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Beer, Food and History at History on Tap

The+History+On+Tap+banner+in+front+of+the+Arizona+History+Museum+on+Jan.+24.+The+event+will+feature+food+from+various+restaurants+in+Tucson.
Selena Quintanilla

The History On Tap banner in front of the Arizona History Museum on Jan. 24. The event will feature food from various restaurants in Tucson.

In the early 1860s, a cold lager was difficult to find in hot, dry Arizona. When Alexander Levin, a Prussian brewer, opened Pioneer Brewery in Tucson in 1864, residents finally had access to local beer.

According to the Journal of Arizona History, in the 1870s, Levin bought more property and developed a three-acre parcel into Levin’s Park, which became a beer garden and vibrant entertainment venue. During its heyday, Levin’s Park was complete with a garden of trees, flowers and vegetables. Visitors could enjoy a bowling alley, shooting gallery, riding stables, a bathhouse, restaurant, dance pavilion and an opera house.

Step back in time to Levin’s Park at History on Tap this Saturday, Jan. 28, from 5-8 p.m. at the Arizona History Museum. The event, organized by the Arizona Historical Society, Los Amigos Inc., and the Arizona Southern Chapter Board Inc., features a historical re-creation of Levin’s Park. Costumed interpretations of three of Tucson’s historic brewers, Alexander Levin, John Spring and George Hand, will also be present.

Sarah Tunnell, the project chair for History on Tap, said Levin’s Beer Garden “was the place to go and to be seen in Tucson at that time.”

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Participants can explore the Arizona History Museum while tasting beer from various local breweries. Entertainment includes a performance by the 4th Cavalry Regimental Band and two talks: “History of Brewing” by Dr. Bill Peterson and “Early Tucson Restaurants” by Shirley Pinkerton and Virginia Ginn.

Historically, the cavalry band would sometimes play music at the original Levin’s Park.

“Beer followed the cavalry, and the cavalry followed the beer,” Tunnell said. “These guys were hot and thirsty, and someone in town had to make beer, and I can’t imagine what it tasted like.”

Brewing beer in Arizona during the 1870s, before refrigeration, was a challenge. Brewers need to keep careful control of temperature, especially during the fermentation process. A lack of consistent sources of water and access to malted barley and wheat also made early brewing difficult for Arizona brewers.

Bill Peterson, Northern Division Director of the Arizona Historical Society, said that because of immigration patterns, most people in Arizona who wanted to brew beer were Germans.

“Germans brew lager beers, which are cold fermented, and that’s virtually impossible in much of Arizona,” he said.

Local breweries had trouble competing with Anheuser-Busch and eastern imported beer. Mechanization and the railroad eventually allowed for more accessibility to beer-brewing resources.

Peterson said his talk will be about the history of beer in Arizona and a little bit of the history of beer in the U.S.

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“It is an interesting story of immigration patterns and all kinds of things,” Peterson said. “And there’s at least one murder involved.”

Leslie Roe, southern division director at the Arizona History Museum, said Peterson’s talk will help connect this bigger story to the story of these local brewers.

“We’ve opened up the entire museum for people to roam around with their beer samples, and the brewers will be spread throughout the museum,” Roe said.

Barrio Brewing Co. is the lead brewer for the event. Barrio Brewery brand ambassador Sarah Doka said their local history is very important.

“We wanted to support the History Museum and to celebrate the role it played in our brewery’s 25 years of production,” Doka said.

Also during the event, Ralph Wong from BKW Farms in Marana will be presenting his artisan wheat, seeded from the same wheat used in 1870s beer, which some local brewers use today.

The event also features food vendors from Gentle Ben’s Brewing Co., Mutts, Sinbad’s Restaurant and Illegal Pete’s. In 2015, Tucson was recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

“I think it’s a fun sort of happenstance that we’re celebrating this with local food, in a place that celebrates the history, in a town that has been selected as a city of gastronomy for the world,” Roe said.

Roe said the event is about supporting history financially and the continuation of locally brewed beer.

“Local breweries are vital to keeping beer new and exciting,” Doka said. “The passion that the smaller, local breweries have inspired creativity that bigger breweries sometimes lose.”

The price of tickets for the event is $40, $30 for Arizona Historical Society members and $20 for designated drivers. General admission includes access to the museum, 12 drink tickets and a souvenir tasting mug.

Proceeds from the event will support programming at the Arizona History Museum.

“It’s going to be a fantastic time; America’s in a real beer renaissance right now and it’s time to celebrate that,” Peterson said.

More information and tickets can be found online at www.azhs.gov. The Arizona History Museum is located at 949 E. Second Street. Parking is available at Main Gate Garage.

You must be 21 years or older to attend this event.


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