AZ craft beer industry tapping in to its full potential

Photo courtesy Union Craft Brewhouse
Photo courtesy of Union Craft Brewhouse

With the number of microbreweries in Arizona doubling since 2011, the Legislature next year will have the opportunity to boost the growing industry into markets far outside the state.

Arizona has 79 craft breweries, and 60 are licensed and operating as part of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild.

The industry is becoming increasingly popular with breweries opening in cities outside the metro areas in places including Yuma, Kingman, and Lake Havasu. The potential to expand even more will continue to increase in upcoming years.

“The popularity for the product is growing rapidly, and soon people will be replacing their favorite domestic beers with craft beers,” said Ashley Fromang, the general manager of Mudshark Brewery in Lake Havasu.

The Arizona beer bill will be introduced in January—after being shot down last year—as an attempt to encourage microbreweries to expand and grow in the industry without sacrificing retail business.

Rob Fullmer, the executive director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, is working to build a stronger coalition of partners. The bill is now supported by the 11 member companies of the Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona, all microbrewers who make up the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild and the many bars, restaurants and taverns that comprise the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association.

The state laws regarding this industry did not anticipate the rapid growth and success of microbreweries—breweries that produce less than 40,000 barrels a year—Fullmer said.

“We’ve reached a point where we have to acknowledge that these breweries are getting large enough to become a producer where they can brew in unlimited amounts.”

The bill aims to clarify what will happen to the state’s microbreweries once they begin to produce more than the 40,000 threshold. The current law states these breweries will be provided a producers license, but it is vague about whether the breweries can also run retail alongside the operation. Some fear they cannot, which is why that want the law changed.

Arizona is just one state among many that is joining in on the national trend of increasing revenue through craft breweries. The overall craft beer market brings in $14.3 billion in sales for the United States, according to the Brewers Association, and Arizona has been quick to contribute to the economic impact of the industry. Last year Arizona saw an 18 percent growth in craft beer sales across the state, almost one percent more than the 17.2 percent increase in national craft beer sales.

As defined by the Brewers Association, an American craft brewery is small—production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. It must be independent—75 percent must be owned by craft brewer themselves, and traditional— and the flavor comes from inventive brewing ingredients and their fermentation.

Photo courtesy of flickr
Photo courtesy of flickr

“People are discovering that there is so much more to beers than just the mass market that produces pale lagers like Bud Light, Miller Lite, and so on,” said Scott Safford, the owner of Tap and Bottle—a Tucson business that offers a tasting room for the community to sample regional craft beers. “Our business is extremely excited about all the craft breweries coming into our state’s beer market.

The industry strives to maximize the ability to produce in volumes that are comparable to the largest breweries of Colorado, California and other states around the country. To do this, Fullmer said, it is important to work with investors and public policy makers to grow without any legal complications.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where no one can leave the state with their products. Going through this process with the bill has strengthened relationships with public officials and we plan to expand the industry by engaging with public policy full time,” Fullmer said.

Check out any of these 79 craft breweries across Arizona:

Reporters Sarah France and Tania Mashkoory are reporters for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Contact reporters France at Sjfrance@email.arizona.edu and Mashkoory at Tmash@email.arizona.edu

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