Barrio Brewing Triples Its Beer Production

April 10, 2013

by Teya Vitu

Barrio Brewing owner Dennis Arnold has a new office. Don’t expect to find a desk, chairs for visitors or family photos. This new office does have a huge window, maybe 30 feet across. The view’s not much: a couple distant warehouses. But Dennis Arnold is in heaven.

Dennis Arnold asked for a glass door or the mash tub and kettle.

Dennis Arnold asked for a glass door on the mash tub and kettle.

He climbs a few steps to a small elevated platform wedged between two steel tanks with a vertical control panel straight ahead.

“This is my office,” Arnold declares.

Arnold this month is fast forwarding from his 1995 beer brewing set-up to a brand new, unique-to-the-world brew house, where he insisted on 22 innovations to the standard brewing equipment to automate the process and add a variety of safety features.

Right out of the gate, this brew house will enable Arnold to triple the beer supply for his Barrio Brewing and Gentle Ben’s brew pubs and potential distribution outlets. The 1995 equipment can produce 4,000 barrels per year. As of now, Arnold can brew 12,000 barrels and his equipment has the capacity to produce 40,000 barrels, the maximum allowed by state law. But don’t expect maximum production at Barrio Brewing, 800 E. 16th St.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “That would be a job. Who wants a job?”

That’s the essence of Dennis Arnold, who’s never lost the spirit of the hobbyist in his 22 years of beer brewing. He bought Gentle Ben’s in 1991 with zero beer brewing background. He built his first brew house in Tijuana and shipped it to Gentle Ben’s, then located where the Marriott University Park is now.

This is Arnold’s third brew house “and my final one.” The second brew house came in 1995, when he moved Gentle Ben’s to its present location. He moved the brewing operation to Barrio Brewing in 2005. Since then, beer was brewed just beyond the pub’s south wall. Starting right now, all the brewing takes place at the eastern end of the Barrio Brewing warehouse, beyond the pub’s IPA Room, which is getting an 18-food wide observation window into the new brewery.

Arnold intends to do most of the brewing himself for the first 35 to 50 batches. He brought on three more brewers, including a beer chemist from Dogfish Head, from whom Arnold wants to learn beer chemistry.

Dennis Arnold wanted an office with a view. The entire north wall will be a window with many different sized panes.

Dennis Arnold wanted an office with a view. The entire north wall will be a window with many different sized panes.

“Nobody who works here worked in a brewery or did home brew,” Arnold said. “Neither did I. I’m passing it on. It took me seven months to design the brew house.”

Don’t think the word “design” applies anywhere else other than the technical details for brewing beer.

Take a close look at the pub furnishings at Barrio Brewing and you will notice a sense of randomness and offbeat. It’s not a sense. It is random. The same philosophy applies on the brewery side, old brewery and, even more so, new brewery.

“Nobody’s been designing. We don’t come up with a picture or drawings. The structural engineer said ‘you need five steel posts (for the front wall), after that do whatever you want,’” Arnold said.

Arnold wanted to make the entire 16th Street wall a window. Not just any window but a patchwork of random sized panes.

“There’s probably not one window the same size,” he said, clearly pleased by his ever-present whimsy.

The window wall gives the public a full-on view of the brewery. Arnold is even extending the outdoor patio dining to the window wall. But he insists he did not dream up the window as a public benefit.

“I want to be able to look out,” Arnold said.

The curved awning above the window wall emerged as Arnold was thinking on the fly just a few weeks ago. The warehouse Barrio Brewing occupies has three rows of barrel shaped roof quite reminiscent of World War II-era Quonset huts. Arnold needed a section of flat roof to install rooftop chillers. He cut out a section of barrel roof and refabricated it as an awning.

“It was ‘there’ three weeks ago,” Arnold said, looking up at the new flat roof area. “Now it’s not there.”

Barrio Brewing will start canning Barrio Blonde beer in May.

Barrio Brewing will start canning Barrio Blonde beer in May.

The new brewery space is a mishmash of equipment, much of it used from here and there. But the heart of the brew house is brand new, custom fabricated to Arnold specifications in Victoria, B.C., at the only manufacturer Arnold could find to bow to his specifications

The custom-made kettle, mash tub and whirlpool each have a hatch on top. Arnold insisted these have glass doors so he could monitor with his own eyes if the contents is bout to boil over. He also added innovations to automate many brew house functions.

Brewing beer is a hot-and-cold process. Volumes of water control the heat and cold. Arnold adapted two 3,000-gallon, 1962 former ice cream tanks to serve as hot and cold water tanks.

The process starts in the 8,000-pound mash tub, where 1 ton of barley mixes with 3 tons of hot water. Pipes transport the mash to the 1,500-gallon kettle, where hops are added and the mix “boils and boils.” The hops-and-barley mix then moves on to the whirlpool to spin out all the dregs.

The cold water brings the boiling hops and barley concoction down to 65 degrees in its 41-minute journey from the brew house to the eight, 100-barrell  fermentation tanks, where it becomes beer. These tanks are a carryover from Arnold’s second generation brewery. He acquired them over the years from Seattle, Canada and Tijuana. Just as somebody will acquire Arnold’s 1995 brewery from Tucson.

“I’ll sell it within two hours when I list it,” Arnold said.

Barrio Brewery’s main beer lineup, nearly all of it created in the 1990s, will remain essentially the same.

Dennis Arnold at his "office," the new brew house a Barrio Brewing.

Dennis Arnold at his “office,” the new brew house a Barrio Brewing.

The top sellers are Tucson Blonde (Arnold’s original beer), the IPA and the Redcat Amber (also brewed since the beginning). The Nolan’s Porter and TJ Razzberry are named after Arnold’s son and daughter. The Copperhead Ale and Oatmeat Stout date to the 1990s. The Hefeweizen is the only beer in the regular lineup created in the 21st century.

Arnold created the NCAAale during the 1997 basketball season, and the Wildcats immediately went into a losing mode – only to come alive in the NCAA tournament and win the national championship. Arnold brews this beer only during basketball season and he may retire it this year.

Barrio Brewing has 12 taps with 10 regulars and two rotating beers. The expanded brewing capacity will allow Arnold to add many more rotating beers, such as the popular Rich Rod Red. Over the years, he has produced about 50 different beers with about 15 of them in the rotation. He is especially interested in adding Belgian and dunkel beers to the mix.

Some of these additional suds will support Arnold’s new beer canning operation. In May, he plans to start canning his legacy Tucson Blonde beer under a Barrio Blonde label. Beer canning will take place in the room where Arnold’s second generation brewery was.

“I’m going to call it the Laverne & Shirley Work Center,” he said.