(Every Thursday, MXSW reveals the story behind one of Arizona’s noteworthy craft beers. See previous Arizona Beer Classes here.)
This week’s subject: Fretzy’s Unfiltered Ale from Phoenix Ale Brewery
Fretzy’s Unfiltered Ale is an unfiltered English-style pale ale (5.0% ABV, 30 IBUs) brewed by Phoenix Ale Brewery. It was the first beer from the brewery, which opened in June 2011, and is named for brewery co-founder Greg Fretz, who passed away unexpectedly at age 44 in May 2013. Friends and supporters have conducted fundraisers this summer and established a Go Fund Me page for donations for Fretz’s wife and three children.
Why did you choose an English-style pale ale for your debut beer?
“We didn’t call it a pale ale at the time,” says George Hancock, who sold Pyramid Breweries in Seattle before moving to the Valley to open Phoenix Ale. “We called it an English-style unfiltered ale. I was looking for something that was sessionable, flavorful, unfiltered – which I think adds a lot of texture and flavor to a beer and a lot of vitamins as well. It just seemed like something that wasn’t out there.”
All of Phoenix Ale Brewery’s beers – not just Fretzy’s – are unfiltered. Why?
“At the time (the brewery opened), you didn’t see much of that down here, but it’s very common up in the Northwest where I came from,” Hancock says. “There are a lot of good, big brands up there that are unfiltered. Manny’s Pale Ale from Georgetown Brewing Company, for example.
“I like the taste of the yeast. I like the texture of the beer if you leave the yeast in there. It results in a thicker texture, and the Vitamin B you get with a charge of yeast is what helps prevent a hangover.
“All the hangover cures you see are big charges of Vitamin B because that’s what alcohol strips out of your system. The Germans found that out a long time ago. They started drinking Hefeweizen at breakfast.”
Why did you name the beer after Greg Fretz?
“We thought that was unique,” Hancock says. “Again, you didn’t see that in this marketplace. Fretzy was the reason we started the brewery here. He’s the guy who talked me into coming to take a look at Phoenix as (the site for) my next brewery.
“He was a character. He was larger than life. He was Pyramid’s sales guy here, so I had worked with him for 11 years. When I’d come down to visit retailers and distributors, Fretzy (pictured below) would drive me around and we’d visit the accounts.”
“He left Pyramid and went to Deschutes. It was while he was at Deschutes he began talking to me about having a brewery here. So it was my idea to name the beer after him.”
Fretz had battled throat cancer right before his death, but that wasn’t a factor in his passing, right?
“That’s right,” Hancock says. “The cancer was in remission. It was sleep apnea. He had recovered from the cancer and was cancer-free.
“His widow, Stacie, is fighting to hold onto his shares (in the brewery). Unfortunately, she went through a bankruptcy because of his medical bills, even though they had insurance. You do the right thing and get expensive insurance and you end up going bankrupt because you can’t meet the deductibles. What a system.”
How do sales of Fretzy’s compare to your other beers?
“It doesn’t rank high,” Hancock says. “Camelback IPA is No. 1 by a long way. Watermelon Ale is the next biggest, and Keeper (Bière de Garde) is new but coming up fast. I thought Fretzy’s would be our big seller, but actually it turned out to be Camelback. I guess craft beer drinkers are looking for more alcohol or bigger flavors.
“My English upbringing keeps me away from very-high-alcohol beers. Beer is for drinking and socializing – spending three or four hours with friends at the pub. That’s where Fretzky’s comes in. It’s the kind of beer you can drink a pint an hour for three or four hours and not get shit-faced.”
Any final thoughts about Fretzy’s Unfiltered Ale?
“I think it’s an unusual beer,” Hancock says. “Obviously it’s not our bestseller and the market tells you something. But, oddly enough, it’s not always about the beer. It’s about the name, or what the distributor decides he wants to sell, or – well, you’ve got limited control.
“What you think may be your best beer may not be the one that catches fire in the market. New Belgium is a great example of that. Fat Tire is not their best beer by a mile, but that’s the one that made their name and built the company.”
Where to find Fretzy’s Unfiltered Ale
Fretzy’s is available on draft and in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles at the brewery’s taproom, select grocery stores, and various bars and restaurants in the Valley.
Please consider making a donation to the Go Fund Me page for Stacie Parker Fretz here.
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