Even if it weren't for the worst winter storm in seven years that closed all roads and brought snow to Tucson, Arizona, Gentle Bens would be considered an oasis in the desert. Opened at its new location since October 16, 1996, this stylish brewpub seems to offer something for just about everyone. Seating for 500 spans the two stories, and includes and outdoor patio on each. On the outside, the red brick walls of the newly re-constructed building blend in well with the surrounding university community. On the inside, they complement the dark green ceiling and its hanging brass fans above the dining booths and wooden furniture. Downstairs features a small U-shaped oak bar with a view of the patio, a full liquor selection, and two 6-tap stainless steel towers that pour up to eight house brews. The gray stone tiled floor combines with the plentiful natural light entering through the building's glass front to create a very open atmosphere. When looking for action people head upstairs. In addition to a large L-shaped bar and more seating and TVs, there are three pooltables and a stage with dance floor. This comfortable venue causes a transformation as the lunch and dinner crowds give way to thirsty sports fans who come to watch televised games and consume quality beer. Late nights are dominated by a college crowd that appreciates this unique mix of the beer and music scenes.
Owner-brewer Dennis Arnold used any available space to layout the components of the 15 bbl Specific Mechanical brewing system. The rear of the building houses the brewhouse along with two 30 bbl fermenters. Steam heats the 500 gallon brew kettle and combi-style mash tun. The tight space means sacks of grain must be lugged around to feed the two-roller mill. Tucson's great city water requires no treatment but its summertime tap temperature does necessitate the use of glycol in the heat exchanger. Most brews get one pass through the Diatomaceous Earth (DE) filter before heading off for conditioning and, ultimately, one of eight serving tanks that reside inside a second story cold-room that sits atop a vault used by the previous business at this location, a bank. Assistant brewer Jerry Miller brings his years of homebrewing experience to the operation to help out with producing 30 bbls of beer twice a week.
It's both the food and the beer that keep business booming. The menu features seafood, salads, burgers from $5, and lunch specials. The Red Cat Amber is a clear amber color with a medium hoppy flavor and dry malty finish. A popular "cross-over" beer is the Arizona Gold with its clear golden color, light body, smooth mouthfeel, and light hoppy flavor. Selling well with women customers is the TJ's Raspberry. Golden, with a reddish hue, a first impression is made from its intense raspberry aroma that is matched with a light body and nicely balanced sweet and tart flavors. The Bear Down Nut Brown appears a clear light brown and yields a medium body with a toasty malt flavor, and hoppy finish. The Nolan Porter was actually a dark amber color with a medium body and a flavor balance toward the hops! The unfiltered MacBains Oatmeal Stout is expectedly opaque with a medium body and roasted malt flavor. The seasonal is the Holidale, offering a dark amber appearance, light body, and subtle spice flavors from cinnamon, coriander, and orange zest.
The customer orientation at Gentle Bens starts with a friendly and informed staff and includes pint prices of $2.50 and $2.75, a happy hour from 4 to 7 PM with $2 pints, and even an elevator that makes the whole building wheelchair accessible. If your journey across Interstate 10 takes you through Tucson, make sure you pay a visit to this new desert attraction.
865 E. University Blvd.
Tucson, Arizona 85719
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - January, 1997