In honor of this week's "Night of the Phoenix Breweries," a roundup of the best beers from Helio Basin, O.H.S.O., SunUp, Helton, and more, happening this Thursday at 5 p.m. at Huss Brewing at Uptown Plaza, we spoke with three of the women behind some of our state’s most beloved brews.
Leah Huss, co-owner, Huss Brewing
After nearly 15 years co-owning Papago Brewing in Scottsdale, Leah Huss and her husband, Jeff, launched Huss Brewing in 2013. Many regard Papago as one of the pioneers of Arizona’s brewery world. Founded in 2001 as a bottle shop and homebrew supply store, Papago is to beer nerds what comic-book stores are to superhero fans. Leah Huss started there just after graduating from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, and she brings her chef sensibilities to the offerings at Huss. “When it comes to food pairing, you cannot find a more versatile beverage than beer,” she says.
When it comes to Arizona's craft beer scene, she feels it is a supportive community, and wants to debunk the myth that it is an inherently sexist industry. "We all look out for each other. If people are drinking local and supporting local, then we all win. There is definitely enough to go around," she says. "I’ve never encountered sexism in the industry. In fact, it’s more in the business world where I’ve come up against it. I just read a study about how women travelers feel more comfortable eating and drinking alone in a brewery than in a restaurant or bar. Breweries are a welcoming space, a friendly front."
And what about those who don't care for beer?
"There are so many beer styles. If someone says they don’t like beer, I tell them they just haven’t found their style yet," she says, recommending her current local favorite: "Pueblo Vienna Lager at McFate Brewing Company in Scottsdale. It’s approachable, malty and toasty."
Huss Brewing is Arizona’s fastest-growing brewery, and operates two tasting rooms, one in Tempe and one in central Phoenix. Signature beers include Scottsdale Blonde Kolsch, Magic in the Ivy Pale Ale, The Husstler Milk Stout, and Koffee Kolsch.
After working in construction for most of her career, Julie Meeker had a revelation. “I always loved beer. Then I found out you could make it.” She visited breweries to learn the process, then started delving deep into homebrews. In 2014, she and her husband, Jimmie McBride, opened Mother Bunch Brewing in downtown Phoenix, a move that enabled them to not only elevate the local brew culture, but to also be part of downtown’s revitalization.
"It's booming. It seems like there is a new brewery opening every month, and they are putting out quality products. This lets us get small-batch, handcrafted beers into more hands and, in effect, grow the size of the craft beer market here," she says of the local beer scene.
When asked what it will take to get more women working in the industry, she had a simple answer: Education. "The more women can learn about the process and the industry, the more comfortable they’ll feel getting involved," she says. "There’s not a ‘girl’ beer or a ‘boy’ beer. There is just ‘people’ beer. If you work hard and make a good product, people will drink it. At Mother Bunch, our biggest demographic is women ages 25 to 45."
Her personal favorite? "McBride’s Irish Red. It’s dry and hoppy, and it’s a tribute to my husband."
In addition to running the business of Mother Bunch, Meeker develops recipes, consults on ideas for new beers, and stays active in the local chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a national organization that brings women in the industry together to collaborate and network. Mother Bunch offers 10 to 15 beers in the tasting room, including the Old Skool IPA, Single Blonde, and Golden Ticket Pale Ale.
After working on the packaging line at New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewery, Kristin Luparello moved to California to bartend at Anderson Valley Brewery. It was there that she asked the brewmaster if she could switch to the production side.
“He told me it wasn’t glamorous, but sure, if that’s what I wanted,” Luparello recalls. “I knew nothing about science. I didn’t even know what pH was! But I learned.”
After earning her Certified Brewmaster’s certificate from a grain-to-glass program in Germany, Luparello was hired as a brewer at SanTan Brewing Co. in Chandler.
"The beer culture is so new in Arizona that I think a lot of women don’t even see themselves going for roles in craft beer. It never crosses their mind. But once you realize that you can do it, then you’ll realize that you love doing it," she says, adding that there are a lot of misconceptions about being a female brewer, namely, that there is an overly competitive spirit. "We like to show off what we know, and this is true whether you’re a male or female brewer."
Her current favorite SanTan beer is Moonjuice IPA. "It’s a super-hoppy IPA. I think it represents the SanTan brand the best." But she is an equal opportunity beer drinker, giving props to Koffee Kolsch from Huss Brewing and Pine Mountain Sour at Arizona Wilderness Brewing.
SanTan has a large operation, doing 200 barrels a day, and Luparello works the nightshift to finish up the daily brews. Open since 2007, SanTan’s well-known and much-loved brews include Devil’s Ale, Epicenter Amber, Hopshock IPA, and Mr. Pineapple.