14 December, 2019, 00:13

Barrio Brewing Co.: Producer of Tucson’s longest brewed beer

Barrio Brewing Co. distributes to hundreds of stores, bars, and restaurants, making it one of Arizona's largest breweries.

Tucked away on Euclid and 16th Street, Barrio Brewing Co. is an escape from the heavily industrialized corner of downtown Tucson. What once started as a small, local brewery concept has evolved into an on-demand source for quality beer in Arizona.

Dennis and Tauna Arnold, both Tucson natives, moved to San Diego in 1986 with the hopes of being the vanguard for the craft brewery fleet, unbeknownst to them, that was soon to hit SoCal.

This endeavor was met with cumbersome friction from elected California officials, as starting a brewery was illegal in San Diego at the time. The Arnolds were forced to face a concise nixing of their urge to start a brewery. So, like itinerant salmon, Dennis and Tauna were magnetized back to their home waters of Tucson.

Bar at Barrio Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Meeting a need

Although Dennis had no prior brewing experience, he saw a great need for an increase in craft breweries, confronting the challenge head-on. His vehicle for change came in the form of Gentle Ben’s.

As the first full mash brewery in Tucson, Gentle Ben’s quickly gained popularity at its University Boulevard location. In 2007, the Arnolds were ready to expand, which led to the purchase of the 22,000-square-foot space that is now known as Barrio Brewing Co.

After trying and ultimately failing to start in San Diego, “I don’t think this concept would have worked anywhere else,” said Dennis. “We are both Tucsonans and understanding what Tucson wants is what we do.”

Evolution of their approach

It is from that forced rejection, like most of our eclectic and individualized Tucsonans have experienced at one point or another, that the Arnolds manifested the happy workplace and family-focused approach that resonates through the vibrant and attentive staff today.

“We are working with people we really enjoy. Being able to find people’s passions and help them express it is a lot of fun,” said Tauna.

The space

The brewery’s rustic appearance seamlessly absorbs itself into the atmosphere of the surrounding area. The open spaces and multi-purpose rooms within create a spacious place for individuals and groups to hang out. It fills up at night with killer happy hour specials and is humming with energy.

Patio at Barrio Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The taproom was initially unable to house the swells of people coming in. Rooms that were once full of brewing tanks and storage have since been developed into fully functional spaces that can also be booked for private events and parties.

Ample seating and dim lighting welcome you into what feels like a large living room. “You get the neighborhood feel when you’re here and we have all walks of life coming through,” said Brennen Young, Barrio Brewing’s General Manager.

IPA room and bar at Barrio Brewing Company (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Tucson’s longest brewed beer

By opening Barrio Brewing Co., the Arnolds were able to increase their product output in order to meet the continuously rising demand for their beers around Arizona. One such beer, Barrio Blonde, has contributed to the demand as Tucson’s longest brewed beer.

Maintaining a high-quality product is something that has been observed with every batch of Barrio Blonde and the versatile selection of beers they have on tap year-round.

High-quality products on tap

Young said, ”Since we have that amount of beers on tap all the time, we try to touch on a bit of every pallet. From Rae’s Ruby Red IPA to Nolan’s Porter Ale, which won a gold medal at the 2008 GABF (Great American Beer Festival), there’s something to be enjoyed no matter the flavor preference.”

Barrio Blonde is the bestseller from the brewery. This pilsner is fresh and sweet with a slightly nutty finish due to the Czechoslovakian Saaz hops. Incorporating these hops balances the sweet malty flavors with the drier, earthier tones of the hops. It has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 4.7 percent, an IBU (international bitterness units) of 14 and is a 2.9 on the SRM (standard reference measurement) scale.

Barrio Rojo is a Scottish-style amber ale with a forward malt presence and hints of caramelized sugars. The notes of brown sugar and cinnamon add to the overall smooth and sweet flavor Barrio Rojo possesses. It has an ABV of 5.5 percent, an IBU of 22 and is a 17 on the SRM scale.

Barrio Rojo can (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Barrio Rojo can (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Citrazona is a balanced IPA with active citrus notes and finishes with sweet tangerine juiciness on the tongue. It has a high drinkability due to the balanced hop and citrus flavors. Citrazona has an ABV of 6.6 percent with 68 IBUs.

NCAAle is an English double strong ale and carries a variety of malty undertones balanced with kettle hops, which are hops added at the start of the mash boil in order to infuse the bitterness of the hop into the beer. In contrast, aroma hops are added at the end of the boil to create the hoppy aromatics that some beers have. NCAAle is a nice transition into the beer realm if you are more of a scotch or whiskey drinker. The high alcohol content makes a small amount just as satisfying as sipping a glass of whiskey on the rocks. It has an ABV of 10.1 percent, 81 IBUs and is a 21 on the SRM scale.

Beer at Barrio Brewing Co. (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Beer at Barrio Brewing Co. (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Beer and meal pairing recommendations

Pairings easily come together with the extensive, hand-crafted menu of over a dozen flagship beers and regionally inspired dishes. Whether you start with the food menu or begin with the beers, here are some options for you.

Match a Pollo Pesto Panini with the Barrio Blonde, or wash down a Pulled Pork Sandwich and Buffalo Wings with the Citrazona IPA. Nolan’s Porter Ale serves as a sweet and flavorful accompaniment to balance out the heat of The Fire Starter, a 6.5-ounce patty covered in thick-cut jalapeño bacon and freshly grilled jalapeños. All burger patties can be substituted with a grilled chicken breast or a veggie patty for an additional 50 cents. You really can’t go wrong.

Tequila Cilantro Wings at Barrio Brewing Co. (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Tequila Cilantro Wings at Barrio Brewing Co. (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Sharing with the community

Down at the brewery, they’re team players. “As the most experienced brewery in Tucson, we definitely help out a lot with new breweries. We give any advice people are looking for,” said Young. “We are very generous in sharing our knowledge and know that the push for each brewery to make its own mark will continue to bring diversity to Tucson’s beer scene.”

The reach

Aside from Gentle Ben’s and the brewery itself, Barrio Brewing Co. distributes to hundreds of stores, bars, and restaurants, making it the third-largest brewery in Arizona.

IPA Room at Barrio Brewing Company (Credit: Chelsey Wade)

IPA Room at Barrio Brewing Company (Credit: Chelsey Wade)

If this perseverant adventure proves anything, let it be that if you face rejection or are cast out for being yourself, you can always come home to Tucson to find open arms (and a cold beer at Barrio Brewing Co.).

You can access a beer locator here, which displays the nearest suppliers of Barrio beer in your zip code.

Location and hours

Barrio Brewing Co. is located at 1600 E.16th St. Operating hours are from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. – midnight Thursday through Saturday, and from  11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, visit barriobrewing.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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