We’ve written a lot about the beer scene this year. There was a late-winter check-in with Helton, a review of a horchata wheat wine made by Wren House, a look at the electric infused Neonic series put out by The Shop Beer Co., and a madcap overnight trip into the Oak Flat woods to brew wild ale with Arizona Wilderness.
To cap our year of beer coverage, we sat down with Justin Evans and Tony Fatica of The Theodore. Evans gave the local beer scene a push in the right direction three years ago when he co-founded The Wandering Tortoise, where Fatica worked for him at the bar. Since then, the two have partnered to open The Sleepy Whale and The Theodore, both highly selective beer bars in the erudite vein of the Tortoise.
We kicked it on the leather couches of The Theodore’s lounge, yards from Roosevelt Street. Crisp air drifted in the open windows, cool and refreshing, but nothing like the Modern Times double IPA frosting glasses on the coffee table. We talked Arizona beer: where it is, where it’s going.
Chris Malloy: How would you say that The Theodore stands out from your other ventures?
Justin Evans: It’s the most different because it’s the one location where we cater to the area. It’s very downtown. I think when you go into an established area, you need to listen to those people and what they want. With the art that we have in here, with the no TVs and kind of appealing to more of that conversation piece than the traditional tap room.
Tony Fatica: Having a lounge, too, which kind of fits for down here.
CM: The Tortoise has been open three years. How has our beer scene changed in that time?
JE: That’s such a funny question, in a sense that I circle back to our conversation that we had during our first interview at Tortoise. My mindset is still the same. I think, whether it’s local, national, or international, the beers we put on draft are, in our opinion, the best of the best.
Three years ago, we had two to three local beers on draft, whereas now we have up to half the menu that’s sourced from local breweries. We see the growth in those breweries, in just the product they’re cranking out.
I think of The Shop [Beer Co.] off of the top of my head. I think now, compared to when they opened — their beer has been good, but now it’s exceptional. In my opinion, the guys at the forefront are making better beer. Places like Pueblo [Vida], Wren House, [Arizona] Wilderness, Dark Sky. It’s nice to be able to support local.
CM: What beer styles will you be drinking this winter?
JE: You always hear some sort of malt-forward beverage, or a barrel-aged stout. You see more of those in the wintertime in Phoenix. We stay pretty well-rounded, but breweries cater to that [craft drinker expectation].
I think of somebody like Prairie, Prairie Artisan Ales out of Oklahoma, they have a lot of heavy-hitting barrel-aged stouts that come out this time of year. It’s fun to be able to put those on and see a lot more stouts on.
TF: Prairie! Locally, we don’t see a whole bunch of stouts and that kind of stuff. We don’t get super-cold, so people just do what they want to do year-round. For me personally, even if it were in the middle of summer, if I want to have a stout and it’s good, I’m going to drink a stout.
CM: What drives you to carry rare bottles, like the ones you stock from Superstition Meadery, Stoic Cider, and Wilderness?
JE: First of all, each one of those makes incredible products. We take the opportunity to jump all over those. And none of those are widely distributed, so that’s always been the model: We like to source more of that exclusive product, so long as it’s excellent product.
TF: In having the mead, too, people want to try new stuff. It’s always more fun to have that stuff that’s more abstract and off the wall. We’re going to have Jim from Superstition doing a tasting today. To have him come out and give people knowledge on that, it’s good stuff.
CM: I can see Wilderness Downtown from my seat. What’s your relationship?
JE: That was a huge selling point for us coming down here. This is definitely a passion project being on Roosevelt Row and in downtown Phoenix. The fact that we get to be neighbors with Jonathan [Buford] and Patrick [Ware, co-owners of Wildness] is pretty awesome. We collabbed on a beer with them for these locations month one: RoRo Neighborly. It was really good.
And we go over there all the time.
RF: During our build-out? Every day!
CM: What rising breweries do you have your eye on?
JE: The Shop. I think they’re doing an excellent job. I think Dark Sky. What I’ve always loved about them is they’re always taking the risk of making what they want to make. Pedal Haus. I’m a huge fan. Doc [Osborne, the head brewer] is highly regarded in the Arizona beer scene.
TF: I always circle back to Wilderness. They’re well known in the state, but they’re always pushing the envelope. They’re always trying new off-the-wall-stuff, nonstop.
JE: To build off of that, I think Wilderness is just well-rounded with everything they do. Like Tony said, they’re always trying to do something new, and most of it is really friggin' good.
CM: What’s next for you guys?
JE: The Golden Pineapple. It’s going to be at the old Riazzi’s in Tempe, which was then Quartiere. We got our chef, Chef Dell Morris from Proof, at The Four Seasons.
CM: So you’re going to have food at the next spot?
JE: Yes. And cocktails.
CM: When can we taste that?
We’re thinking January or February. We’ve just got to do it right.
CM: Last question. How do you think the Arizona beer scene will change in the next three to five years?
JE: It’s going to be forced to get better. I feel like we have a group of breweries that really outshine a majority of them. The consumer is also changing. When we opened Tortoise, we were appealing to maybe 10 percent of the consumers in Arizona. I feel like that number has increased. I don’t think you can just open a brewery in Arizona anymore and brew beer. I think you need to listen to the consumer, and I think that’s going to be the big thing.
Note: This interview has been lightly compressed and edited.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.