Arizona’s long and storied commercial beer brewing history got its start in Tucson, according to Ed Sipos.
The Scottsdale resident, author of the new book “Brewing Arizona: A Century of Beer in the Grand Canyon State,” gives credit to Alexander Levin, a German immigrant who established the Pioneer Brewery here in 1864, 11 years after the region was acquired as part of the Gadsden Purchase.
The brewery, on Camp Street (now Broadway) between North Church and North Stone avenues, probably didn’t serve the type of beer people are accustomed to today.
“They wouldn’t have ice to cool it down, so it would have been served at room temp,” Sipos said. “They probably had the occasional bacterial contamination. And there wouldn’t have been the same consistency. One batch would taste completely different from another.”
Yet, among brewing enthusiasts and craft beer professionals in Arizona, Levin was considered a trailblazer.
“He essentially introduced brewing to the state,” Sipos said.
Levin went on to open the Park Brewery in Tucson, a popular spot with locals for years.
He is one on a long list of historical and contemporary figures mentioned in Sipos’ book, which prominently features Tucson, Bisbee, Tombstone and other Southern Arizona cities on its journey through the state’s brewing past.
The book was released Thursday by the University of Arizona Press. Sipos is holding a release party for “Brewing Arizona” at Barrio Brewing, 800 E. 16th St., Nov. 2.
The concept was a new and unique way to showcase Arizona, said Holly Schaffer, publicity manager for UA Press.
“We publish books that reflect Southwestern history, culture, people and places,” Schaffer said. “What better way to celebrate our heritage than by exploring the history of beer within our state?”
Sipos, 46, is not a brewery owner himself, just a fan.
He was raised in Scottsdale and started collecting beer and soda cans as a teen.
“My mom would buy them for me and we would empty them out in the sink,” Sipos said. “I had a pyramid of cans set up against my window.”
As his collection grew, Sipos narrowed his focus to pieces of Arizona breweriana.
The crown jewel of his collection is a 1905 lithograph print from the Arizona Brewing Company in Prescott.
“It hung in the Arizona Brewing Company in Phoenix for many years,” Sipos said. “I acquired it for a fair sum, but it is worth more to me.”
Sipos joined the Brewery Collectibles Club of America in 1991 and has served as the president of the A-1 Arizona chapter, as well as the editor of its newsletter.
“Brewing Arizona” is the culmination of 15 years of research conducted by Sipos, a jeweler by trade.
The book runs in chronological order, from the Pioneer Brewery in Tucson to Arizona’s most recent craft brewery boom.
Arizona’s brewing history reflects the brewing history of other Western states.
Local breweries grew to significant numbers in the mid-to-late 1800s, only to be quashed by the development of pasteurization and the completion of the railroad system.
Both advancements allowed larger breweries to produce beers with a longer shelf life that could travel farther distances.
“The bigger breweries were able to ship beer in from St. Louis, Milwaukee, California,” Sipos said. “They had better technology, more money. They advertised heavily. Local breweries couldn’t sell as cheaply.”
The book covers the effects of prohibition and the rise of the Arizona Brewing Company in Phoenix, one of the largest regional brewing operations to come out of Arizona.
The company, which produced the A-1 beer brand, launched in 1933 with 15 employees. It eventually accounted for more than 50 percent of in-state beer sales, Sipos said.
The business was bought out by the Carling Brewing Company out of Cleveland, Ohio in 1964.
“It was the biggest brewery in the state for many years,” Sipos said. “It provided a lot of tax dollars. When they closed, quite a few people lost their jobs.”
Sipos dedicates the last four chapters of his book to the rise of microbreweries in Arizona.
Contemporary Tucson breweries, such as Dennis Arnold’s Gentle Ben’s and Barrio brewing companies and Steve Tracy’s Thunder Canyon Brewery are weaved in with the stories of breweries from across the state that have come and gone over the last several decades.
In the final chapter, Sipos talks about some of the latest faces in the Arizona brewery scene, including Tucson’s Ten Fifty-Five, Dragoon and Borderlands brewing companies.
“I think it is awesome that we were included,” said Mike Mallozzi, who founded Borderlands with business partner Myles Stone in 2010. “There is a whole history of brewing in Arizona, and we have been lucky to be part of its renaissance. I am glad someone is writing about it.”
“I wanted it to be up-to-date,” Sipos said. “I was able to get information in as late as three to four months before we went to print.”
Sipos said he tried to talk to as many breweries as possible.
“The golden age of brewing in Arizona is happening right now,” he said. “The breweries coming up are producing excellent, quality beer.”