NB|AZ® helps craft beer maker brew up success
For Dennis Arnold, brewing beer was his destiny.
“Someone once told me, ‘Dennis, you’re meant to be in this business. Dennis is derived from Dionysus, the Greek god of fermented beverages. And Arnold relates to Saint Arnoldus, the patron saint of Belgian beer who encouraged local peasants to drink beer instead of water.’ It was meant to be.”
Arnold was certainly ahead of his time. Born and raised in Tucson, he grew up in a large, close-knit family with a deep military history. In the late ’70s, he worked in the underground mines near Tucson before attending Northern Arizona University, where he met his wife Tauna. Soon after, the couple moved to San Francisco, where they slowly, but surely began their careers in the wine, beer and spirits industry.
Arnold worked for Southern Wine and Spirits, and recalls the day he was asked to sell wine to a company called Triple Rock, one of the few breweries in northern California.
“I walked in and said, ‘Wow, you can actually make your own beer!’ I had no idea,” he laughs. “I looked at the operation and immediately figured a business plan: If you brew your own beer, you drink for free for life. I knew this was for me.”
Arnold convinced Tauna to pack up and move to San Diego, an untapped market, so to speak, where there were no breweries—for good reason.
“The city council said they’d never allow a brewery in the city because they thought it would stink,” he says. “We spent two years trying to educate them on the process, but no cigar.”
The couple moved back to Tucson in 1987 and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Arizona had just legalized brewing and with the research, development and experience they had gained during their time in California, the couple was in prime position to be one of the first brewers in the state.
In 1991, Arnold opened Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company near the University of Arizona and right on the street where he grew up. They installed fermentation tanks and began brewing their three signature ales: the Tucson Blonde, Red Cat Amber, and Copperhead Pale Ale.
As the business grew, Arnold realized he needed a larger space to brew the beer. So, in 2006, he relocated the brewery operations to a former World War II Quonset-turned-warehouse and called it Barrio Brewing Co. Today, the brewery offers the Barrio Blanco, Barrio Rojo and the Barrio Blonde, the longest continually brewed beer in the state.
“The Blonde, Rojo and Citrizona, a canned IPA, make up about 90 percent of our beer in the craft segment,” says Arnold, adding that they also do about 15 to 18 beers a year, with half a dozen by the keg and three dozen by the can.
After celebrating 25 years at Gentle Ben’s, Arnold sold the operation this year to focus on Barrio Brewing and the expansion to the Phoenix market. In May, Barrio Brewing Co. opened a location at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, its first location outside of Tucson.
“Right now, we’re one of the largest independent breweries in the state and all of our business is currently in Tucson,” Arnold says. “We have a fantastic local following, which we’ve built up over a quarter of a century. But now we’re on to Phoenix, trying to get recognized there. That’s the next thing for us.”
In addition to Barrio Brewing, Arnold runs a handful of other businesses. To consolidate his banking needs, he moved all the companies to National Bank of Arizona.
“My dad suggested I speak with someone at the bank about a loan. Since they knew my dad and our family, they worked with us. That relationship has been there ever since,” says Arnold, adding that the secret to their success has been patience, incremental growth and, most importantly, family.
“We could’ve moved along fast, but the most important thing to us was family. We never missed school events, birthdays, vacations or anything like that with our kids,” he says. “Quality of life is really our compensation.”