With daily reenactments of the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral and most cross-town travel done via horse-drawn carriage, the Wild West is alive and well in Tombstone, Arizona, an hour southeast of Tucson. The tourist destination’s newest attraction, however, may prove to be its greatest. Tombstone Brewing Co. opened in October 2016 and has come out shooting with IPAs, sour ales and barrel-aged stouts that would make Wyatt Earp’s mustache curl.
The cowboy behind these beers? Weedy Weidenthal, who brewed for four years at Blue Pants Brewery in Madison, Alabama, before Tombstone owner and founder Matt Brown snatched him up and brought him to the Town Too Tough to Die. Though just 27 years old, Weidenthal (whose first name, incidentally, is a family nickname that goes back a couple generations; his god-given name is Derek) is well-trained, having attended the Siebel Institute’s World Brewing Academy during his time at Blue Pants. He spent five weeks in Munich, Germany to study under some of the country’s best brewmasters as part of the program. Weidenthal’s training in crafting classic German styles led him to design Blue Pants’ Dortmunder Adambier, which nabbed a silver medal in the “Historical Beers” category at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. It was the only beer from Alabama to earn a GABF medal that year.
Now on his own at Tombstone, however, he strays a little farther from tradition.
“I would probably give some of my German brewer teachers heart attacks if they came in and saw some of the stuff I was making,” he says.
One example: a blonde ale hopped with Citra and Lemondrop then fermented with brettanomyces in sauternes and chardonnay barrels. Another: an IPA fermented with a unique Norwegian farmhouse yeast known as kveik. Even Tombstone’s IPA—the closest thing the brewery has to a flagship—is unconventional, fitting more comfortably under the umbrella of “New England-style” IPAs than anything traditional.
While hop-focused ales make up much of what has made Tombstone one of the hottest new breweries among drinkers throughout southern Arizona, Weidenthal’s true passions lie in barrel-aging and bacterial fermentations. That’s why, in late March, Tombstone sold memberships to its Barrel Society to the tune of $200, $325 or $400 annually, depending on whether members wanted to receive 12, 24 or 30 barrel-aged beers over the course of the year. (And, in the case of the most expensive membership, whether they offered the option of having Tombstone deliver those bottles directly to their front door.) The program reached nearly 100 members almost immediately, Weidenthal says, with the vast majority of people purchasing the most expensive option. The response enabled Tombstone to immediately double the size of its barrel program and purchase two refrigerated shipping containers, each of which can hold up to 100 standard oak barrels.
The eventual plan, Weidenthal says, is to buy new casks on a regular basis and rotate them through three stages: for the primary fermentation of standard ales like porters and IPAs for the first ten uses; for the aging of specialty and fruit-infused brews for the next three or four uses; and finally as long-term aging vessels for beers fermented with brettanomyces and souring bacteria.
Before then, however, the focus will remain on the hoppy stuff. A canning line set to arrive at Tombstone in June will enable Weidenthal to ease the demand for his brews by spreading 16-ounce four-packs to those who’ve already tried his beers and want more—and to keep surprising the people who are still unaware of what Tombstone now has to offer.
“That’s the most fun thing that we get to hear,” Weidenthal says. “I read reviews all the time online, and they always say, ‘I can’t believe something like this came out of Tombstone.’”
Three to Try:
Cascade Single Hop Pale Ale (5.7%)
Shortly after he took over brewing duties at Tombstone, Weidenthal traveled to Oregon to select a batch of Cascade hops he’d bring back and brew with. The hops he picked went on to win the 2016 Cascade Cup—meaning this pale ale is brewed with the best Cascades in America.
Dank Fruit (8.1%)
Most Tombstone beers don’t have names; they’re referred to simply by their styles or ingredients. Weidenthal was so impressed with the dank, fruity aroma that rose from the kettle after he dropped in this double IPA’s hops, however, he had to give it its own moniker.
Amber Lager (5.5%)
Weidenthal’s training under German brewmasters comes to bear in this true-to-style Munich dunkel: Bread crust unfurls into warm nuttiness before a smooth, ever-so-slightly-sweet caramel finish. We especially enjoy the heft of the body—the beer feels to the tongue like crushed velvet.