When a challenge was thrown down to see who can brew the best beer on the Arizona pro-am circuit, it should come as no surprise that local firefighters were the first to answer the call. First responders, right? I guess it’s in their blood. I’ve since learned that firefighting and brewing have a lot in common, and this pro-am competition will be one of the highlights of the Baja Beer Festival on April 23 at Rillito Park. All told, the event will feature hundreds of craft beers, served by more than 50 breweries, along with local food vendors and live music. But it’s the festival’s pro-am competition that got me hooked, a contest which will pit teams of Arizona firefighters and professional brewers against one another for best collaborative beer. Local firefighter Brian Sturgeon has never walked away from a challenge, whether it’s responding to an emergency or preparing for a brewing competition. Sturgeon has spent the last six years honing his skills as a home brewer, and today, as part of his fire station’s amateur brew team called the 38 Specials, he speaks passionately about the bond that exists between these two communities. “Firefighting and brewing are both about team-building,” he said. “It’s about getting everybody together to reach for the same goal.”
I can’t help but roll my eyes anytime I see one of those lists that set aside, inventory and rate women in a particular industry. I’d even go so far as to say that I’d be interested in seeing what would happen if the men and women’s soccer teams were blended—maybe then the U.S. team would have a shot competitively when it comes to what people actually watch, but I digress.In the food and beverage industry, which has been male-dominated in the back of the house since forever, people love to make lists of female chefs and the like—proving that hey, there are some. It’s really ground-breaking stuff. Also, it gives writers the opportunity to cram all of the talented women in the industry into one list, allowing them to ignore their strides the rest of the year.I look at a restaurant like Birrieria Guadalajara, which runs with three women in the kitchen and occasionally an additional to help take orders, and I see the antidote to that sort of pandering. I see those three women working hard, kicking ass at what they do and making some of the most consistently delicious, yet accessible (in price as much as content) food in town.Upon arrival, you’re met with a little part-indoor, part-outdoor stand, which is painted a shade of orange that has to be a relic from the ‘70s. On the patio and near the counter inside, you’ll find other bits of the past—brightly-colored and hand-painted signage, wood paneling and red vinyl-topped bar stools. It might seem a little dingy, but that’s all part of the space’s interminable charm. This isn’t a “restaurant concept,” after all. Plus, I’ve never felt the table, counter surfaces or any of the plates or cutlery were unclean, and that’s what really matters.I’ve heard a couple warnings about the birrieria before going. People say the service is bad and they also say to bring cash. On the first point, I’ve found that this is absolutely the opposite of the truth, though I will admit the staff’s English seems limited. (But, we all realize there’s a difference between English being your second language and being rude, right? Great, I thought so.) On the second point, it’s true: Birrieria Guadalajara is cash only. It isn’t exactly convenient, but it is worth the stop at the neighboring Quik Mart to pull some cash out.Once you’re properly cashed up, you can begin exploring the menu, which spans breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and even large family-style take-away options with heaps of your meat of choice, tortillas, salsa, beans and more.