John Nielsen was in craft beer before it was cool—when craft beer was still something of an oddity on the American landscape. The self-professed “chief hose dragger” opened Prescott Brewing Co. on the Ides of March (March 15) in the year of our beer 1994. His launch fulfilled a mission of sorts that began in 1974 when he was stationed in the Army in Europe, the craft beer Mecca that inspired more than a few U.S. craft brewers. He’s been studying craft beer ever since.
“We just brewed a hoppy cherry imperial brown ale to commemorate our 3,000th batch of beer here at Prescott Brewing Co.,” said Nielsen.
That beer, aptly named Hoppin’ Cherry, uses 168 pounds of sweet cherries and 40 pounds of raisins per batch. It is a truly unique and delicious beer.
Prescott Brewing Co. recipes are a world away from the “fizzy yellow beer” that Nielsen found on his return to the states from his time in the service. In those times, American beer was so uninteresting for him that he actually gave up drinking it for a while. He drowned his beer sorrows by testing explosives for Lockheed Missles & Space Company by day and brewing on his early home built brew system on nights and weekends. He still owns his first homebrew system, which he put on wheels and converted to natural gas.
“When I couldn’t understand the brewing chemistry from the textbooks any more, I decided to take a course at UC Davis. By that time, I was a brewing maniac,” said Nielsen.
The Road to Prescott
He and his wife Roxane decided to open a brewpub and were interested in Flagstaff, Az., where their son was accepted to college.
“Everyone thinks Arizona is a hot desert, but when you get up in the mountains it’s cool and green,” he said.
When they couldn’t find what they wanted in Flagstaff, his real estate agent suggested they look 90 miles away in Prescott, which was also located at altitude in the Granite Dells mountains of north central Arizona. They found a building on the main square that houses their current location and knew it was the place. Nielsen said they sold their house, packed up and moved to Prescott.
In the early days, he said they learned the value of having great employees, like the students from the nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
“We have great staff. Many have gone on to successful careers as airline pilots and doctors,” Nielsen said. “We want to see our staff go onto to bigger and better things, we benefit from their energy and great work ethic.”
With more than 20 years in craft beer, Nielsen has seen a lot of change and trends. He notes that unusual styles, like sours, are coming on strong. But he worries about introducing that yeast into his brewing system because it can be “a beast” to get out. Nielsen also sees the growing trend for imperial ipas and worries about it stressing the hops supply line.
“My award-winning Ponderosa Pine IPA isn’t strong enough for some IPA drinkers anymore,” said Nielsen. “But I’m a more traditional brewer, so I’m sticking to my recipes.”
Nielsen makes good beer, some of which is available in cans. In addition to the Hoppin’ Cherry and Ponderosa Pine IPA, his Prescott Pale Ale, Petrified Porter, Lodgepole Light, Willow Wheat and other selections represent the craft he has perfected over the years. His Liquid Amber is his best seller.
The brewery also has a 30-barrel production facility in a warehouse near the Prescott airport.
“We were bulging at the seams distributing our beer out of the pub and sometimes running out of beer, so I needed more capacity,” he explained.
Not bad for a guy who at one time couldn’t find a decent glass of beer in America.
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