A New Direction
A revamped menu, innovative brewing and distilling programs, and ramped up participation in local events all signal a deep commitment to the city’s revitalized hub.
Thunder Canyon Brewstillery has embraced downtown Tucson, body, soul–and spirits.
Thunder Canyon has had a downtown presence since 2013, when it debuted its sprawling warehouse space on 220 E. Broadway. This second location was a natural outgrown of the success of one of Tucson’s earliest brewpubs: Opened in 1997, Thunder Canyon thrived in the Foothills Mall for some two decades.
But it gradually became clear that splitting resources wasn’t benefiting either the Foothills or downtown business. General Manager Bryan Miller, who spearheaded Thunder Canyon’s rebranding plan, says, “When there were two locations, the energies were divided between two different communities, which meant not being able to be fully devoted to either one.” And downtown was where the energetic new management, kitchen, and brewing/distilling team could best showcase their talents and enthusiasms.
Thunder Canyon moved the brewing operations to Broadway in late 2016, and shuttered the Foothills Mall locale in 2017.
In 2018, the wisdom of those decisions is making itself felt on every level.
Take the elevated pub menu introduced April 2 by Executive Chef Matt Kraiss. He has committed the kitchen to scratch cooking and to top quality products from the area. “We’re using several different local purveyors,” Kraiss says. “A lot of our beef is coming from Ben Forbes Meat Co., cattle humanely raised within 80 to 90 miles of Tucson and then butchered by hand, and we use Ramona Farms for the heritage tepary beans in our veggie burgers.” The brioche buns are baked on the premises, the fries are hand cut, the catfish is crusted with Arizona cornmeal, the sauerkraut is fermented in house…you get the picture.
In a creative crossover, some of the dishes give a nod to the potent potables made on the premises. The calamari appetizer is sided by a marmalade made from blood orange-infused Trogon rum, for example, while the vegetarian taco’s summer squash is marinated in Deep Canyon Amber Ale.
Brews like the amber ale remains deservedly popular—and they’re getting even better. The addition of an RO (reverse) osmosis machine allows head brewer Adam Marshall to fine tune the water chemistry in each batch, which is essential to making great craft beer.
Thunder Canyon has also begun adding exciting new styles to its suds roster. These include the Gose’n Ya, a light kettle sour brew with roots in Germany—the product of a partnership with Crooked Tooth Brewery–and the Haka IPA, an example of the hazy Northeast style that’s all the rage around the country. One series to keep an eye on: The Wild West barrel-aged sours. Leaving the amber ale to rest in a variety of different wine barrels promises to yield complex and unique results.
Marshall wants patrons who might have been underwhelmed in the past to give Thunder Canyon another chance. “If you have tried our beer and either didn’t like it or find it interesting, come back and let us change your mind,” he says, adding, “As the home-brewer beer judge for the IPA Challenge put it, ‘When they told us the beer we had just judge was Thunder Canyon, we couldn’t believe it.'”
The rum that Thunder Canyon distills and sells under the Trogon label is also getting an infusion of new energy – and flavor. Among other things, the distillery is collaborating with Seven Cups to create such tea-infused rums as mint mango, hibiscus, and anise grapefruit. These will be the centerpiece of a cocktail menu that’s slated to debut soon. It will feature classics like the Old Fashioned, but subbing rum for the more traditional bourbon.
GM Miller talks about the best-of-both-worlds quality of the brewing and distilling portion of the enterprise. “We have the 22 years of experience of co-founder and co-owner Steve Tracy, and the fresh vision of Adam Marshall, the head brewer who also has equity in the business. You can’t beat that.”
In the future, expect to see more and more partnerships like those Thunder Canyon established with Crooked Tooth and Seven Cups—and more and more participation in culinary events. They also plan to join the Tucson Originals, which highlights independent restaurants all around the city.
Charitable events that raise the city’s culinary profile are high on the priority list too—part of the ethos of a team that shares a vision as well as a strong sense of camaraderie. They recently donated buns, burgers, and brews to the collaborative event between GUT (Gastronomic Union of Tucson) and the Baja Beer Festival, for example, at the expense of their bottom line.
“It’s more than just about the business,” Kraiss says, “It’s about being part of the downtown community. We want to be a meeting place for the community and to enrich it through our work.”
Thunder Canyon Brewstillery is located at 220 E. Broadway and is open from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m Friday and Saturday. More information, including menu is available at thundercanyonbrewstillery.com.
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