This time around it was Rick Lyke’s of Lyke 2 Drink turn to pick the subject for beer blogging Friday. A hat tip to him for making “The Brew Zoo” the topic.
Molly and I just sent our oldest off to college at the University of Arizona a couple of week’s ago. The UA is in Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city, a six hour drive east of San Diego. It is also home to the state’s largest microbrewery, Nimbus Brewing Company, who’s monkey mascot makes it the subject of our post.
Located in a non-descript industrial park pushed up against railroad tracks south of downtown, Nimbus’ building frontage is adorned with eye-popping art featuring wild beer labels and dancing apes in top hats. A giant orange and yellow grain tank emblazoned with the brewery’s signature monkey head stands out front as well.
Inside the brewery the walls are painted purple, yellow and orange and adorned with paintings and decor in a sort of weird mash-up of Mexican folk art, religious iconography and monkey heads.
Side Note:: I asked about the origins of the brewery’s atmosphere, but nobody really seems to know how it came about. A Nimbus is the halo disc you see above a saint’s/holy person’s head in early European art. The folk art stuff may be from their first beer, Dirty Güera (sort of Spanish slang for “blond girl”) Ale, and the Mexican influence in Tucson. And the monkey seems to be from their old slogan “people should be more like monkeys.” (Add plenty of beer and see what you get.)
The taproom is in the front portion of the building, gated off from the brewery proper, but still with a clear view of the brewing operation. There’s also a patio area at the front where you can sit outside when it’s not too hot and watch the trains go by.
We were there mid-week around 1pm and the taproom was populated by an eclectic collection of businessmen, college students, hippies and bikers enjoying a cold pint on a hot desert afternoon.
We ordered a flight of testers and were served up a tray with ten glasses arranged on a tray with a sheet describing each beer. Here’s the regulars:
- Dirty Güera — Southwestern-style Blond Ale
- Pale Ale — Northwestern-style Pale Ale
- Red Ale — Classic American Amber Ale
- Brown Ale — American Brown Ale
- Oatmeal Stout — Specialty Stout
- Old Monkeyshine — English Strong Ale
Also in the flight were four seasonals, India Pale Ale, Belgian Gold, Smoked Porter, and Hefeweizten. (Sadly, there are no links to these on the website.)
While none of these beers pushed the limits of their style (which is often the case with the breweries here in San Diego), I have to admit, all were very refreshing and drinkable — a nice attribute given the 104 degree temperature outside. My favorites turned out to be the Dirty Güera and Belgian Gold. Molly (naturally) enjoyed the Smoked Ported the most.
Nimbus head brewer Scott Schwartz was kind enough to come out, give us a tour and chat even though a malfunctioning bottling line was giving him trouble. (I think we cheered him up with a bottle of Judgment Day from Lost Abbey.)
Afterwords we picked up a couple of mixed cases to take home (Nimbus isn’t available in San Diego), said goodbye to Scott and the other Nimbus folks, and headed back out into the mid-afternoon heat of the Sonoran desert. We plan on dropping by again though. We’ll be back for the Great Tucson Beer Festival in late September.
If you’re ever in Arizona, make sure to drop by Nimbus Brewing (Tucson is only 90 miles from Phoenix). It’s may be one of the most enjoyable breweries you’ve never heard of. You’ll find it at:
Nimbus Brewing Company
3850 E. 44th Street
Tucson, Arizona 85713
8 thoughts on “Session 7: The Brew Zoo – Saints, Monkeys and Beer in the desert”
Nimbus Couzin founded the brewery, thus the name.
The equipment was scavenged from a variety of places, much of it Vermont.
The taproom was an after thought and decorated with stuff found at the Salvation Army. Not exactly designer-planned decor.
i’m really late on this, but 100% correct, stan. some of the other comments are …true… but not necessarily accurate. I was the last hire before Jim Counts became the principle partner. Many long-term employees left in the month or so leading up to his arrival (but not before it was already known he was coming in). My understanding at the time was that without JIm’s investment, the brewery would have folded. I visited in 2009 after many years, and found it to be a delightful, but totally different place I had left in December 2000. The old Nimbus, the mighty nimbus, could never survive without the heart, soul, and love of the original family, but at least we can still have a quality nimbus beer, thanks to Scotty’s dedication and talent–even if his taste in music is questionable.
Ah — that explains “Nimbus”. (Got a beer question? Ask Stan!)
I hear the taproom used to have old couches and stuff in it, but not anymore. The tables and chairs now all match and the bar looks pretty nice. The walls and guy behind the bar are still pretty funky though.
Nuimbus six-packs are available in San Diego. I have seen them at the La Mesa BevMo.
Haha…that is a humorous reply.
Stan had it right. Nimbus Couzin was one of the original founders. The other partners stayed out east and contributed initial capital, Nimbus brought his brewing experience, recipes, and turned an empty warehouse into Nimbus Brewing Company. Only a total idiot would buy the above version of the story about it being a coincidence that the brewer’s name happens to be the same one chosen. How many guys named Nimbus do you know?
Word has it that Nimbus left, disgusted by the behavior of the newest partner brought into the group. Many longtime employees also left. I don’t blame them. The new owner, Counts, treats everyone badly, and nobody likes him. I mean why would anyone want to stick around with someone like him? Well, they still make good beer, but not as good as the super hoppy early days when the REAL Nimbus was brewing.
Oh, and Nimbus was always into monkeys. The original six packs had a monkey philosophy written on the bottom. I stilll have one of them.
So good luck in trying to re-write history, but Scott Schwartz and Nimbus Couzin are the reason Nimbus Brewing kept going in the first few years.
Stan is right. Nimbus Couzin indeed was the real founder and owner until this new bozo came along and started making up phony stories…
Here is a new article from the early days of Nimbus Brewing
wow! i was just having a little look around the web for my old mate nimbus and came across this article and comments thread.
well, i have the priveledge of being around at the time of this brewery inception (at various student houses in Portland) and during its conception. coincidently, many of our common friends/house mates from Portlandia student days are in the beer bussiness now.
anyway…it’s named Nimbus after Nimbus the man…period!!! all that other shit is just somebodies historical revision to suit their cranky self-interest.
and the monkey…all Nimbus. He and his brother have been monkey from the day they were born and strove to teach the world of monkey ways. this shit goes way back, long before Arizona and nasty bussiness people or revisionists.
anybody who knows Nimbus and ever visited the brewery before its hostile take-over could see that the aesthetic and vibe of the place was pure Nimbus. Any other version is absolute bullshit.
it is apparently quite successful today – but pretty generic in its approach to things. the early success was from the ground up using Nimbus ‘sweat-equity’. Anybody who benefits today from what it has become should thank their fucking lucky stars that Nimbus was part of the show that made it originally an interesting place.