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Huss Brewery focuses on Arizona, holds to craft beer heritage

Brew master Jeff Huss insists his best seller, Scottsdale Blonde, is not named after a particular person.

But what's immediately clear is that his flagship beer definitely doesn't match up with his wife and partner, Leah, who has dark hair, more than a decade of experience in the craft beer business and no apparent affinity for bling.

Leah is quick to observe, however, that the Scottsdale Blonde is her favorite beer brewed by the family-owned Tempe business.

A Kolsch-style beer with a light color, Leah said she made her mark on the Scottsdale Blonde, even if she does not fit that description.

"The one we make finishes a little sweeter. I asked for it,'' Leah Huss said.

Leah Huss discreetly avoids stereotypes when asked about the beer's snappy name and the image it conjures up.

"It's up to interpretation,'' she said.

It's not surprising that Jeff Huss would brew a Kolsch, a specific brew that originated within sight of the famous Cologne Cathedral, a classic example of Gothic architecture in Cologne, Germany. The German answer to a British Pale Ale, Kolsch has a light color similar to wheat or straw and a light taste.

Jeff Huss learned how to brew beer at the famous Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany, where he studied for two months, and at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. He learned his craft by serving as brew master at in Chandler for seven years.

Three years ago, Leah and Jeff Huss, of Scottsdale, opened Huss Brewing in an unobtrusive industrial building on South Priest Drive in Tempe, where they also operate a homey tap room with fresh craft beers from throughout Arizona.

The Husses, who are in their 30s, are the parents of a daughter who attends kindergarten and say their family is their top priority. They are a contrast in styles. Jeff Huss is a stoic man of few words who prefers to let his beer speak for him, while Leah Huss is the more outgoing people person.

"My greatest satisfaction is seeing people enjoying the beer that we've made,'' Jeff Huss said.

For Jeff Huss, Scottsdale Blonde is not only his top seller, but also a barometer of his performance. He said it is easy to hide imperfections in a heavy dark beer, such as a stout, but any flaws become readily apparent in a light beer.

"To me, that's how you judge a brewery,'' he said. "I like a beer you can't hide anything in. We like to say you can hide a dead cat in a stout.''

The couple has no dreams of selling out to a large corporate brewing company, like Four Peaks, or even selling beer beyond the Arizona border.

"Our target market is Arizona,'' Leah Huss said. "Our entire goal is to put down roots, to be a very good quality Arizona brewery for a long time.''

She said that she and her husband are in the process of building a legacy for their daughter, Lola.

Statistics compiled by the company from Nielsen data show that Huss Brewing is the third largest brewer in Arizona, trailing East Valley brewing titan Four Peaks and San Tan Brewing of Chandler, according to Chip Mulala, a company spokesman.

He said Huss also has posted impressive growth numbers in the past year.

That's not shocking, given the meteoric growth in the craft brewing industry. It's hard to walk into a bar without seeing a wide variety of beers on tap, including several craft beers, the usual corporate beers and possibly a few well-known imports.

"There's been a revolution. People have decided they don't want three choices of the same beer,'' Leah Huss said.

She said the imports that were popular 20 years ago are still popular, but craft brews that are brewed locally now are a much bigger part of the beer market.

Although this craft revolution has created a market for Huss, it also makes craft brewing a highly competitive industry. Huss might not be an immediately recognizable brand name, like Four Peaks, but it is sold in many establishments throughout the Phoenix area, and in supermarkets and convenience stores.

"The competition is great. We are very friendly. It's one of the few industries where people get along,'' Jeff Huss said.

Leah Huss also doesn't cower from the competition.

"I think it drives you to be better,'' Leah Huss said.

Huss brews several varieties of craft beers in addition to the Kolsch, including Magic in the Ivy, a tribute to the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field in Chicago, which is known for its trademark ivy-covered walls.

Jeff Huss considers Magic in the Ivy, a West Coast style pale ale, his favorite beer. A big Cubs fan, Jeff Huss got the inspiration for the name by listening to an Eddie Vedder song that includes a line about magic in the ivy.

The company has a cozy tap room, decorated with recycled lawn furniture and featuring some of the top craft beers in Arizona, at its Tempe tap room adjacent to the brewery, on Priest Drive north of Elliot Road.

Huss also acquired the rights and the recipes of the Papago beers, after brewing them under contract. Among Papago's most popular brews is Orange Blossom Wheat, which features hints of citrus in its taste profile and is billed as a perfect summer beer.

Huss has plans to open second tap room in January at Uptown Plaza, on Camelback Road and Central Avenue, which will also feature handmade sodas.

"We make beers the two of us like to drink,'' Leah Huss said.

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