When Historic Brewing opened in 2013, a visit to their production facility meant taking a dirt road in Flagstaff's industrial district. Just one year later, they're celebrating a new taphouse downtown and collaborations with some of the region's most notable food industry professionals. The future for Arizona foodies is bright, bringing Flagstaff closer to three nationwide trends: specialty beer, locavore eating and food trucks.
The New Taproom
At the new San Francisco Street location, smoke drifts idly upward from two grills near the front door. Inside, light from the high windows allows the milling crowd to see a long brunch table decorated with flowers, seasonal squashes and Historic Brewing pint glasses. There is no electricity, which is not a problem considering that there are not yet lights to turn on. The sheet rock walls are bare, pipes and wires protruding awkwardly into the room. Despite the austerity, a warm atmosphere emanates through the conversation, beer and delicious looking food on nearby platters.
Carole Kennelly is technically a cofounder of Historic Brewing, but she prefers the title "Brand Warrior". She tells me that their beers already have statewide distribution through
Northland Beverage and a new Phoenix distributor, but they wanted a space to interact directly with their customers. Zoning
restrictions have made that difficult.
"You're not really allowed to have a bar or tavern in an industrial zone in Flagstaff, so we knew for a while that we needed a new location where we could actually retail our products. Technically, we've only been selling pint glasses and giving away free samples of beer, which is legal at a brewery."
Historic hopes to set themselves apart in the increasingly crowded Flagstaff beer market by focusing on specialty brews like sours, saisons and especially barrel aged beers. Hungarian and French Oak barrels have not been hard to come by; the Kennelly family also owns Grand Canyon Winery, and the crossover into craft beer seemed a natural progression. "In terms of the number of barrels, we have the biggest barrel beer program in the state of Arizona," she tells me. This type of brewing allows for the natural bacteria already present in used wine and whiskey barrels to add flavor and varying levels of sourness to the beer.
Also in attendance (and hard at work) is chef Payton Curry and crew from Scottsdale's artisan sausage and craft beer spot Brat Haus. Payton turns sausages on the grill, then steps inside to finish up a vegan salad full of Peoria kale, regionally grown beets and Green Valley pecans while we talk.
"We threw this whole thing together just as small businesses helping each other. They gave us some beer, we're giving them some sausage. It's nice to get out of town."
Brat Haus is known for its German, Austrian and Belgian beers, and working with Historic seemed like a no brainer. While there are many ingredients that just can't be bought locally (like two tons of mustard seed annually), Brat Haus buys as much of its
produce from Arizona as possible, and several tantalizing locavore dishes are almost ready for guests to dig into. He says Arizona is the perfect place to grow and buy produce like lettuce.
"We have two growing seasons. I can get lettuce greens nine or ten months out of the year, where in California you only get six months out of the year."
After the anniversary celebration today, Historic Brewing will be serving dishes from the much-hyped Proper Meats & Provisions butchery, with whom they share a building. Owner Paul Moir also opened Criollo and Brix, two critically praised restaurants in Flagstaff, along with a Proper location in Tucson. Proper meats are also sourced from Arizona, employing "whole animal butchery" that leaves no body parts to waste.
The collaboration presented one small dilemma: Proper Meats & Provisions does not have enough prep space to accommodate for the demands of Historic Brewing. The solution was a continually accelerating nationwide trend among restaurateurs: a food truck. Historic Brewing plans to purchase and outfit the truck with both kitchen and kegerator facilities, which will then be staffed by Proper employees. This will allow both businesses to serve at events like regional beer festivals. "Flagstaff is really behind in the food truck scene, and any food truck people have here is stationary, which defeats the purpose," Carole says.
Finally, all of the food prepared by Payton and the Brat Haus crew is ready, and the guests in attendance line up with Historic brews in hand. In December, the new German-style taproom will be completed, sporting lots of wood, decorative barrels, exposed ductwork and most importantly, a 7-barrel brewing system. For now, the anniversary celebration is just as festive in a room empty of nearly everything but supportive friends, delicious local food and lofty aspirations.