— Editor’s Note: So, what’s a curling logo doing on an article about a craft brewery in Arizona? Read on to find the surprising bit of Canadiana connected to Papago Brewing. This is part 3 of a 4 part series in which Mark Lilly looks into what the craft beer scene in Phoenix has to offer the craft beer traveler.
Part 3: Papago Brewing
Most of the buzz about Papago Brewing Company seems to come from their Orange Blossom Mandarin Wheat Ale. As I stated before, my wife and I often have very different taste in drinks. Although she’s not much of a beer drinker, she’s the one who asked me to order a growler of Orange Blossom. It’s a vanilla-orange wheat beer that many people describe as a creamsicle in a glass.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect until we walked in the door. Immediately, you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by design that feels almost like a log cabin. Papago Brewing is not trying to be ultra-modern, and that may be one of the most refreshing aspects about them.
Ron Kloth, President and main owner of Papago Brewing Company recently took the time to discuss some of the unique features of one of Arizona’s top-rated craft breweries.
Here’s what Ron had to say:
CB: When I walked in, I could tell this place is unique. What do you think makes Papago stand out from other breweries?
PB: I think it’s because we’re a hybrid. Yes, we have our own unique beers but we’ve always been proud to showcase other craft breweries and imports to serve both at Papago and to go. Nobody can please everyone but we try and do our best by serving the best beer we can find and most importantly serving it and storing it properly so the customer gets a great tasting beer every time they come in.
CB: Who is that statue greeting me as I came in the door?
PB: That’s Jake. He’s storage unit shaped like a monk that originally housed our Monk’s Club (mug club) members’ mugs. The membership increased so much we had to find other ways to serve our mug club members so now he is just used for photo ops with the visiting customers.
CB: I read that Papago Brewing started out as a home brew supply store in 2001. You guys have obviously gone through lots of changes since then. What’s that been like? Any significant challenges?
PB: As I said, we’re a hybrid. We started out as a combination homebrew shop/bar/beer store and as a contract brewer. We sold off the homebrew supply store after the first year in order to have more seats and to add a kitchen. The biggest challenge has been trying to keep up with all the new breweries that have come online the past few years and to try to decide what to serve. When we first opened, that wasn’t an issue as we served everything we could get our hands on. Now there is a huge supply and variety of beers from which to serve.
CB: Papago features quite a few beers on site (both your own and from other breweries). Some might think it’s crazy to carry your “competitor’s” beers. What’s your take on that?
PB: No company can make a wide enough variety of beers and do them all well to meet all the customers varied tastes. Our philosophy was to serve as wide a variety as possible as long as we could do it right and keep it fresh and to make our beers as unique as possible and to do things other breweries weren’t doing. It’s allowed us to make our beers unique to stand out against the local competition.
CB: What’s your proudest moment as a brewery?
PB: That’s a tough question as there have been many things. Perhaps it was last year when we won the Freshest Bar in America contest by Draft Magazine and we were able to tap a cask of fresh unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell that was tapped by P.U.’s head brewmaster.
CB: You say the members of your staff are “beer people.” What are some of their favorite brews?
PB: Right now, it’s a tossup between IPAs and sours but even then you have different opinions. Some of them like an easy drinking IPA like Firestone Walker and others go for some of the big hop bombs like Ballast Point Sculpin. Myself, I’m more of an IPA guy at the moment and love Ska’s Modus Hoperandi or Odell IPA if I’m not drinking my own.
CB: How would you describe your customer base? Why do you think they continue to support you?
PB: We have a very eclectic customer base in terms of age and gender that is all over the map but they all have one thing in common: a love for good beer. I think they continue to support us for a number of reasons, the first being our staff. Unlike other places in the business we have had an extremely loyal and knowledgeable staff that have worked for us for years. We haven’t experienced the turnover that other places have had and that’s made a difference in having loyal customers. The other thing is, of course, the beer. We have always believed in doing it right: proper glassware, serving temps, cleaning our beer lines between kegs, and with the bottled beers storing them cold in a UV light protected area. Lastly, we aren’t corporate and offer a chill neighborhood vibe that is comforting to people. With our constantly rotating taps, it’s always like Christmas. You don’t know what you’re getting until you get there.
CB: Besides beer, do you have any other interests/hobbies to share with our readers?
PB: Sure. Since you have a Canadian audience, it’s actually kind of funny. I’m really into curling and belong to the Coyotes Curling Club in Tempe. We just opened our own dedicated ice arena earlier this year. We have leaques almost everyday and plenty of bonspiels for anyone visiting from up north. I’m half Canadian and half German so it was in my blood to love beer and curling.
Big thanks to Ron Kloth for taking the time out of his busy day to talk with us. In this article series, I set out to establish that Phoenix, AZ has a booming craft beer scene, but never expected to discover a curling league!
As the Papago Brewing President said, the atmosphere at the brewery is a relaxed, neighborhood vibe. It’s a comfortable place to meet friends or catch a game while trying one of the 30 beers on tap. You can find out more about Papago Brewing Company at www.PapagoBrewing.com.
More articles in the Craft Beer Travel Series: Phoenix: