A craft brewery is defined as a small, independent and traditional brewery producing less than six million barrels of beer annually. According to the Brewers Association, in 1873 there were more than 4,000 craft breweries in the United States. That number fluctuated substantially and in 2016 was recorded at over 5,000 craft breweries. Since 2012 the number nearly doubled due to the widespread interest in these unique styles of beers that most Americans had never been exposed to before.
Arizona’s craft beer scene has blossomed into a thriving market throughout the state. Flagstaff in particular has also seen a rise in craft breweries and is now producing some of the best beer in the state. Historic Brewing Company is one local brewery that has been consistently pumping out fantastic beer, bringing people from all over the state who demand more Piehole Porter, their popular cherry vanilla porter. In 2013, John, Carole and their mother Sherrill Kennelly decided to make their dream of opening a brewery a reality and Historic Brewing Company was born. After several years of hard work, they are now considered one of the hottest breweries in the state.
Zack Stoll was recently appointed to the head brewer position at Historic and is optimistic about the breweries future. Brewing wasn’t Stoll’s first career choice oddly enough. He graduated from Juniata College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, with his bachelors in environmental science. For a time he did work for wildlife conservations in Idaho, Maine, Virginia and Massachusetts, as well as three years in the Sierra National Forest working with mesocarnivores.
Stoll began home brewing for fun and realized he was good at it when he started winning awards for his beer including several top three finishes at the Fresno County Fair with a first place for a witbier brew. Eventually he realized it was time to put his talents to good use and get a steadier job. Around that same time, Historic was ready to expand their production and was in need of a talented assistant brewer.
“I knew Flagstaff was my kind of town and the company was new so I would be learning a ton, so I applied,” Stoll says of the opportunity.
After three years he is now the head honcho at one of the top breweries in northern Arizona.
Before starting out as an assistant brewer at Historic, Stoll took online brewing courses while still working in wildlife conservation. These courses provided him with the technical knowledge that he could take to a large-scale brewery. Now as the head brewer, Stoll is planning on producing as much Piehole Porter as possible and brewing more Lagers to honor his strong German heritage. With seven breweries in Flagstaff and an eighth on the way, competition could get tough in a small town. Luckily, the competition is friendly, and they all work together to make sure they are successful.
Historic’s most popular beer by far is Piehole Porter, making up 55 percent of their sales. The reason for the popularity is not certain, but Stoll says, “Part of the reason it has been so successful is because it is approachable to everyone. It isn't too heavy, dark or bitter.”
This may be their claim to fame, but Stoll has been behind some other stellar beers to come out of Historic. For example, recently he brewed Sly Sludge, an American IPA for a statewide contest requiring the use of reclaimed water. This is one of Stoll’s favorite beers he has brewed to date.
“It came out exactly how I envisioned,” says Stoll. “I just love the flavors.”
Historic is no amateur when it comes to beer contests. Last year, they won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their Avant-Chard, a chardonnay barrel-aged Berliner sour.
The future for craft beer is an uncertain one with many new breweries opening and different styles of beer being produced every day. Stoll believes that the industry is going to the extremes with the hoppiest double IPA’s, barrel-aged stouts and super sour Belgians. However, these extreme beers may not last.
“We will see a break in that as people get fatigued and begin moving toward a more balanced yet still flavorful craft choice,” Stoll predicts.
Whatever happens, there is no doubt that the industry will keep expanding throughout the country.
Brewing is something that anyone can jump into at home. Small one-gallon brewing kits can be bought for as little as $50. It is not necessarily easy to make good beer, but it can be done with a bit of determination and patience. With the popularity of craft beer blowing up in the U.S., there is more competition than ever. Although, this is not a bad thing by any means. The more breweries there are just means there will be more beer to choose from. Since no breweries will ever produce the same beer, it gives each of them a fighting chance to make it in the industry.