Don’t be fooled by the McFarlane name; brewer Peter McFarlane’s red hair and bushy, red muttonchop sideburns; the Scottish crests on the office door; or the logo with man clad in tartan. The beers coming out of McFarlane Brewing Co. in Phoenix, Ariz., are strictly German.
McFarlane has been asked by customers to brew a Scottish ale, but so far he has resisted. “Sure, you’d get the hardcore micro drinkers, but that beer would never go in this market,” he says. His family tree is actually more German than Scottish, he explains. He brews German beers because he thinks that’s what he makes best and because German styles make sense in the Phoenix Valley, where summer arrives early and stays late.
Selling a German-style craft beer in an area where mainstream lagers dominate and craft beer drinkers think in terms of ales has been a challenge. That it is available only on draft makes it even tougher. “It was a lot of education,” McFarlane says. He invited retailers to the brewery to learn about his beer and how to sell it to customers, and several evenings a week he visited bars and talked to consumers.
He knew he could make a good hefe-weizen — one he brewed for Hops! Bistro & Brewery won a gold medal at the 1992 Great American Beer Festival — but there wasn’t another distributed in the Phoenix Valley when McFarlane Brewing opened in 1996. Nonetheless, it became the brewery’s flagship beer and accounts for half its sales.
The hefe is made with 50 percent wheat and 50 percent two-row barley and fermented with Bavarian yeast. The beer has a clovy nose and a citrusy, sweet flavor that’s cut with hops in the finish. It’s a straightforward beer made in a straightforward way.
McFarlane keeps it that way, handling all the brewing himself while his wife, Jane, manages the office and marketing. “It’s all process,” he says of brewing. “That’s the most important thing. Hands-on experience, knowledge, and education are important, but to get a good-quality beer you have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
The beers are named simply — McFarlane Hefeweizen, McFarlane Pilsner, and McFarlane Red (a Märzen) are the year-round beers — because “we don’t name our beers after animals,” he says, and the recipes are traditional.
The Pilsner is styled after a Bavarian pilsner, emphasizing malt more and hops less than a Czech or Northern German pilsner. All the ingredients are German, and the German Tettnanger hops are apparent throughout, although McFarlane estimates the International Bittering Units at 12 or 13. A bit of cara-pils in the recipe adds a touch of nuttiness to the taste.
The Red is made from two-row malt, crystal malts with varying Lovibond, and Munich malt, then hopped with German Northern Brewer and Perle. Although there are no smoked malts, the beer is biscuity and slightly smoky tasting.
Although he started as a homebrewer and then was a pub brewer, McFarlane is content with focusing on making a few very consistent beers. “I have seasonals,” he says. “I get enough variety with specialties that I don’t get bored.” The brewery usually has five beers available, most of them light in color if not in taste. “People don’t drink dark beers here,” McFarlane says. He made a schwarzbier once, but only a 40-barrel batch.
This spring he went with a Maibock rather than a darker bock, producing a dangerously smooth beer, 7 percent alcohol by volume, from two-row, caramel, cara-pils, and Vienna malts and Northern Brewer and Perle hops. The beer spent 25 days in the unitank, then 40 more lagering (all McFarlane lagers spend about six weeks lagering).
The 1997/98 holiday beer was a spiced porter that included fresh ginger root, nutmeg, and orange peel. “I wanted to make sure you can taste the beer first, then each of those flavors,” McFarlane says. The spices mellowed as the beer aged for a few months and became something you could drink for breakfast.
McFarlane first looked into opening a brewery in the mid-1980s when he was living in Flagstaff, Ariz., but the city was in a recession at the time and he couldn’t find the money. He studied professional brewing and went to work for Hops! Bistro & Brewery in Scottsdale, Ariz., brewing there for 31/2 years. Meanwhile, he raised the capital to open his own brewery.
McFarlane Brewing Co. is in a district of warehouses and businesses near Sky Harbor airport. The brewery moved into the concrete-brick building in January 1996 and had its first beers out early that May.
The brewery has a 20-barrel JV Northwest brewhouse, five 40-barrel fermenters, and two 100-barrel lagering tanks. It’s the largest brewery in the state. “Mathematically, it worked out well,” McFarlane says. He brews two batches in one day usually two times a week year-round, then blends fermented batches, filling a 100-barrel lagering tank with 80 barrels of beer. A large, wooden room that was part of the original building proved exactly the right size for the lagering tanks, and it was converted into a cold room. “It was nice, convenient, and really cheap,” McFarlane says. The room stays at 34° to 36° F year-round.
Two grain silos sit behind the building with an auger leading inside. McFarlane Brewing buys its two-row a semitrailer load at a time, with a typical delivery consisting of 45,000 to 47,000 pounds of grain.
The building itself will provide a lot of room to grow. McFarlane figures its maximum capacity is around 25,000 barrels, which he hopes to achieve one day. He has produced 2,300 to 2,400 barrels each of the years McFarlane Brewing has been open, although it was only operating for eight months that first year.
“Competition is pretty tough,” McFarlane says, with tap handles going to out-of-state breweries at the expense of in-state breweries. “I don’t think many places in Phoenix and the Phoenix Valley support the locals.”
The beer is available at 95 to 100 accounts in bars, restaurants, resort hotels, and the nearby greyhound park.
Peter McFarlane thinks bottling is essential to the brewery’s future success, and he is in the process of raising money for a bottling line. That would allow for more diversification of the product line and would help sagging summer sales. Draft sales drop sharply for everyone in the Phoenix area in the summer, he says, in part because restaurant business suffers. Bottling “would keep sales on an even keel year-round.”
The brewery has a staff of four, which includes, in addition to the McFarlanes, a salesman who also does the bookkeeping and a full-time driver. The brewery self-distributes and does all its marketing and advertising in-house.
They have distinctive ceramic tap handles, made in Canada. “They’re a great marketing tool,” McFarlane says. “You can read them from across the room, and the name and type of beer are visible from any angle.”
Despite competition, McFarlane’s beers have found a receptive audience. A 1997 readers’ poll in the local weekly New Times chose it as the best local brewery. The brewery’s tasting room, the Green Door, has proven popular. “We just wanted a small tasting room, but it turned into a destination area,” McFarlane says. “It’s hard to find, but once they find it they keep coming back.”
McFarlane Brewing’s tasting room is open 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Pints are $2.50, pitchers $9. For $7 you can get a full 20-ounce souvenir glass, with refills of that for $3.
McFarlane Brewing Co., is at
202 S. 29th St., Phoeniz, Ariz. 85034.
Call (602) 914-9190.
Web address: www.mcfarlanebrewing.com
Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky are authors of the Beer Travelers Guide, which lists more than 1,700 brewpubs, bars, and restaurants in the United States that serve flavorful beer.