The Ambitious Brewery That Made 200 Beers in 2 Years
In the summer of 2015, Dark Sky Brewing Company opened its doors in the heart of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona. By the time the small brewery was set to blow out the candle on its first birthday cake, it had amassed a portfolio of 100 unique beers, all brewed on a tiny three-barrel system.
That’s 100 unique beers that Flagstaff beer lovers were eagerly consuming in the beautifully constructed and inviting tasting room. But Dark Sky didn’t slow down from there.
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200 Beers in 2 Years
The brewery’s name comes from Flagstaff’s status as the world’s first “International Dark Sky City,” a recognition awarded to communities who show “exceptional commitment” to preserving the night sky.
When it came time to hang the balloons and streamers to celebrate year two, the brewery had once again compiled a list of 100 unique beers— a feat not many start-up breweries can say they’ve accomplished. (They were still brewing on the same small brewing system, too.)
“If we were going to separate ourselves, we knew we had to go big,” said Ryan Sandlin. Sandlin, along with wife Larami, and Nick and Amanda Irvine, co-owns Dark Sky Brewing Co.
Drawing inspiration from other Arizona breweries and bold breweries experimenting in non-traditional styles, Dark Sky opted to forego opening their brewery with a set lineup of core beers. Instead, they began filling the 18 taps in their tasting room with different beer styles, all unfiltered and gluten-reduced, often releasing two to three new beers every Wednesday. Cues from customers helped the Dark Sky team determine which beers would see another brew day.
“It took a couple of months for the concept of our constantly rotating draft list to catch on, but knowing which beers sell out immediately has helped us refine our focus,” says Sandlin. His team continues to release at least one new beer every Wednesday.
Refining a Tap List
After two years of experimentation and long days in the brewery, fan favorites have morphed into the brewery’s core lineup. Those beers include a West Coast IPA, a balanced Coffee Pale Ale, and the Roasted and Toasted Imperial Stout. The brewery also plans to keep a rotating kettle sour on tap full-time. They’re also growing their barrel-aging program. Sandlin and his team are experimenting with 20-plus barrels right now.
“When you make 200 clean beers, it’s really just fun to explore,” Sandlin said.
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But Dark Sky’s ambitious approach to their draft list isn’t the only way this brewery is standing out. With two years under their belt, the brewery continues to operate with a tasting room-only distribution model, only sending beer out into the world in crowlers (the ingenious 32-ounce can designed Oskar Blues has made famous), and specialty bomber bottles — only occasionally providing kegs for on-premise accounts around the city.
While Dark Sky has expansion plans, they don’t plan to change their distribution model anytime soon. That means thirsty people looking for a taste of Dark Sky’s beers will have to make a visit to Flagstaff.
Visiting Dark Sky Brewing
A trip to this tasting room is worth it. Not only is the brewery located right off of historic Route 66, but it was almost entirely designed, built, and decorated by Sandlin (a contractor by trade), his wife Larami (a talented interior designer), and the rest of the Dark Sky owners.
The result is a welcoming, open space with the small brewhouse at the center, an in-house food truck parked on the back patio, live music and beer yoga, and of course, plenty of new beer releases each month.
While Dark Sky continues to take an ambitious approach to their brewing schedule, Sandlin and his team are planning on scaling back on new beer releases this year. They want to focus on keeping the taps flowing with the beers their customers just can’t get enough of.