Birds & Beer: Borderlands Brewing’s ‘Rain Crow IPA’ illustrates the vital connection

August 10, 2022
By Jessie Mance
By Jessie Mance

For the love of birds and beer

I recently came across a compelling philosophy that blew my mind.

The theory is profound but so simple and concise that it just has to be true. Besides, it’s on the internet, and information doesn’t just appear online unless it is accurate, right? The premise: Birds Aren’t Real. These three powerful words had me hooked, and I knew I needed to take a deeper dive into the wealth of knowledge just begging to be mined online.

“Research,” they call it.

The impactful theory I unearthed says that all of the birds in America have been replaced with surveillance drones disguised to look like birds. They’re then placed across the country by the government to monitor us. It makes perfect sense.

Birds Aren't Real
Photo by Susanne Jutzeler / Pexels

Only a moment later my newfound suspicions of clandestine avian surveillance were confirmed when I received a social media alert for a new bird-themed beer release from Borderlands Brewing Company. I was being watched (I knew it), but I love beer so I pressed on.

The beer is called Rain Crow IPA. It’s a monsoon special release brewed in collaboration with Audubon Southwest, Feminist Bird Club Tucson, and the southern Arizona Chapter of the Pink Boots Society. This hazy IPA has been brewed by Borderlands in collaboration with Audubon Southwest annually since 2018, and is meant to shine a light on water conservation and the importance of maintaining Arizona’s healthy riparian habitats.

Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)
Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)

The team involved with the brew says these habitats are necessary to sustain populations of vulnerable bird species of the southwest, such as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I know what you’re thinking — birders were trying to woo me back into the world of bird belief by seducing me with a new beer.

It was so obvious. I needed to learn more about who was behind this brew in order to formulate my resistance strategy.

This year’s Rain Crow IPA highlights the fact that a lot of the important work happening with the Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitat in the southwest is being accomplished by women. The same goes for much of the beer being brewed and served in Tucson. No longer strictly male-dominated fields, both birding and beer, have become more inclusive and more diverse within their ranks, and it’s from this evolution that both the Feminist Bird Club and the Pink Boots Society were born.

Rain Crow IPA
Rain Crow IPA (Photo courtesy of Audubon Southwest)

The Feminist Bird Club is an international organization founded on the premise that women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), and LGBTIA+ birders have not historically been well represented within the birding community. By making the hobby safe and accessible to a wider range of individuals, birding becomes “this great intersectional space where birders can bird and also take action on social justice and environmental issues,” said Melissa Fratello, the co-leader of Feminist Bird Club Tucson.

Similarly, the southern Arizona Chapter of Pink Boots Society was founded in 2021 by a group of women and non-binary Tucsonans who are local leaders in the fermentable beverage industry (beer, wine, cider, kombucha, and hard liquor). The primary goals of the local chapter have been to collaborate and share industry knowledge, to inspire other women and non-binary individuals to get involved with brewing, vinting, distilling, and to work towards parity in this classically male-dominated field.

“I feel a personal responsibility to use where I am in my career to help other people and pave the path of craft beer the way we want,” said Ayla Kapahi, Pink Boots Society co-leader and Borderlands Brewing’s head brewer and production director.

It was clear to both Borderlands Brewing and Audubon Southwest that these organizations and the women leading the way in birding and brewing needed to be represented with this year’s batch of Rain Crow IPA. It was clear to me that if I was going to prove (or disprove) that birds aren’t real, I was going to have to get my ducks in a row and infiltrate these groups.

Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)
Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)

I asked Fratello why one would spend their time looking for birds if they’re actually robots designed to send location data and other private information back to the government. Fratello is tricky, so she answered my question with one of her own.

“So, who’s to say this whole ‘birds aren’t real’ thing isn’t a ruse by the government itself, trying to distract us from going outside, falling in love with these feathery floofs, and becoming invested in the future of this planet,” said Fratello.

She had a good point.

I then asked Kapahi what kind of bird was illustrated on the Rain Crow IPA can, because it’s suspiciously not a crow (drawn by artist Pete Connolly, who incidentally happens to be the drummer for the Tucson band, Birds and Arrows).

