It’s opening day at the new Historic Brewing Co. Barrel + Bottle House in Flagstaff, Ariz. The tables are pushed together in the center like the Situation Room at the White House, strewn with last minute project debris. Two guys behind the bar are pulling wires around like snake wrestlers, disappearing and then popping back up.
A couple of young staffers are huddled over a riser table taking inventory of craft beer from across the country, backlit by a wall of cooler cases filled with even more cans and bottles. Siblings and co-founders Johnny and Carole Kennelly walk in with bags of food and announce a late lunch.
Johnny stops to say hello and then drifts back to where a bar keep is folding a pile of clean towels under 20 gleaming beer taps—ten for Historic beers and 10 for guest beers. Carole gets a bite, bent over a laptop checking her to-do list until the doors open in five hours. It all feels like serious progress.
“We’ve spent eight months planning this,” Carole explained. “An intimate tasting and retail space selling many different beers has always been part of our business plan.”
They’ve hauled kegs and barrels full of beer over from their production facility in an industrial park across town. The Kennellys have made the leap from a T-Rex themed, man-cave brewery and taproom, to a hip and happening Barrel + Bottle House destination in the downtown district. It feels like a good place to hang out. They plan to open a second Barrel + Bottle House in Phoenix in the fall and a third in Tucson in early 2016.
Over a sampler of beers served on a carved out book, Carole gives a laugh when asked how she and her brother came to open a brewery. “My parents are entrepreneurs and have been in the restaurant and winery business for 25 years. When they sold their restaurants, they wanted to back another business. We were ready to open another winery,” she recalled. “But our wine maker said: why do you want to make wine? You guys love beer.”
This truth is apparent; their beer is really good, a mix of smooth and bite in all the right places. I sampled three of their mainstay beers: Every Day Special, a hoppy Pilsner; Deer Lord, a dark German-style Altbier; and Piehole Porter, a brown lager brewed with cherries and vanilla.
I was also able to sample three seasonal offerings: Undercover Cucumber, a lager with basil and orange; Every Night Special, a clever black pilsner; and a recently-tapped wine barrel-aged Russian imperial stout that is close-your-eyes-and-sigh good..
The walls at Historic Brewing Barrel + Bottle House are fitted with glass renderings of the founders, their parents, brewers and other key staff. It’s a form of story telling that hints at what sets them apart—a brand committed to great beer, honoring family and friends and supporting community.
The folks at Historic Brewing Co. support a local meals program and have paid for 30,000 meals through their ongoing donations. They’ve also started an urban garden to support sustainability, which is supported by six student interns from nearby Northern Arizona University.
“I think Historic Brewing is known as much for our good culture and sense of playfulness as for our beer,” said Carole.
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