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#beercamptour — Getting Soaked and Drying Out in the Grand Canyon

A stop in Flagstaff, Arizona steered the Beer Camp bus toward the Grand Canyon for a rare day off. And for brewers, a day off sometimes goes unexpectedly dry. With 40 miles of rapids, a hike, and a helicopter ride ahead of us, it was only a matter of time before we got back to our beer. 

Sierra Nevada founder, Ken Grossman 

Sierra Nevada founder, Ken Grossman 

“People in Flagstaff drink more than their fair share of craft,” claims Nick Bunce, Area Sales Manager for Sierra Nevada. “There’s a million people in Tuscon and they drink 60% of the beer I sell. There’s only 80,000 in Flagstaff and they drink 30% of it.” In case your math is as good as mine, that means Flagstaff drinks more than six times the amount of craft beer as Tuscon by capita.

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It’s not the heat that makes Flagstaff so thirsty — it’s cooler here than much of the rest of the state — it’s the customer. According to Bunce, “Flagstaff has a more affluent, outdoorsy, educated population, and that’s a craft beer drinker. In smaller towns around here you still have people asking ”what’s an ‘eepah?’” (IPA)

Three of us flew in to Flagstaff to meet up with the nation-wide Beer Camp Tour bus as it rolled in from San Diego: Joey Redner and Justin Clark from Cigar City in Tampa, Florida, and Ed Ruble from Bell’s Brewing in Michigan. We got cosy at Bun Huggers for the night, which won “Best Burger in Flagstaff” as recently as 1989 – we were hoping that was still relevant. Rounds of Pale Ales, Fireball whiskey, and $10 in the jukebox helped us close down the joint while the bus rolled through the night to catch up with us. 

The 5am call-time came even early than it sounds. 

United with the larger team, we packed out for a 40 mile white-water rafting trip down the Colorado River, dividing the Grand Canyon National Park from the Hualapai Nation’s million acre sovereignty. This is one of the most treacherous rivers in the world, with all ten classes of rapids and a profound isolation only penetrable by helicopter. Ten miles in, the realization settled in. “Did nobody bring beer?” Eyes widened. As we crashed through one rapid after another, the entire 50 degree river slapping the collective hangover out of us, we contemplated the irony of a completely dry day. 

We took a few minutes of shore leave to hike to a natural spring a short stretch into the low mountains. 115 degrees in the shade made every moment between rapids feel like opening an oven door. Secondary inlets to the left and right blew hot air across the canyon, turning temperatures more than 40 degrees in a moment. 

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“We’re all professionals here,” said Bunce, “but damn I want a beer.” The rapids gave way to a long stretch of lazy river and the rafts grew quiet with a sense of awe. Of the millions of people that visit the Grand Canyon every year, a mere 26,000 ever see it from the bottom. 

As the rapids increased and their power became nearly overwhelming, our grips got a little tighter. "I'm affectionately naming that last one 'Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck'," said Redner. "That was like being punched in the face."

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At the end of the line, we split up by weight for the copter trip up to the rim, ensuring we’d clear the peaks. Do brewers tell the truth about their weight? It felt like a close call. 

Looking down on the canyon we'd been engulfed by for the day, the depth of the gorge was only diminished by the immense width of the canyon as it stretched for miles to the horizon.

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And that’s how a bus full of river-soaked, sun-baked, and dried-out brewers showed up at Hops on Birch for a tap takeover in downtown Flagstaff that night, featuring all 12 of the collaboration beers on tap. I wasn't counting, but I’m pretty sure we made up for lost time. 

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Up next
- Brian Grossman, son of the founder, had a successful launch test of his homemade t-shirt canon this morning, which is promising
- Colby Chandler from Ballast Point Brewing in San Diego is making Bloody Mary’s for the road with their house made vodka and bloody mix
- We drive to Colorado where we pick up new tour members Alex Ketles of Bell’s Brewery and David Walker of Firestone Walker
- Sky Diving in Longmont, CO, which the Grossman’s will likely debate over, ensuring at least one family member survives to lead the company

 

Michael Kiser