled with the new competition and had to close.
The tradition of local brewing was not altogether forgotten, and the Arizona Brewing Company in Prescott opened in 1904. However, all brewers fell on hard time with the onset of Prohibition.
Early 20th century and Prohibition
On January 16, 1920, the 18th Constitutional Amendment went into effect. Prohibition outlawed the production and consumption of all types of alcoholic beverages, including the miners’ and railroad workers’ beloved beer. However, Prohibition was short lived. Because of widespread mob activity, funded by bootlegging of alcohol, Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Many brewing enthusiasts were relieved, and Colonel Jacob Ruppert, President of the United States Brewer’s Association, said in 1933, “Let people have good beer, and let them have it in the right way, in the home and in nice surroundings, and you’ll hear a lot less about depression and despair.”
Although home brewing and small craft brewing operations were still under tight federal control after Prohibition, according to the comprehensive book Brewing Arizona by Ed Sipos, “In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law removing restrictions and excise taxes on home brewed beer, but left it up to each individual state to decide and pass its own laws.”
Microbreweries, or niche brewing operations, started to flourish and have helped shape the restaurant and beverage culture of each state in the US ever since.
In an interview, Sipos, a past President of the A-1 Chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, said, “Arizona has a lot of room for growth, and I think each and every brewery can help each other to make the industry stronger. It’s a matter of putting out a good product and having a good business plan. Four Peaks, SanTan and Grand Canyon are just a few of Arizona’s breweries leading the way in terms of growth. There are approximately 50 breweries in the state, with many more readying to open.”
In the last 20 years
Ratebeer.com reports approximately 91 active breweries in Arizona today. Only five of those have been around for longer than 20 years. Four Peaks Brewery and Barley Brothers in Lake Havasu City both have been open since 1997.
Prescott Brewing Company and Sonoran Brewing Company have been open since 1994 and Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona opened its doors in 1995.
Four Peaks Brewing is definitely steeped in Arizona’s rich beer history but has seen exponential growth in the last few years.
The original building is a Mission Revival-style brick building and was once an ice factory in the 19th century. Now, the brewery has three tasting rooms throughout the Valley and one at Sky Harbor International Airport. In the late 1990s, Four Peaks started making a Scottish amber ale called Kilt Lifter and the rest, as they say, ‘is history.’ With awards from the World Beer Cup and American Beer Festival, it’s safe to say this brewery has played a large part in establishing Arizona as a beer-brewing powerhouse.
The brewery celebrates its 20th anniversary on April 15 with a block party style event featuring Blues Traveler at the Wilson Street Tasting Room. Indeed, the future looks bright for Four Peaks and other Arizona breweries as well. To which we can only say, “Cheers!”