22 November, 2019, 23:45

Blending bikes and brews at Catalina Brewing Company

The Marana-based, bicycle-themed brewery offers a variety of beers featuring local ingredients.

Long known as a mountain biking mecca, Tucson has also become a hub for craft beer in recent years. Catalina Brewing Company (CBC) has literally tapped into both of these trends, pouring its “handcrafted bike fuel” in a setting that welcomes fat tire fans through its bike-themed art and overall bike friendliness.

You can, for example, park your bicycle inside the brewery to keep the metal from heating up, while an onsite shower lets guests who enter sweaty from a ride try to become more socially acceptable. A variety of bikes are mounted on the walls, prints of bicycling scenes abound, and repurposed bike gears and chains have been used to make everything from a saguaro sculpture to the pulls on the beer taps.

On CBC’s west wall, a large map of the city’s bike routes is dotted with colorful logo stickers pinpointing the locations of all Tucson’s other breweries, thus showcasing the intersection of the tight-knit bicycling and craft beer-loving communities.

Credit: Catalina Brewing

Credit: Catalina Brewing

A late-night inspiration

Marie Vance, CBC’s general manager and the wife of managing partner Brian Vance, explained how the brewery’s genesis reflects these dual interests.

“The idea for the brewery came to Brian and Hank [Rowe, the brewing partner] in 2009 while they were sitting by a campfire at 2 a.m. following the 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo mountain bike race, drinking some of Hank’s home-brewed beer. They both decided that opening a brewery would be a great idea.”

It was one of the rare buzzed-with-adrenalin-and-beer-in-the-wee-hours inspirations that panned out. The brewery opened its doors in February 2016. CBC’s 0200 IPA is named for the hour of its inception.

Local flavors

In addition to highlighting biking as a way to enjoy Tucson’s outdoor culture, CBC celebrates other aspects of the city’s unique setting.

“Hank loves representing Tucson as much as he can in his beer.” said Marie. “We use a lot of local ingredients. Two of our standouts are La Rosa de Catalina Cream Ale and Mesquite Agave Ale — flavors that taste like the Sonoran Desert.”

La Rosa de Catalina Cream Ale is made with prickly pear fruit, harvested by Rowe. The fruit not only gives the ale a flamingo pink hue, it also adds a cooling watermelon taste and bright floral aromas to the brew, which can be spiced up by adding a Tajín rim. Mesquite Agave Ale is a smooth, well-balanced American amber ale with infusions of two local ingredients: powdered mesquite pods and agave nectar.

Beer flight at Catalina Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Beer flight at Catalina Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Among seasonal beers that also make use of the local flora are the Mesquite Smoked Pecan Dopplebock and the Chiltepin Mesquite Porter.

Settling in Marana

Although the partners live in Catalina – thus the brewery’s name – they chose nearby Marana for a location because it has more industrial zoning.

Setting up shop in the northwest proved to be a smart decision. Many people who live far from downtown’s cluster of breweries are happy to have a place to go closer to home. And, since CBC opened, Marana has only gotten more popular.

“We have no regrets at all about settling here. Destinations in Marana are bringing people out of the downtown area,” said Marie.

She finds the competition to be a good thing: “It’s great having Button Brew House [opened in 2017] up the road because it gives people a reason to come this way and hop around.”

Within the next two months, Catalina Brewing Company will get a new, expanded liquor license. Marie said, “Once that happens, we will be a taproom as well as a brewery and also serve wine.” This will not only open up the beer selection, but will widen the demographic to include oenophiles.

Those who want to sample CBC’s products without leaving their neighborhoods can find them at Elliott’s on Congress, Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, Three Canyon Beer and Wine, Arizona Beer House, and other locations around town.

Something for everyone – including food

And those who are neither interested in bicycling nor in brews still have plenty of reasons to come. This large, airy space, with a variety of seating configurations, has a welcoming, open vibe – as well as lots of food and activity options for the whole family.

Interior at Catalina Brewing Company

Interior at Catalina Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

You don’t have to forgo a craft beverage if you don’t want alcohol. Made in house, Karl’s Root Beer is a blond bubbly sweet sarsaparilla that’s reminiscent of a traditional root beer. At three dollars a glass, including a free refill, it’s also a kid-friendly bargain.

Marie is not only the GM, but runs a food cart, The Jersey Grill, which partners with the brewery. It offers a nice selection of casual fare, including sausages from Dickman’s Meat and Deli; Jersey-style hoagies; Taylor Pork Roll — “a Jersey thing” according to Marie, particularly at breakfast; and fresh guacamole and hummus plates. The Jersey Grill also features weekly specials like Sonoran Dog Sunday, a hot dog, side of chips, guacamole, and a beer for $10; and Taco Tuesday, when three tacos and a beer will run you only $9.

Food trucks rotate at the brewery on Fridays, the better to stimulate the brain cells for the popular weekly trivia contest.

A shuffleboard table provides patrons with another diversion, while fitness Saturdays, held a couple of times a month, feature classes ranging from goat yoga – yes, it involves actual goats — and Zumba to an intense boot camp.

That shower could come in handy for reasons other than bike rides.

Catalina Brewing Company is located at 6918 N Camino Martin. More information is available at catalinabrewingco.com.

Jake O’Rourke is a Tucson native, writer, editor, and musician. He enjoys tasting his way through Tucson’s copious food and craft beer options, listening to live music, and writing about the experiences he has within these endeavors.

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