15 November, 2019, 21:10

Brewery Profile: Public Brewhouse

Small scale + high tap rotation + bottomless curiosity = happy beer drinkers

There’s local, and there’s local.

Public Brewhouse falls into the latter, italicized definition. You’ve heard of micro-breweries? Well, owner Mike Gura and his team have you beat. They’re on some nano-brewery levels. Nano, as in, one thousand times smaller than micro. Nano, as in brewing just four kegs of precisely, intricately, lovingly, unique as-a-fingerprint beer per week. Nano, as in tucked behind a gastropub, on a street that could only be described as a street if you were feeling generous.

So yeah, they’re pretty local. And in a town as fiercely local and small-batch as Tucson, that means a lot.

But the term local does not equal diminutive in this case. With Public Brewhouse, owners Mike Gura and Cody Van Haren have created a true neighborhood watering hole where Fourth Avenue and Iron Horse denizens can congregate, chill out, maybe listen to some live bluegrass, and sip on some of the most inspired beers Tucson has to offer.

“You can make good beer,” Gura said. “But that’s not why people will come into your establishment. It’s about that experience of everything outside of the glass.”

The team behind that outside-the-glass experience includes general manager, Grace Hargis, and brewery operations manager, Ayla Kapahi. Together with Gura, these two form a braintrust that has strategically leveraged nano operations into a viable business equation: small scale + high tap rotation + bottomless curiosity = happy beer drinkers.

Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The formula has worked, Kapahi noted, by welcoming those who don’t fall into the stereotypically bearded, flannel-shirted craft beer crowd. “It’s so exciting to share with people who aren’t necessarily a part of the craft beer geek community,” she said. “The best thing I’ve heard is ‘I didn’t know beer could taste like this.’”

So what can a newcomer expect when they walk into Public?

“I think from the very beginning we were super strong on Saisons and IPA,” Hargis said. “Those were the two styles we really pushed from the beginning. Especially saisons were not very common in Tucson at the time.”

The team finds gobs of inspiration in regional ingredients, using Tucson’s rich geography and flora for new ideas.

“We live in one of the most biodiverse places in the world,” says Gura. “The sheer amount of ingredients available to us is amazing. One of the things we’ve been trying to do is brew within our local terroir. We try to brew a lot with ingredients from our area. Of course we use prickly pear but we also use Haines beardgrass, desert lavender, agave stalks.”

No frills, no gimmicks, no shortcuts — just turning great ingredients into great beer. Is it really that simple?

Mike Gura sampling from a barrel at Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Mike Gura sampling from a barrel at Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

With all of Public’s beers, such as flagship brews like the Hoppy Poppy IPA and Sassy Saison, it all boils down to quality. When asked to pin down a defining characteristic of a typical Public beer, the team gives pause.

After a few moments of careful thought, Hargis ventures a response. “There’s a lot of technical precision. We don’t put bad beers on tap,” she said.

The team’s devotion to rapid experimentation, quality ingredients and technical precision leads to plenty of happy accidents. To wit: the aforementioned Hoppy Poppy IPA. What began as a one-off brew quickly gained a loyal following among customers.

“I don’t think any of us predicted that would be our flagship beer,” Kapahi said. “It was just kind of like, hey, this is a really good West Coast IPA.”

And now, after three years in a brick and mortar location, the team is looking forward. With Public’s three-year anniversary fast approaching this August, newcomers and longtime customers will have plenty of coming attractions to enjoy, with three new barrel-aged beers set to make their debuts in honor of the milestone.

“One is a 22-month aged cherry sour,” Kapahi said. “It’s been aging for two thirds of our lifetime.”

In addition to the cherry sour, the team also has two lambics up their sleeve for the anniversary. Originally a farmhouse beer, these Belgian-style brews acquire their flavor profiles and personalities through wild fermentation, a process that allows the entire act of fermentation to occur naturally, relying on airborne yeast to do the heavy lifting.

Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Public Brewhouse (Credit: Jackie Tran)

“Usually lambics take one to three years to get the proper profile and character, but ours are already good and drinkable,” says Gura. “You never know what you’re going to get with wild fermentation. Not only are these lambics drinkable but they’re pretty damn good. It’s kind of exciting to go ‘wow, this worked.’”

In the end, Tucson — with its sun-bleached oxygen, dusty bacteria cultures, and hardy molecular building blocks — becomes, in effect, a co-brewer.

Does it get any more local than that?

Public Brewhouse is located at 209 N. Hoff Ave. For more information, call (520) 775-2337 or visit publicbrewhouse.com.

David Miller is a Tucson native and leisure enthusiast.

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