With its expanse of stained wooden tabletops and bar stools, elk skulls above a fireplace surrounded by cozy couches, it feels more like a mountain ski lodge than a brewery between Target and Pizza Hut on Milton Road.
But for owner John Peasley, Grand Canyon Brewing Company’s Flagstaff location is a dream come true – the first exit off I-17, a hop and a skip for Northern Arizona University students and those at the adjacent hotels, and not to mention free parking for those who cringe vying for a paid spot downtown.
Peasley set his sights on Flagstaff not long after opening the Grand Canyon Brewery in downtown Williams in 2007. This past December, the opportunity arose when Trail Crest Brewing Company closed. By May, Peasley took over the building and on August 22 – the exact anniversary of GCBC opening in Williams 13 years prior – Peasley cut the ribbon at the Flagstaff location.
“We were a little scared in this facility, right? Cause it’s a whole new ball game. Even though Flagstaff’s only 22 miles away, it’s a different beast,” Peasley said. “There’s only 3,000 people [in Williams] and when we came to Flagstaff you're talking 75,000 plus.”
Instead of making the Flagstaff location a replica of the 27,000-square-foot, 40-barrel, four-vessel brew house in Williams, described as a “rustic pub,” Peasley set out to make GCBC Flagstaff a little more modern, with a completely different food menu and drinks catered to the demographic.
Peasely said the demographic at the Williams brewery is about 75% tourists and 25% locals who want “lighter beers, lighter Europeans, not so hoppy.”
In Flagstaff, Peasley estimates brewery goers will be split three ways between locals, tourists and college students.
“I think we’ll get a lot of IPA’s out of [the college students], but I think we’re going to get just a lot of unique beers that the brewers want to create,” he said. “The whole idea here is to be creative. So let the brewers be creative on that five-barrel brew house we brought in here with four fermenters.”
The smaller five-barrel system at the Flagstaff location creates 125 gallons per batch, which Peasley said will help for research and development purposes.
“Our whole idea here was I don’t want a whole lot of beer so I’m sitting on it. I want to produce it, make something good, sell it. Get it out the door – never make it again,” he said. “If we made the same variation, I want it to change slightly somehow to make it better.”
Opening weekend, Peasley said the most ordered beer ranged between GCBC’s Prickly Pear Wheat and the American Pilsner – one of their flagship beers that is the number one seller in Arizona. The number three seller over that weekend was their Black Iron IPA, which isn’t as big in Williams, but one that Peasley said they expected to sell more of in Flagstaff.
Asked to choose his personal favorite house-made beer, Peasley initially said he couldn’t choose because “they’re all like my children.” Upon further insistence, Peasley admitted that the amber was probably his go-to, with the seasonal Deep in the Green his favorite IPA.
The Flagstaff location has 26 brews on tap between their own and other beer and cider made in Arizona.
Two years ago, GCBC started a distillery and vodka, rum, gin and more are offered at the bars as well as to-go by the jug. A whiskey will be released this fall, Peaseley said, with a select amount sold in Flagstaff and the rest distributed state-wide through the Coors network.
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Two slushy machines also grace the front bar. One churns out Prickly Pear Moscow Mule and the other the aptly-named “Thunder Snow.”
“So that’s our moonshine and lemonade. It’s an amazing drink but – uh – it’ll get you there quick,” Peasley said. “One of those you’ll be in trouble.”
Luckily, you don’t have to drink on an empty stomach at GCBC.
“I wanted the chef to create something different than what we have in Williams,” Peasley said, adding that the only items that stayed the same on the menu were the fried pickles and cheese curds. “Williams [has] pizzas and burgers and calzones whereas here it’s burgers, sandwiches and salads and flat breads.”
Highlights with customers so far have been the Chef’s Weekly Mac – classic macaroni and cheese with a blend of unique rotating ingredients and the shareable charcuterie board with chef’s choice of artisanal meats, cheeses, seasonal fruits and picked vegetables.
Peasley has tried the more than 50 menu items and concludes that “the Reuben right now is phenomenal,” with its smoked pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and pickle on marble rye bread.
The fun doesn’t stop at the food and drinks. The back area boasts pool tables, a shuffleboard and foosball table – all custom-made with Arizona pine and detailed with GCBC bottle caps. As a plus, there is no charge to play.
The back patio also has lawn games like a giant Connect Four.
GCBC koozies, mugs, shot glasses, growlers, flasks, shirts and hats can be purchased on site. The display almost feels gift-shoppy, which makes sense considering Peasley got his start in the industry at Cruiser’s Café in Williams, a diner which features a Route 66-themed gift shop.
After four years in the military stationed in Hawaii, Peasley decided to move back to Arizona. Instead of moving to Mesa or Pine Top, where he had lived previously, he moved to Williams, where he often went for holidays growing up.
“I was like, ‘man, this little town’s just got all these Grand Canyon people, travelers,’” he said.
Between Cruiser’s, GCBC, White Horse Trading Company gift shop, his rental company and his holding company, Peasley now owns five businesses in Williams and one in Flagstaff. And he doesn’t want to stop there.
“As my wife says, I can’t stop,” he said of Sarah, who also doubles as office manager. “I love business and it’s constantly, 'what can I do next?'. We’re getting ready to open a [GCBC] location in Mesa. Hopefully it’s in by the end of the year.”
The GCBC distillery will be collaborating with a local brewing company and a cider company there. Meanwhile, he has Page and Tucson on his radar as the next GCBC locations.