Craft brewing gains ground: Phoenix Brewers Invitational weekend event in Heritage Square

(Mauro Whiteman/DD)
The Phoenix Brewers Invitational drew 66 brewing companies from across the nation. Local bars such as Angels Trumpet, pictured above, feature craft beer-based business models. (Mauro Whiteman/DD)

Thousands of beer lovers gathered in Phoenix this weekend to celebrate craft brewing, a market that is slowly growing in the downtown area.

The second Phoenix Brewers Invitational brought together 66 national and local brewing companies with more than 2,000 beer drinkers to Heritage Square Park located off of Monroe and Seventh streets.

“The weather is beautiful, the people out here are beautiful and we have beautiful beer,” said John Alvarado, the co-founder of Arizona Brewery Tours, a company that provides guided trips to breweries throughout the state. “The people here are having a great time drinking some balls-out beer.”

Although the downtown area has many bars that serve a variety of different ales and stouts, there is currently no downtown brewery. The brewing scene downtown hasn’t happened yet, Alvarado said, but he hopes the scene will grow with the arrival of several breweries he expects to come downtown.

“A stronger craft beer scene here is going to take some breweries,” Alvarado said.

Brewers Invitational is one of several beer events featuring craft beer that happen throughout the state, including the Arizona Strong Beer Festival that will be holding its 14th annual event in Phoenix in February. The popularity of these events seems to be following a trend throughout Arizona and the rest of the country in support of craft beer.

This year’s Brewers Invitational featured 19 local breweries, from places close to the downtown area, such as Phoenix Ale Brewery near 30th and Washington streets, to far-away places such as Grand Canyon Brewing Company, located 175 miles north of Phoenix in Williams.

Entrance into the festival was free; however, anyone over 21 was required to purchase a $35 plastic 12-ounce beer mug if they wanted to drink. The mug came with 12 four-ounce samples from the array of breweries with additional samples for $2 each.

Ian Campbell-O’Neill, the beer manager for Copper Blues, a rock pub located in CityScape overlooking Central Avenue, said the beer scene used to be smaller in Phoenix, but it’s been picking up over the last few years.

“It used to be a little slower in downtown than usual,” said Campbell-O’Neil. “In recent years, we’ve seen more attention to craft beer. I think downtown Phoenix is having a revival period right now.”

Copper Blues is only one of several bars downtown that boast a large selection of craft beers. While it draws in a greater destination crowd to Phoenix on the weekends with live music, other bars in the area have more of a local vibe.

Angels Trumpet Ale House, located just off of Second and Garfield streets, is a restaurant and bar that opened in 2012 with a business model revolved almost entirely around craft beer. The location boasts a menu of 31 different craft beers that changes weekly.

According to Mat Englehorn, who co-owns Angels Trumpet with his wife Sharry Englehorn, the beer scene in downtown is “up and coming.”

“I think the wine craze has moved to craft beer,” said Mat Englehorn. “It’s flavors, it’s varieties and it’s styles. It’s choices. It’s not just the big three and their bland awful beers.”

The Englehorns said they chose downtown for the location of their ale house because they had seen it grow over the past few years, particularly with the addition of the Downtown campus. They said that while their business has become a destination spot for visitors to the city, locals make up the bulk of their customers.

“It’s become a hub, so you get a sense of who actually lives in this area,” said Sharry Englehorn. “They’re very loyal, and they’re very committed and very generous to stay in downtown.”

The Englehorns said the community’s response to the ale house has been positive. They said people often come for the opportunity to taste a beer they might not get the opportunity to drink elsewhere, often trying each other’s drinks or sampling different flavors from the wide selection.

“I’m just trying to give everybody everything,” Mat Englehorn said. “It’s a monster we created, but we have to deal with it now. It’s fun.”

Three streets west of Angels Trumpet, on Roosevelt and First streets, Short Leash Hot Dogs restaurant also offers a variety of craft beers. The restaurant’s owner, Brad Moore, is a strong proponent for going local in Phoenix.

“The craft-brewery scene here in Phoenix and kind of in the general Arizona area is blowing up,” Moore said.

Moore said Four Peaks, San Tan Brewery and Phoenix Ale Brewery are examples of the growing popularity of craft beer in Phoenix.

Craft beer creates a local experience for visitors as well as for natives, Moore said.

“If you travel back home and you’ve been somewhere else, you can talk about the local brewery scene that’s going on,” Moore said. “It’s a great conversation piece, and it’s a unique experience that you can have.”

Short Leash, which originally only had four beers on tap, recently added 20 craft cans and 11 bottles. Moore said with the restaurant industry being so competitive, most people are buying for the same customer base and looking to get new beers on the market before the competition can.

“I think it really comes down to how you market and how you sell it,” Moore said. “We are always kind of doing hot dogs and beer pairings. We want to showcase microbreweries.”

Phoenix is becoming a community to explore great restaurants and experience different craft beers, said Phillip McCarty, the bar manager at the Lost Leaf Bar, located near Roosevelt and Fifth streets.

“We’re getting that great neighborhood-bar mentality going again,” McCarty said. “It’s really starting to come together, and it’s becoming more competitive.”

Lost Leaf offers more than 100 beers, many of them local, McCarty said. He said the bar hopes to one day offer its own craft beer.

“I think the crowd down here has a presence for the craft, and they just want something with a little more flavor and want something that’s a little less mass-produced,” McCarty said.

Typically on weekends, Lost Leaf has a full bar with a large number of locals inside. The bar has worked to differentiate itself from the sports-club type of vibe, McCarty said.

As for Angels Trumpet, which opened nearly two years ago, the Englehorns said they’ve received strong positive feedback from the community. At the Brewers Invitational, the couple was spotted talking to various brewers and fellow craft lovers, laughing over filled mugs of beer.

“The hope is that craft beer doesn’t become pretentious and just stays what it is,” Sharry Englehorn said. “It’s beer, and it’s drinkable and it’s fun. It should really just be a gathering place. It’s creating an environment through beer.”

Correction: Dec. 9, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lost Leaf offers more than 100 beers on tap.

Contact the reporter at Thomas.Hawthorne@asu.edu