by David Mendez
In honor of Arizona Beer Week, and celebrating Tucson's place in Arizona's craft beer pantheon, we spoke to folks all over Tucson's craft beer spectrum from shop owners to brewers to fans just trying to spread the love.
Rebecca Safford, along with her husband Scott, owns Tap & Bottle, 403 N. Sixth Ave., a hybrid beer & wine bar/bottle shop. In less than a year, T&B has jumped from new storefront to one of the region's top beer bars, as voted by CraftBeer.com users. She sat down with us at Exo Coffee amidst preparations for Arizona Beer Week, which figures to be among the busiest in T&B's short history.
So, how long have you been in Tucson?
Since...2002? Sounds about right.
You've been here this long, and have always had an appreciation for beer, so what's it been like watching the craft beer scene grow up?
Well, Scott and I have been in Tucson for about the same amount of time, and we came to this town with a love for different microbreweries, and really loving beer, and coming here...there was a craft beer scene, it was very small, so it was like "well, where can we go to drink good beer?" Obviously when 1702 came around, that was huge. We live around 17th Street, so a big milestone for us was when Barrio brewery was built, it was...we waited and waited and waited and counted the days, and we were so happy to have a brewery to walk to. Then, there seemed to be a lot more places to drink downtown.
Why do you think craft beer has gained such a following in Tucson?
I think that Tucson’s always had an appreciation for the art of production and people who make things and craft things, from artisans to chefs to woodworkers. I think that our brewing community here, the people that appreciate craft beer, it’s what Tucson’s all about: Supporting local, supporting small businesses, being able to tell a story, even if it's not necessarily a local beer, about where a beer comes from. it really shows that breweries see that not just Tucson, but that our state is a place that really appreciates and loves craft beer.
So when you first opened up, I remember that you were talking to everyone, getting help from the community, like Plaza, and for a long time they were the only place you could go to get craft beer.
Yeah, and even before Safeway had a craft section, Plaza was bringing in stuff, and that's where all of us went to where we went to get everything. When we initially opened and were donig our first orders, some of the team over there helped us with our first orders, particularly with some of the distributors that only work with smaller breweries and imports; to purchase those costs a lot of money, and we weren't even open yet, so they were super nice and split some cases with us. I mean, one of my first orders, we talked through together, it was really collaborative. Now I look back, and I'm like “I had no idea what I was doing.”
I think that shows that, our community here, we don’t look at it as like, "Hey, I’m here, I’m established, I don't want any other players involved, it’s like "hey, I’m here, I can help you, how can I get involved?"
I mean, Austin from 1702 was key; we told him our idea, we talked beer, and he showed us their cooler, and he still comes by to Tap & Bottle to hang out and talk beer.
So what's it been like building relationships with the local brewers in town?
That's been one of my favorite parts, building this community with the brewers. Borderlands is just down the street and will help us with growler caps, Dragoon helped us with our initial order of growlers, and they look at us as a way to showcase new beers. I think that being able to have that relationship and talk about what goes over well here, and what people are enjoying helps everyone.
So, tell me a bit more about the local craft beer community. How do you think having a network like that provides for Tucson?
I think that it's going to make us all thrive even more. Teaching people about craft beer and what it's all about, and not mass-market beers, and really looking at it, going "What is this beer and where is it from, and who makes it?" rallies the community, and is good for everyone involved. I think that some of my favorite nights at Tap & Bottle are when I can look out over the bar and go "oh, hey the Dragoon guys are there, and there's the Sentinel Peak guys, and there's Ten Fifty-Five," and that it's not Us versus Them, it's everybody in this together. I love it.
Tap & Bottle is going to be running events all week long, from Feb. 16 through 23, including a Beer 101 brunch at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16; craft fans might also want to check out their "AZ Loves CO" night, where half of their taps will be running beers brewed by Colorado's top breweries, and half will feature local brews from the Grand Canyon State.
For more event information, check out Tap and Bottle's Facebook page, or the center spread of this week's Tucson Weekly.