About 10 minutes west of the Biosphere 2 in the town of Oracle, you'll find the nearest craft brewery in a retirement community. Once you reach the gate at SaddleBrooke Ranch, just let them know you're headed to the brewery.
Just be sure it's before 8 p.m. While Ranch House Grill & Brewery is open to the public, the neighborhood is an early crowd.
Surrounded with scenic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and SaddleBrooke golf course, the space seats 126 indoors and 40 outside. The interior features a U-shaped bar, wood beams, and a stone fireplace for a warm vibe almost too fancy for a brewery.
However, remember that the building isn't only a brewery. On the way to the bar, you'll also notice a pizza oven. The vibe is nice enough for a date, but the space also includes mounted televisions so you can watch the game with your crew after a round of golf.
The menu reflects this chic-casual approach as well; options range from the Bavarian Pretzel ($10) with Ranch Hand IPA Cheese and mustard dip to Grilled Za'atar Pork Tenderloin ($22) with baba ghanoush and cherry sauce.
While the restaurant in a retirement community isn't a surprise, the brewery aspect is one-of-a-kind. In fact, Ranch House Brewery is the only brewery in a retirement community in Arizona; perhaps even the world.
The logistics of such an endeavor wasn't easy, said George Atwell, vice president of food and beverage at Robson Resort Communities. However, the investment quickly paid off; several residents purchased their home in the community because of the brewery.
As it turns out, the community already had some residents brewing at home in their garages.
Residents have shared praises for brewer Josh Johnson, who pays acute attention to their preferences. While the craft beer demand for a hazy IPA remains strong in both mainstream communities and the retirement community, Johnson understood they also needed something more drinkable.
Listening skills have carried Johnson a long way in a short amount of time. He attributes much of his success to Tucson's strong brewing community.
"Everybody is trying to make everybody better," Johnson said. "And they take criticism well."
A Marana High School graduate, Johnson started homebrewing in high school thanks to his passion for chemical engineering. Brewing beer bridged the gap between art and science, he said.
Johnson went on to win homebrewing awards and work with Craft Kettle Brewing Equipment in New Orleans. Afterwards, Ranch House recruited him to start the brewery.
While brewing a quantity just large enough for the retirement community would be easier, the brewery's license requires they produce at least 5,000 gallons of beer a year. As a result, Ranch House has slowly expanded their reach since opening.
To begin their adventure into events, Ranch House started with one of the largest in the country. In October, they entered the Great American Beer Festival with their Boo Boo Blonde, Seaton English-Style Summer Ale, Ranch Hand IPA and Wild Strawberry Rhubarb Berliner Weisse. Their debut performance didn't secure any medals in the prestigious competition, but their Wild Strawberry Rhubarb Berliner Weisse caught the eye of attendants and websites such as PorchDrinking.com.
The strawberry rhubarb pie from Johnson's family in Texas inspired him to recreate the flavor in the Berliner Weisse. The first sip showcases upfront tart flavor, while the strawberry fruitiness comes through in the subsequent sips.
Over the next three months, Ranch House aims to distribute their beer throughout northwest Tucson in tap houses such as Casa Marana and Caps & Corks.
Operating hours are 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. (bar open until 5 p.m.) Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Ranch House Grill & Brewery is located in the Ranch House at 31390 S. Amenity Dr., Oracle, AZ 85623. For more information, call (520) 219-2161 or visit saddlebrookeranchhoa.org.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he...