“Life is about being in touch with who you are and helping others,” John Adkisson says. Adkisson’s words set the tone for the day, which began at 6:00 a.m. in the parking lot of Iron John’s Brewing Company. On the agenda: a long drive down a very windy dirt road juxtaposed with a view of the Tucson Mountains slowly shrinking in the rearview mirror, an indulgent breakfast of warm coffee cake, fresh fruit salad, and homemade green chili casserole hosted by the incredibly hospitable Anne Montgomery, a couple hours of intensive (very sweaty and slightly thorny) saguaro fruit harvesting, and plenty of conversation about the magic of beer.
This almost too-good-to-be-true day was in perfect keeping with Tucson’s notorious small-world and helping-hand reputation. Anne Montgomery, an enthusiastic imbiber of local beer, just happens to be the owner of a saguaro food forest on the outskirts of Tucson Mountain County Park. Just over a year ago, she came across a story in Edible Baja Arizona that highlighted the work of ambitious beer brewer John Adkisson, co-founder and co-owner of Iron John’s Brewing Company. The article mentioned that he was having trouble establishing a consistent and reliable source of saguaro fruit for his “Father Saguaro” beer. Montgomery, eager to support a local business with a passion for native food ingredients, immediately contacted Adkisson and offered her land for harvest.
One year later, the saguaro farmer and beer brewer meet again. This time, with a couple of Edible Baja Arizona interns to cover their story. If I hadn’t known that Montgomery and Adkisson had met just a year ago, I would have mistaken the two for longtime friends. After breakfast, we hit the “Less Traveled Rd.” as the rural neighborhood street sign reads. Every 15 feet or so, we exited Montgomery’s jeep, grabed the stepstool and harvesting pole, and gently nudged the seedy magenta fruits off the top of each (not-too-tall) cactus and into a large woven basket. As I bit into the tasty fruit, I could not help but ask myself: “How is this not the most popular fruit in the world?” The Saguaro fruit is a gem unfamiliar to the majority of Tucsonans. So many peer into the dry, dusty desert they call home and think, “barrenness”. However, if a real Sonoran Desert native, one who belongs to the Tohono O’odham tribe, looked out into the desert, they would see a plethora of food: saguaro, prickly pear, mesquite, ironwood, palo verde, and so much more.
With Iron’s John’s menu rich with desert ingredients, it’s no surprise the company has gathered a notable group of loyal customers, with Anne Montgomery arguably winning the right to the title of “Most Loyal”. I do not think of the work that Iron John’s does as simply selling beer, but rather as partaking in a kind of political activism. By introducing native, local, and sustainable foods into a consumer society, John Adkisson is effectively changing the rules of the game. To Adkisson, brewing serves as an “artistic outlet” and a medium of communication between the desert, his imagination, and his visitors.
Iron John’s Brewing Company
245 S. Plumer Ave.