(Every Thursday, MXSW reveals the story behind one of Arizona’s noteworthy craft beers. See previous Arizona Beer Classes here.)
This week’s subject: Sun Up Trooper IPA
Trooper IPA (6.2% ABV) is the flagship beer of Sun Up Brewery in Phoenix. It debuted in 2006, when the brewery was known as Sonora Brewhouse. Trooper is Sun Up’s bestseller, far ahead of runner-up Awesome Amber Ale.
Quick history lesson: Sonora vs. Sonoran
Sonora Brewing Company, which opened in west Phoenix in 1995, supplied the beer for Sonora Brewhouse, which opened in 2001. Sonora Brewing Company changed its name to Sonoran Brewing Company in 2003.
When Sonoran closed in 2004 it sold the Sonora trademark to Sonora Brewhouse owner Norman Horn and the Sonoran trademark to Scott Yarosh at the Pinnacle Peak Brewing Company in north Scottsdale.
Sonora Brewhouse eventually began brewing its own beers under the direction of former Sonora Brewing Company brewer Uwe Boer.
Where did Trooper IPA come from?
“It was first brewed when we moved (the brewing system) in here, which would have been January of 2006,” Boer says. “Before that, I didn’t have control over the beers. When I started working here, I did. So that’s the first thing I changed – the recipes the way I wanted to make them.
“We had been brewing it under a different recipe – Sonora IPA. I wanted to make it hoppier, so I increased the IBUs and bittering, as well as the finishing hops (Simcoe). I also increased the gravity to bring it up to just over 6 percent. Those were the two main changes.
Why did you call it Trooper?
“The owner (Horn) came up with the name,” Boer says. “He was thinking about English troopers in India with the helmets and red uniforms. If you look at the logo (pictured below), that’s where the logo came from, too.”
Who else in Arizona was doing an IPA?
“Probably the hoppiest one around was Prescott’s IPA,” Boer says. “They’ve been doing that one for quite a awhile. Over 30 years, I think.”
But this was before the IPA craze, right?
“Yes, it was,” Boer says. “They were starting to become more popular, but the big boom didn’t happen until a few years ago when really everybody – at least in Arizona – wanted an IPA on tap and wanted to be making IPAs.
“Of course, a lot of brewers from California had influence on that because they kept making them crazier and crazier, adding more and more hops, and more bitter, and more alcohol.”
What did customers think of the change?
“A lot of them may not even have noticed it,” Boer says. “We didn’t really advertise the change. We just came up with a new name for it. But I thought it was an improvement when we put more hops in and made it a little more bitter.
“I haven’t changed it since the first batch. It very quickly became our best-selling beer by far. It still is. I could try to catch up to those (California) guys, but I’m not changing our best-selling beer.”
Why was Trooper such an immediate hit?
“I can’t tell for sure,” Boer says. “I’ve racked my brain for years and years. People did start to like IPAs, but why is this IPA so popular?
“The only reason I could come up with was drinkability because it has a balance to it. It’s not so over the top that people would have one and say, ‘That’s great, but now I’ll have something different.’ You can have one after another and it doesn’t become overbearing.”
Do you distribute Trooper anywhere else?
“We do on a very small level right now,” Boer says. “Maybe 10 bars. But that’s all the beer we can make with this little (7-barrel) system. We can do a little bit of distribution but not much. Otherwise we run out of beers here.
“Hence, our expansion into the building next door. That’s a brand-new 15-barrel brewing system for production only.”
So you’ll be able to brew a lot more Trooper?
“We’ll be doing the IPA plus two other beers,” Boer says. “I can’t really say much. The other two are surprises. They are beers that we don’t currently make that have been seasonals in the past, though. We should be up and running in a month or so.”
Do you see the IPA craze ending anytime soon?
“It’s really hard to push that envelope any more, but I don’t really think it’s going to deteriorate a lot.” Boer says. “Once people get used to that kind of beer, they like drinking it and they will keep drinking those beers. That’s what my guess is.
“And especially in Arizona there’s still a lot of room for growth.”
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