North Mountain Brewing grows in popularity
GEORGANN YARA • SPECIAL TO THE REPUBLIC
March 24th, 2016
Thanks to his first home-brewed batch of beer, Rob Berkner couldn’t stand the scent of ginger for a decade.
The owner of North Mountain Brewing was an 18-year-old college student when he tried his hand at crafting an ale using fresh ginger and an instant beer recipe. Years later, the memory of its taste is vivid.
“It was absolutely disgusting. It took 10 years before I could smell ginger again,” said Berkner, who opened the Phoenix craft brewery and restaurant with his wife, Candy Frogozo, in 2013.
The recollection remains but much has changed, to the pleasure of Berkner, his wife and the growing number of patrons who frequent their establishment toquench cravings for local beer and beercentricpub dishes. Of the 12 taps, there are eight homegrown regulars, like the popular C.R.E.E.M. — a golden ale brewed with oats, rye and Arizona wildflower honey. The name is an acronym created with the first names in Berkner’s immediate family: his wife, Candy, his name Rob and their daughters, Emmilie, Erin and Megan.
It’s a food-friendly brew that also pleases those that come in asking for a domestic mainstream draft.
“We say, ‘No, we don’t have a Bud Light, but we have this.’ And that makes them happy,” Berkner said.
Since opening, business has grown at least 20 percent each year, Berkner said.
“At beer festivals, we used to hear people ask where we’re from. They thought we were from Colorado. But now, we don’t hear that as much.”
The rise of Arizona craft beer’s popularity along with North Mountain’s increasing reputation has helped propel its success.
Pints range from $5-$7. Menu dishes were selected to pair with the beer. In addition to mainstays like pizzas and burgers, there are some international nods like Canada’s poutine ($13), the United Kingdom favorite shepherd’s pie ($13), and Lumpia ($7), a fried crispy roll of pork and vegetables that’s a staple in Frogozo’s homeland of The Philippines.
Berkner sought a location that would allow him to can and bottle. His Sunnyslope spot was zoned for that, plus his research into the demographics indicated the neighborhood was ready to support his vision. He also saw that the Phoenix craft brewery industry was a largely untapped market. Beyond the bottom line, however, Berkner quickly saw the area as more than a business generator. He and his wife saw the pride of residents, many who tell them that they grew up in the area or mention that their grandmother still lives there. Even before they purchased the property in 2010 , Berkner and Frogozo engaged with the community, met with council members to share their plan and worked with the local business hub.
“We’re really building ties with the community and, in the end, it’s gone a long way,” Berkner said. “Everywhere we go, (people) tell us stories and the look in their eyes when they talk to us…. We hear, ‘Thank you for coming here. This is what we need.’” The brewery’s clientele runs the gamut from older grandparent types to young people in their 20s, Berkner said. Families and single women are comfortable in the clean and welcoming environment that doesn’t exude extreme bar or pick-up joint.
These are among the reasons Angel Crandall, a Phoenix nurse who doesn’t work far from North Mountain, has been a regular customer for two years. She usually stops in for happy hour three times a week with friends or coworkers. Occasionally, she goes solo.
“This is the only bar I’ve gone to by myself,” said Crandall, who has grown to be a craft beer fan and enjoys the Belay IPA and the Brussels sprouts with seared Ahi salad. “From the food and beer to the friendly service, I love going there and I’m glad it’s in my neck of the woods.”
Berkner said, “I love seeing people come in after a long day, irritated, in a bad mood, short with you … but 20 minutes later, after they drank their first beer and ate some food, you see them lean back in their chair and smile — all is good in the world now.”