Last Saturday, the parking lot on the east side of Foothills Mall was roped off for bands, booths and most importantly, beer, all brought together to raise money for charity.
The first Oktoberfest, organized by firefighters in the Northwest Fire Union International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3572, included a firefighters' beer brewer's challenge. Depending on weather, the afternoon and evening event spilled into and out of Thunder Canyon Brewery, people sampling numerous types and styles of beer while various bands made their way onstage.
People laughed, roamed and sampled different concoctions. Some beers were obvious favorites, drinkers returning for a second tasting. Other beers were dumped into tree planters throughout the parking lot.
The $20-$25 entry fee for the event benefited charities. The monies collected by Local 3572 went to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Marana Food Bank. It was up to each of the other fire union locals to decided which charity their portion of the proceeds would go toward.
In all, the event raised about $20,000.
The idea came from Brian Sturgeon, who is a member of the Local 3572 union.
"We saw this as a kind of a new upbringing of ideas," Sturgeon said. "It has become a new fad, if you will. We also wanted to be able to find a better way to raise funds for charities. And we know that it is getting tighter and tighter for charities with the way the economy is for people. So we are trying to find new and innovative ways to make it more entertaining as well as a way to raise money."
Twenty-five groups of people from the Northwest, Golder Ranch, Drexel Heights, Peoria, Bisbee, Tucson and Rural Metro fire departments participated in the challenge. The winner of the brewing challenge gets a chance to brew their beer, or as close to it as possible, alongside the master brewer at Thunder Canyon Brewery. The beer will then be sold at the brewery, with the proceeds going to charity.
The winner, decided by members of the Home Brewers Association, was Northwest firefighter Sean Dibbern, who won with his Irish cream ale.
The Northwest Fire Union International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3572 took the initiative to host the event. It purchased and donated brewing kits to groups of Northwest Fire District firefighters, who would then in turn, when they were off duty, work together to brew a batch of beer.
Some of the firefighters had never brewed a beer in their lives, while others had a bit of experience. For Northwest Fire District firefighter Eric Johns, this was his first time.
"The biggest thing I was unsure of when I brewed the beer was if you put the yeast in when it is too warm, you can get an explosion," Johns said.
Thanks to a warning from other brewers, Johns and his group did not have any detonations from their brown ale "Wells Water." Though they did not place, Johns heard "a lot of people say they enjoy it."
The event did have a rocky start. Sturgeon said booths and fences were set up by about 2 p.m. Saturday. A couple hours later, a windstorm hit.
"It literally destroyed our entire event," Sturgeon said Monday morning. "All the fencing and all the ramadas all got blown away. So we had everyone kind of weather the storm, literally, inside Thunder Canyon."
After the storm cleared, they were able to quickly set everything back up and "luckily it stayed pretty nice, and not very windy, the rest of the night."