After more than a decade in business, downtown’s Borderlands Brewing Company is still coming up with new ways to up the Tucson beer game. For Arizona Beer Week, which runs from Thursday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 27, Borderlands Brewing is unveiling some brand new brews, and re-releasing some classics.
First up, Borderlands is releasing a new blonde-style watermelon ale that is made with real watermelon. Coming in at 5.5%, it fits nicely into Borderlands’ roster of beers that manage to pack in plenty of flavor, but don’t come off as overbearing. The ale still contains a nice wheat foundation, with a watermelon flavor that lingers. As head brewer Ayla Kapahi explains, it’s perfect for relaxing on a warm day — which is perfect considering Tucson gets those even in the middle of winter.
“It’s made with real watermelon, but we try not to make it too sweet,” Kapahi said. “And that can be tricky, because we have to balance the fruit flavor, and make sure it isn’t sugary.”
Borderlands also has an upcoming collaborative brew with State 48 Brewery out of Phoenix. Although full details for the beer haven’t been released, the collaboration will be an “experimental kettle sour” beer that neither brewery has made before. It will be available at both Borderlands and State 48.
Also new to Borderlands for Arizona Beer Week is a series of re-releases in 12-oz cans. Borderlands typically only works with 16-oz cans, and for the occasion, they’re selling two fan favorites in 12-oz six-pack options: the Prickly Pear Wheat Ale and the Horchata Cream Ale.
At 6% ABV, the Prickly Pear ale is a German-American wheat beer made with local organic prickly pear juice. While prickly pears do have a distinct sourness, this ale is far from the tart sours you may find at certain craft breweries. It is an easy-drinking and light beer with a color to match the flavor.
The 5.5% Horchata Cream Ale is a Borderlands Brewing standby, with notes of cinnamon and vanilla. True to their borderlands spirit, the flavorful ale is inspired by the Mexican rice drink with a fittingly sweet kick. Both beers in 12-oz six-packs can only be purchased at Borderlands Brewing Co.
As their name suggests, Borderlands Brewing frequently sources ingredients from throughout the Sonoran Desert, and on both sides of the border. In Tucson, they work with Arizona Cactus Ranch and Cheri’s Desert Harvest, and have also traveled through Hermosillo and San Carlos.
In early 2020, Borderlands even released an international collaboration: the Las Hermanas IPA. This was announced as the “first all-female binational” beer, and brewed with Turulata Brewing Company from Mexico.
This women-working-with-women style extends into Borderlands’ own business, as the brewery now has an all-female production team, from brewing to packaging to administration. Kapahi herself is the first and only female head brewer in Tucson.
“It’s something that happened organically. One day I looked around and realized that.
It’s something we’re very proud of and have become a leader in Southern Arizona, advocating for women and minorities in craft beers, especially in production,” Kapahi said. “When I started in Tucson craft beer seven years ago, there was only one other woman in back-of-house production. And present day we probably have 15-plus throughout Tucson.”
In 2020, Borderlands also partnered with Firetruck Brewing to establish a collaborative brewing facility in the downtown warehouse district titled Voltron Brewing. The facility contains brew houses and fermentation tanks as a way to share resources and reduce costs. Kapahi believes more independent breweries will likely adapt this model.
“One thing that I think is happening with smaller breweries, especially with COVID, is they’re trying to figure out how to keep their businesses going and growing. And I’m seeing other breweries go toward a more collaborative model,” Kapahi said. “In the last two years, we’ve faced everything from aluminum shortages to grain shortages to the restaurant and serving industry being hit. So that’s why I think you’ll see more breweries going in on hop or grain contracts together, so that they can have the power of a larger macro facility.”
But even when they’re not sharing facilities, Tucson breweries have formed a tight-knit community and support structure.
“The Tucson brewing community is very friendly and collaborative. If one of us has a canning line issue or supply issue, we’ll even text each other for advice. And it really makes Tucson unique,” Kapahi said. “Because we’ve worked on collaborations outside of Arizona, and maybe I’m biased, but the community here really has been the most collaborative and transparent.”