Nuanced Media's Partner, Thunder Canyon, Teams Up With Firefighters to Support Local Charities and Breweries

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When it comes to fire department charity events, chili usually comes to most people’s minds first. For the Northwest Firefighters Charities, however, it is one of the staple partners to the meal that has led to its largest annual charity event.

“A lot of firefighters like to brew their own beer,” said Jason Garza, Northwest Firefighters Charity president. “We thought this was a great way to bring some fun into our charity events.”

When it comes to fire department charity events, chili usually comes to most people’s minds first. For the Northwest Firefighters Charities, however, it is one of the staple partners to the meal that has led to its largest annual charity event.

Beer, namely homebrewed beer, has become the Oro Valley non-profit organization’s biggest friend. The charitable wing of the Northwest Fire Department will hold the Top Hops Home Brew Challenge, its annual homebrew beer competition, on April 6. Organizers expect the largest turnout to date.

The competition brings home-brewing firefighters statewide to Thunder Canyon Brewery, 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd., to showcase their hand-crafted beers. More than 20 state fire departments will be represented in the competition. The winner will have his or her beer brewed and sold by Thunder Canyon Brewery. All proceeds from the event will go to support designated charities from each fire department and Northwest Firefighters Charities Holiday Assistance Program.

“A lot of firefighters like to brew their own beer,” said Jason Garza, Northwest Firefighters Charity president. “We thought this was a great way to bring some fun into our charity events.”

Title event sponsor Thunder Canyon Brewery was an appropriate partner in the beer competition. One of Tucson’s oldest and most decorated breweries, Thunder Canyon is popular with Northwest firefighters given its location and craft beer, Garza said.

In fact, the idea for the competition was hatched more than four years ago at Thunder Canyon. Charity organizers were discussing ideas for a large-scale event that would eclipse their previous campaigns when they realized their answer was resting on their table.

“We have a great relationship with them,” said Steve Tracy, Thunder Canyon owner. “We loved the idea and we are very excited to partner with them to make it happen.”

Thunder Canyon will brew a full-size batch of the winning firefighter’s beer, which is about 30 kegs. The beer will be sold at both of Thunder Canyon’s locations and all proceeds will benefit the winner’s designated charity.

This is the third year Northwest Firefighters Charities will hold the event. In previous years, the competition was held during the Oktoberfest time-frame, which forced it to compete with other large-scale beer festivals. Holding the event in April should increase attendance and exposure. The festival is expected to draw more than 3,500 attendees.

The event itself has taken years to plan. Unlike a typical charity chili festival, the beer competition involves numerous strict laws surrounding alcohol sales and consumption. Navigating these issues has proven to be a much more difficult task than finding home-brewing firefighters, Garza said.

With all the legal matters taken care, the event is expected to accommodate thousands of beer-lovers. More than a dozen local and state breweries will take part in the event as well, offering their own beers and serving as judges for the competition.

“It was a no-brainer,” said Mike Mallozzi, Borderlands Brewery president. “We take any opportunity to help the public.”

Using beer as a charitable resource is quickly becoming popular amongst local breweries, Mallozzi said. Last year, Borderlands partnered with home-brewing firefighters to create Smoke and Irons, a beer sold locally to support the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation.

The competition has also done more than raise money. At least three firefighters have started their own breweries, including the recently-opened Ten Fifty-Five Brewing in Tucson. The company was started in-part by John Vyborny, whose hand-crafted double IPA beat out dozens of other entrants in the 2011 competition. Golder Ranch firefighters Jeremy Hildebrand and Matt Gordon started Sentinel Peak Brewing Company, last year and are in the process of landing a brewing location in Tucson. Both participated in the Northwest Firefighters Charities beer challenges previously.

Supporting the charities is the most important motivation for the competition, but it also gives local breweries some additional exposure. Local breweries and brew masters often work together to promote and support their industry, said Tracy, who opened Thunder Canyon in 1997 and has been brewing beer since the late 1980s.

“None of us consider each other competition,” he said. “It’s people who are doing their hobbies for a living.”

In the past decade, large-scale American brewing companies such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have been taken over by international companies. Anheuser-Busch is owned by Belgium-based Inbev while MillerCoors is a product of England’s SAB Miller and Molson-Coors. In fact, despite being based in Belgium, Inbev is actually a Brazilian company while SAB Miller is South African.

Many beer enthusiasts lament the corporatization and offshoring of American beers, saying quality of taste has been replaced by profit margins, said Mollozzi, who once served as a quality assurance technician for Anheuser-Busch in Denver.

“It’s inevitable,” he said. “When companies create beer to serve the highest profit margin, the beer will become less flavorful and quality will slide.”

This has created a vacuum of small breweries, most of which started with home-brewers like those competing at the Top Hops Brew Competition. Although Arizona has been slow to see the effect, there has been a dramatic rise in local breweries in the past few years.

Northwest Firefighters Charities has capitalized on this movement. The Tops Hops Home Brew Challenge has attracted other fire departments nationwide who want to create similar charitable events. Partnering local brewing and community outreach seems to have resonated well amongst all involved, Garza said.

Event attendees will be able to sample beers from breweries around the state. Competitors will also have at least 10 gallons of beer to accommodate the crowd. Judges will consist of representatives from breweries and fellow firefighters. The event starts at 6 p.m. and includes live music from the Northwest Firefighters Pipes and Drums, Cooper Meza, The Sound Bites, and other groups. Along with the beer and entertainment, the event will have food trucks for attendees.

Tracy said he expects people to get a new perspective on firefighter charity events for first-time attendees.

“Fire departments all over the country have charity chili cook-offs,” he said. “This is something different and fun. Firefighters love their beer.”

What: Top Hops Home Brew Challenge

Where: Thunder Canyon Brewery, 7401 N. La Cholla Blvd.

When: April 6, 6 p.m.

Info: Firefighters from departments all over the state will bring their home brewed beers to compete for a chance to have them professionally brewed at Thunder Canyon Brewery. Local breweries will have samples of their craft beers as well. All proffitts support the Northwest Firefighters Charities and charities designated by participating fire departments.

Cost: $30 at the door, $20-$25 advance or online.

For more: http://www.tophopschallenge.com

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