A Chat with Michael Marquess, Chairman of the Board & CEO of Mother Road Brewing Co.

Who came up with the idea for Mother Road Brewery?

The Old Growler: Who conceived of the idea of starting Mother Road?

Michael Marquess: The brewery was conceived by my former wife and me.  We were driving back from Colorado across the reservation in our 1982 Westy van.  The boys were asleep in the back of the van. We began a long conversation about how we were not living our lives joyfully as we saw with our grandparents who had come out of the hardships of Depression-era America, and in Alissa’s grandmother’s case, fleeing Vienna on the last children’s boat from Madrid.  From their life experience and wisdom, they knew how to enjoy life and live it fully.

   I was a real estate appraiser (a prestige between a used car salesman and a divorce attorney), and Alissa was a barista.  I came from NAU with a Hospitality degree and F&B background. The only thing keeping me the same with appraisal and technical writing was that a buddy taught me how to homebrew in 1999.  Basically, the assessment was sucking my soul dry, and I needed to make a change.

   After our talk along that lonely stretch of two-lane this side of Kayenta, we decided it was better to fully live our lives, trying (and perhaps failing), but at least knowing we tried to make a go of something I loved.

The Old Growler: What brewing background did they have?

Michael Marquess: Incidentally, I am a terrible homebrewer!  I would go from a red ribbon at the fair or delicious beer for our wedding to batches that had to be tossed.  Although I brewed the first years at Mother Road, we hired professional brewers.  However, I have never lost my love of the ‘magic’ that occurs between four ingredients and creating something to enjoy with family and friends in two weeks.  I never tire of the wonder of beer.

Getting Mother Road Brewing Co. On the Road

The Old Growler: What was it like getting Mother Road Brewing Co. started?

Michael Marquess: I quit my appraisal job on July 31 of 2010.  On August 1, I decided I was a brewer.  I borrowed $50,000 from my grandmother at 7% (yes, prevailing rates in 2010 were next to 0.5%) because she knew the risk.  I began writing a business plan, finding my first brewer, looking for a location, and then working with a bank.  We signed the first least on Mikes Pike on December 10, 2010, and took possession.  The initial demolition was completed by me and Urs (our first brewer).  Between December and July, we brewed homebrew non-stop and forced our families, friends, and strangers to try it and give us feedback.  In April, we got the loan and began construction.  Tanks and equipment showed up in October, and we brewed the first beer on October 26.  It was an English style brown that became mild.  Through poor planning for a graduate student performance scheduled back in April, we opened (not at all ready and with one underwhelming mild ale) on November 17, 2011, to accommodate his scheduled performance.  The music major student got an ‘A’ and graduated and played many times in the first years we were open.  He got it together and began taking control of the brewing system and getting the beer we wanted out of it and never looked back.

The Old Growler: How long did it take to go from concept to becoming operational?

Michael Marquess: Short answer, it took from August 2010 to November 2011 to achieve operation and open to the public.

What makes Mother Road Brewing Co. unique?

The Old Growler: What was the most challenging aspect of the execution of the initial start-up?

Michael Marquess: Never let a homebrewer and a fresh Davis grad build a brewery.  We didn’t know so much, we’re afraid to ask and just pushed through on our own.  While not bad on its own during the early years, our failure to design long-term for volume made brewing 4,400 BBLs at the original brewery in 2018 a challenge.  It is wonderful to have a second production brewery to handle the canning and kegging of mainline beers. At the same time, we get to play at the original Downtown brewery.

   Of course, now I know how easy it is to ask for help from other brewers and regularly make myself available to new brewers.  We were terrified to be the new kids in 2011.  I believe we opened as the 15th or 16th Arizona brewery.

The Old Growler: What has been the biggest surprise so far in the story of the brewery?

Michael Marquess: Personally, my divorce and not having my founding partner with me anymore as we face uncertainty in a pandemic and recession.  Professionally, we were the fourth largest independent Arizona brewery by volume in 2019.  On the guest side, how much loyalty and pride brewery guests have in their brewery and what they are willing to do to help you succeed.  COVID-19 showed how much local support there was as the to-go sales doubled, and our guests made sure all of us were OK.

