The Northwest Firefighters are gearing up for their second annual “Home Brew Challenge,” with firefighters from Oro Valley, Tucson, Marana and as far away as Sedona preparing their own special concoctions for competition.

Finding new ways to earn money for local charities, Northwest Fire Union International 3572 came up with the idea to host Oktoberfest, which features a home-brewed beer competition.

In tough economic times, Brian Sturgeon, a Northwest firefighter, said it has become more difficult to raise money for important charities, and local firefighters wanted to create something unique for people to enjoy.

Beer is a big way to generate business, as the United States produces 200 million barrels of beer per year, resulting in an average of 20.6 gallons per person.

The interesting part of the concept of Oktoberfest, according to Sturgeon, is that not all the home brews are appetizing. Some mixtures drew return customers in the last year’s inaugural event, but other mixtures – such as a bacon-flavored brew – did not fare as well.

With so many firefighters wanting to participate, Sturgeon said teams have already started brewing beers in order to be ready for the Oct. 22 event coming to the Foothills Mall parking lot, directly in front of Thunder Canyon Brewery.

Some of those preparing for competition include last year’s winner Sean Dibbern, a Northwest firefighter.

Dibbern won with an Irish crème ale last year. This year, he’s working on a chocolate raspberry concoction.

At the Thunder Canyon Brewery last week, Dibbern, Sturgeon and fellow firefighter Jason Garza went through the steps to prepare a brew.

Firefighters are required to brew their concoctions at a local brewery. Assisting in the process is Steve Tracy, owner of Thunder Canyon Brewery.

Tracy said hosting a beer festival every year is a great way to draw in a crowd and increase revenue in the region.

“We go to a lot of beer festivals, but I’ve never seen one with this concept,” said Tracy. “It’s a great event because all the money stays local, and the people who attended last year loved it. These firefighters raised money for the community, and had a good time doing it.”

When it comes down to the competition, Tracy said he pulls together a panel of qualified judges who taste all the entries and choose a winner.

“It’s really a best-of-show competition,” he said. “We choose the brew that we feel is a good beer. It has to be a nice, clean beer that the public would like.”

With firefighters all over the region, and as far away as Sedona, looking to compete this year, Sturgeon said they are expecting many more choices to taste this year. At present, they are expecting at least 30 teams to compete.

Some teams are working hard to produce between 30 and 40 gallons for the event. A minimum of 10 gallons is required to enter.

Sturgeon joked if he can’t get some issues fixed with his own brew, he could very well be voted one of the worst in this year’s contest.

“We don’t claim to be the best at it,” said Sturgeon. “We are all just doing the best we can, and having some fun while doing it.”

With Tracy overseeing the process on Friday, Dubbern explained that brewing beer is a time-consuming process.

The basic steps to beer brewing include:

• Soaking malted barley in hot water to release the malt sugars.

• Boiling the malt sugar solution with hops for seasoning.

• Cooling the solution and adding yeast to begin fermentation.

• Fermenting the sugars with yeast, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.

• Bottling the beer when the main fermentation is completed, adding a little bit of sugar to provide the carbonation.

In going through the first steps of beer brewing, Sturgeon, Dibbern and Garza agreed the process of creating a good brew is both a science and an art.

The question is, as the mixtures and flavors continue to be developed for competition, which group of firefighters will become a taster’s choice?

After the first event in 2010, Strugeon said they’ve learned a lot, and are hoping for even greater success this year.

With about 1,000 visitors last year, the firefighters were able to donate $7,000 to local charities.

This year, the group is aiming a lot higher, anticipating at least 3,000 guests.

Tickets and event T-shirts are available at


If you go

What: Oktoberfest

When: Oct. 22

Where: Foothills Mall, Ina and La Cholla roads, in front of Thunder Canyon Brewery

Cost: $20. Purchase online at

Note: You must be 21 or older to attend.


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