Local brewery mashes and hops for the perfect beer
Brian Helton is not into beverage gimmicks. So don’t expect a signature pour at his eponymous Helton Brewing Co. located at 21st Street and Indian School Road in Phoenix.
What Helton wants to be known for is creating good, quality beer that’s affordable.
“It’s easy to make good beer,” says the brewmaster. “It’s another thing to make it over and over again consistently good. I’m a quality fanatic.”
And Helton, who has a background in environmental science, certainly understands that distinction. He has worked in the brewing industry for most of his adult life, installing equipment and doing setups for other companies. In 2014, he left Rock Bottom Brewery, along with the company’s equipment he bought, to start his own operation.
“About six years ago, I realized I had gone too far into my career to turn around. I could continue to work for someone else or start my own brewery,” says Helton, who along the way became a certified cicerone, the craft beer industry’s highest designation.
“Everyone is going to tell you that your beer is good, but as a brewer you need to be able to know how a beer should taste and that your palate knows it’s right,” he says of the sensory training that allows him to interpret the particular notes of a beer and its complexities.
Helton Brewing Co. is housed in a 10,000-square-foot building, a former tire warehouse that has transformed into a tasting room and production facility where Helton brews about three times a week and yields 48 kegs per day.
“What is unique and different as a brewing entrepreneur is that I do a lot of single-hop series,” he says.
At any given time, six or seven beers—such as IPAs, pilsners, milk stouts and Scotch ales—are in rotation at the Helton taproom.
“Our No. 1 seller is the full flight of 4-ounce samples for $12. It’s a good price point. Beer shouldn’t cost a lot of money,” says Helton.
His brewery also features guest beers, including an ice amber lager sold in collaboration with Flagstaff-based Mother Road Brewery. And he has joined beverage forces with local brewers Wren House Brewing Company and Helio Basin Brewing Co. as part of the Beermuda Series in which craft beer fans can circle a range of brews by taking a shuttle between the participating breweries.
In addition to selling his product to 50 retail clients, Helton leverages his equipment by being a contract brewer, a move he views as a sound business strategy.
“I built a brewery for maximum capacity, like a restaurant,” he says.
When the brewery debuted last May, it was a team effort that included family, friends and the brewing community who rallied with a hands-on attitude to help open the doors for his business, according to Helton. And it’s why he likes to return the favor. He hosts sensory tasting and beer pairing classes to teach participants how to develop a taste for craft beer and food enjoyment.
“I’m open to giving advice and helping others in any way I can,” he says of his passion. “I think beer is food.”
Helton credits his wife Lizz for the brewery’s industrial antique look that celebrates repurposing. The high-top tables and bar are made out of salvaged barn and corncrib wood from Indiana.
“We were on a tight budget. Hence the plywood walls,” he jokes of the casual surroundings that pops with bright yellow chairs.
But Helton isn’t overly concerned about the lack of high-end décor—or the absence of TVs in his taproom, where you also can nosh on Belgian waffles, paninis and charcuterie boards with some ingredient nods to local vendors like Schreiner’s Fine Sausage. His goal was to create a gathering place for customers to have conversations and build a sense of camaraderie.
“A brewery should be for the community, a place where you can walk in, have a pint and talk to a friend; help facilitate a connection and meet new people.”
A new beer garden will help Helton cultivate his social beer message. And his growth plan includes the launch of a canning line in the next six months and then a bottling component. In the meantime, Helton just wants to keep making a quality product.
“I don’t expect everyone to walk in and like all my beers,” he says. “If I offer a unique array of styles, you’ll like at least of one them.”
Story by Sally J. Clasen
Photo by Mark Lipczynski