How many beers does Mother Roads Brewing Co. produce?

The Old Growler: What went into determining the styles of your flagship beers?

Michael Marquess: Hah!  As if a brewer determines what becomes a flagship!  That is decided by the guest and consumer.  We made beer styles we enjoyed at the taproom and listened to our guests.  We modified some beers, discontinued others, and tried even more styles or riffs on styles.  Our beers don’t tend to neatly fall into GABF, BJCP, or WBC categories.

   After listening to the guests, we also take counsel from our distribution partner, look at Nielsen data, and watch market trends.  That doesn’t mean we just brew the same thing everyone else is doing but means we play with ideas.  Seltzer – we won’t make one because the market is flooded, and we have no joy in making such a thing.  However, Nielsen and market data show that people like and want to drink these things.  We are exploring a ‘light’ beer with botanicals which our guests love the early test renditions, the brewers enjoy the challenge and art of making, and has allowed us to partner with CULT in Phoenix on flavors and botanicals.  This will be our ‘take’ on the seltzer craze that stays true to who we are as brewers of beer.

The Old Growler: The Kolsch is the only traditional style. What are the origins of the other two year-round brews?

Michael Marquess:  Traditional is loosely applied to our Kölsch Style Ale.  We use an Eastern European Ale yeast for it, but the malt is all Mother Road with only two-row and Munich.  It was the only one of our original three beers that we continue to brew and package today.  There was little thought placed on it as an original beer, other than we wanted a crisp, light offering for our guests.  It will be fully renamed in the fall to Conserve & Protect as part of our continuing partnership with Arizona Game and Fish.

Michael Marquess: Tower Station IPA came about as a directive from the founders to the brew team to take an existing recipe of an extra pale ale we called Whitewalls and make it shelf-stable in summer 2015.  Whitewalls was an excellent draft beer, but the hop aromas and flavors would fall off precipitously after 30-45 days.  We directed the team to use 50/50 two-row and pils malts and feature bright citrus flavors; the rest was their creativity.  Mother Road brewed five renditions at two-week intervals on the old three BBL pilot system on the loft above the whirlpool.  On Sundays, guests would receive a 10-ounce pour and a scorecard.  Each new rendition was guided by the last guest comments at 50% weight and 50% input from the founders, brew team, and hosts.  The final rendition was canned and shipped in October 2015. 

The can art came from my return trip from picking up a brite tank and filter in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2011 as I drove the truck through Shamrock, Texas, on Route 66.  I became enamored with the Conoco Station or ‘Tower Station’ and knew it would someday be a label with my favorite (and dream) car of a 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster.

The Old Growler’s Tasting Notes for Tower Station IPA…

Michael Marquess: Daily Driver came about as the crew wanted a flavorful IPA, but not to drink Tower at 7.3%.  A little guy like me has two Towers, and I’m #TowerHoused.  Thus, came Daily with a 4.8% ABV.  It was also a chance for us to work with our hop growers and play with various hops we didn’t normally contract and get a little rye into the malt bill.  It was a reaction to the double and triple IPAs of several years ago, and our guests wanting a beer they could sip throughout the day.

The Old Growler Tasting Notes for Daily Driver IPA…

What is in the future for Mother Roads Brewing Co.?

Michael Marquess: Mother Road intends to become a regional brewery of 45-60,000 BBLs per year.  We hope to acquire (or merge) with other like-minded breweries and create a boutique craft organization to share resources, talent, know-how, and salesforce.  I believe that we will see this type of organization as a necessity as more of the larger craft breweries sell to international conglomerates (New Belgium, Lagunitus, Kona, Four Peaks, etc.).

                                                           

The Old Growler visits Mother Road Brewing Company and interviews its owner.
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First, let me introduce myself. I am Peter LaFrance, author of Beer Basics and Cooking & Eating With Beer, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. – 1995). I have also been published in American Brewer, All About Beer, and Ale Street News.

I have been writing about the brewing industry since 1984. Credits include contributing editor for Restaurant Management and Top Shelf magazines. I have also written for Beverage Media, New Brewer, Beverage Dynamics, and All About Beer magazine.

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