John Adkisson achieved his dream of starting a brewery nearly three years ago when Iron John’s Brewing Company opened their doors in an industrial complex on Plumer Avenue. With a background in accounting, Adkisson felt sure that Tucson was ready “for a craft brewery wave to hit it.” He has lived in Tucson since 1971 and graduated from Sabino High School in 1976. Adkisson’s nearly 25 years of home brewing experience has granted him valuable time to tinker, taste, and establish a masterful sense of flavor profiles that he incorporates into Iron John’s products. Adkisson says, “if we think something isn’t stupendous, we don’t make it.”
Through Adkisson’s dedication to home brewing and past experience in commercial brewing, he has compiled a book of about 300 different brew recipes from which he draws inspiration for Iron John’s beers. Using a gravity feed mash system made from repurposed commercial soup kettles, Iron John’s technique requires persistent patience and burning passion to produce “a well-made, well-balanced, drinkable example of whatever style that beer is,” Adkisson says. From light and bright, to deep and dark, Iron John’s is determined to make the best of any style.
From brew day to finishing day, each type of beer goes through about a month of careful monitoring and processing before it is bottled, distributed, and enjoyed. Some of the beers will age in varying wine and whiskey casks for up to two years, which allows the beer to draw in the original wine and whiskey notes found deep within the wood of the cask. This technique, known as the Solera aging system, allows the beer to develop deep cider-like flavors from the wine and bold bourbon notes from the whiskey. Not only does Iron John’s produce amazing beer, but they also do so with an unwavering consistency that displays years of advanced planning.
Iron John’s offers ten standard beers that are complemented by a slew of 50-60 rotating seasonal brews, which follow a calendar cycle of rotation and truly sing in harmony with the seasons in which they are offered. But keep in mind: these rotating brews don’t stick around long. Due to the fact that they are brewed in small batch quantities, once a seasonal brew is gone, it will not be seen again until the next year. The staff at Iron John’s believes that this constantly-changing menu is something that makes them unique; every time you go back, a different beer will be there to greet your taste buds.
Although the flavors of the brews rotate in accordance with the seasons, Iron John’s makes sure that the seasonal releases are made in a variety of styles. From the imperial reds, barley wines, and oatmeal stouts of winter to the peach ales and fruity saisons of summer, Iron John’s truly brews it all.
With their sights set on enriching the Tucson community, Iron John’s utilizes local products in order to get the absolute most out of their beer. Using Southwestern natives like creosote flowers, mesquite beans, chiles, and dried saguaro fruit, Iron John’s offers unique flavors that aren’t found in most other beer. They have also collaborated with chefs at restaurants such as Feast and Tavolino, which use Iron John’s beers in delicious brazing liquids, vinaigrettes, and ice cream syrups, demonstrating just how versatile beer can be.
Although Iron John’s is located in an old office space, with the charts of beer and wine on the walls and quiet spaces to sit and enjoy, you can easily forget that you’re in an industrial complex and feel as though you’re in a true house of beer. When asked how the name ‘Iron John’s’ came to fruition, Adkisson told me the Germanic folktale “Iron John,” written by the Grimm Brothers, about a young boy who seeks his place in life and what it is that he should be doing. Adkisson feels as though this moral transposes itself perfectly toward the goals that Iron John’s has set in building itself up. For Adkisson, his place is Tucson and his purpose is beer. Adkisson says, “I wake up every morning and this is what I want to do.”
Determination and experience seem to be the leading forces behind how Iron John’s got to where it is today. Adkisson has goals of obtaining a larger location to increase brewing capabilities but wants his customers to remain the primary focus. Not only does he love the beer, he loves to talk about it. You can easily go in, have a seat, and enjoy a flight of delicious creations while talking to Adkisson or one of his fellow brewers about each beer. During my visit, I had a flight consisting of ‘Flight of Fancy,’ ‘Hair of a Different Dog,’ ‘Old Bumbler,’ and ‘La Llarona.’
‘Flight of Fancy’ is a complex and deeply grape-flavored brew. This Belgian strong dark has rich fruity esters and a rich body that unveils many layers of flavor. Containing 10.75% ABV (alcohol by volume), an IBU (international bitterness units) of 25, and an SRM (standard reference measurement/color) of 15, this beer speaks wonderfully balanced praise to its Belgian roots. ‘Hair of a Different Dog’ is a strong Scottish ale. It has a deep brown color with ruby accents and is accompanied by fruity notes that suggest the presence of plums and raisins. With an ABV percentage of 10, an IBU of 51, and an SRM of 35, this beer is “a wee heavy to be certain,” as described by the brewery. ‘Old Bumbler’ is an English ale aged in a wine cask. Its brown hue is met with tart cherry and pineapple characters. Aged for nine months in a seven-year-old cask, this brew is 9.5% ABV, 50 IBU, and 15 SRM. ‘La Llarona’ is a unique móle stout with a dark body that resonates infused flavors of cinnamon, cocoa, chiles, and other earthy aromas. This beer rings in with an ABV of 6.25%, an IBU of 42, and an SRM of 80.
Although I was only able to taste a select number of what Iron John’s has to offer, the beer certainly speaks for itself. The rotating menu keeps new voices of brews surfacing, and if you want to hear what they have to say, go in and listen.
Iron John’s Brewing Company
245 S Plumer Ave #27
Tucson, AZ 85719