Kapahi schooled me on the beer can’s Yellow-billed Cuckoo. It’s known as the “rain crow” for its migratory patterns that bring it to the southwest region during the monsoon, and its distinctive call that’s often heard in advance of oncoming storms. I’m new to bird disbelief, but this all sounded pretty legit. My birdhouse of cards was starting to show some cracks.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Photo by Johnny Stutzman)

Kapahi then filled me in on the simple yet crucial element that connects birds and beer — water.

“The ecosystems that support healthy bird populations require adequate and reliable water sources, as do the breweries that make the beers we enjoy after a day in the great outdoors,” she said.

The Rain Crow IPA project seeks to tell the story of this connection and remind the community that watersheds are precious in our hot, dry region. These specific watersheds require forward-thinking people and sustainable practices to help preserve them. Organizations such as the Feminist Bird Club and Audubon Southwest know that the celebration of birds is inextricably tied to the preservation of local riparian habitats — they make it their mission to advocate for both.

Honing their brewing techniques accordingly, Borderlands Brewing and the members of Pink Boots Society are keenly aware that brewing with efficiency and water frugality is essential to conserve this important resource.

Despite my skeptical nature and recent internet-based education, these bird-loving, beer-brewing, watershed-nurturing humans were really growing on me. Perhaps, like an ostrich, I’ve had my head in the sand with this “Birds Aren’t Real” flightiness. Now that I’ve gotten to know the team involved in this beer collab and the important mission they are on, I think I may just prefer Rain Crow IPA to conspiratorial kool-aid.

Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)
Rain Crow IPA brewing session (Photo courtesy of Borderlands Brewing Company on Instagram)

This year’s batch was brewed on Friday, July 29 at the Borderlands Brewing Company/Firetruck Brewing Company collaborative space affectionately called Voltron Brewing.

Members of the Feminist Bird Club, Audubon Southwest, and the Southern Arizona chapter of the Pink Boots Society were all in attendance to help with the brew day. As Fratello described, “It was an unexpected flock of people coming together for the love of birds and beer.”

Kapahi reveals that Rain Crow IPA will be a hazy, New England-style IPA with around 65 IBU (that’s mid-range bitterness on the standardized scale).

Rain Crow IPA
Rain Crow IPA (Photo courtesy of Audubon Southwest)

It will showcase “notes of citrus and pineapple, due to the addition of Citra hops in the boil and dry-hopping with both Citra and Mosaic hops during fermentation,” said Savanna Saldate, Borderlands Brewing’s lead brewer and Pink Boots member.

It’s destined to be the perfect post-birding refresher at 6.5% ABV and will be available on draft and in cans at the Borderlands Brewing taproom, bars, and bottle shops around town by mid-August.

To really get into the rain crow spirit, Feminist Bird Club invites you to a special bird walk on the day of the beer release, Friday, August 12.

Co-directed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s cuckoo survey coordinator Meaghan Conway (another woman leading the way), the walk traverses through the classic Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitat along the Santa Cruz River near Tubac. Afterward, birders and friends can head over to Borderlands Brewing for the official Rain Crow IPA release party and bird-themed trivia.

Rain Crow IPA Celebration Itinerary

  • Birding at 5:30 p.m.
    • Meet at the Tubac Nature Center parking lot (50 Bridge Rd. in Tubac)
  • Beer Release Party at 7:30 p.m.
    • Borderlands Brewing Company (119 E. Toole Ave.)
    • Trivia starts at 9 p.m.

Borderlands Brewing Company is located at 119 E. Toole Ave. For more information, visit Feminist Bird Club Tucson hosts bird walks on the second Sunday of every month, and welcomes any and all bird-loving humans to attend. To keep up with the latest, follow Feminist Bird Club on Instagram.


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Jessie Jean Mance was born in Tucson and never met a riparian area she didn’t like. She is a lover of lightning, sunsets, mezcal, music, and other intoxicating experiences. Mance resolutely believes that fresh air is medicine, burritos are the...

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