Creating a Buzz: New brewery is a popular spot at SaddleBrooke Ranch

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

When Josh Johnson started brewing beer at Ranch House Grill and Brewery in SaddleBrooke Ranch, he knew it would be successful.

He was wrong.

The brewery went beyond his expectations.

“I thought it was going to start slow, but it did the opposite,” Johnson says with a laugh. “Based on the amount of Blonde Ale the one community is consuming, they’re almost putting me at capacity. I’m working long hours to keep up. It’s going to be an interesting six months.”

The brewery took $145,000 and 10 months to get up and running. Johnson’s Boo Boo Blonde Ale and an IPA are sold within Ranch House and the rest of the Robson communities around Tucson and Phoenix. Boo Boo Blonde is a nod to the communities’ namesake, Ed Robson, and his rottweiler, Boo Boo.

Born and raised in Tucson, Johnson knew from the time he began home brewing in 2009 that he wanted to make a career of it. In 2013, Johnson and a friend competed in the “Top Hops Brew Challenge” charity event at Thunder Canyon Brewery. After winning several awards over the years, he continued home brewing and working with other breweries in the hopes of finding that perfect fit.

“I started brewing when I was out of high school, while I was pursuing a career in chemical engineering,” he says. “I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I always homebrewed, so I decided that was the career path I wanted to take.

“I brewed all the beer for my wedding. We had four beers on tap at the wedding. Two weeks after my wedding, I was at a barbecue. A Robson employee asked if I was interested in a brewing position.”

The 2009 Marana High School graduate was interviewed by George Atwell, Robson Resort Communities’ vice president of food and beverage.

“I did some research on breweries and brewing beer and I realized I don’t know how to brew beer,” Atwell says with a laugh. “I found Josh and he started putting the brewery together.”

Atwell and Johnson obtain grains from a local rancher. Atwell took some of the grains home and made dog biscuits dubbed Boo Boo Bites. He’s hoping to offer them to prospective homeowners’ canine friends.

“It’s cool how things evolved,” Atwell says.

Atwell grew up in New York and attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. His resume includes working for Hyatt, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and a private country club in Fountain Hills.

The brewery is part of the 40,000-square-foot clubhouse’s renovation, which includes a ballroom/auditorium with stage, a full-service grill and U-shaped bar, private dining room, separate handcrafted pizza station, outdoor terraces and event lawn. To maintain its license to brew, the community must churn out 5,000 gallons of beer annually.

Helmed by executive chef Jose Salas, Ranch House Grill and Brewery is open to the public. Before coming to Ranch House Grill and Brewery, Salas was executive sous chef at La Quinta Resort and Club in California; seasonal chef at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino; and the executive sous chef at the Loews Ventana Canyon, among other high-end eateries.

“He has a real eclectic menu,” Atwell says. “He does Mediterranean, Italian and pub fare. We have a pizza area. We do a little bit of everything.”

So far, Johnson is enjoying his time with Ranch House Grill and Brewery.

“The people there are great,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve met one person who rubs me the wrong way. All the residents are awesome. The employees are awesome. They’re more fun to hang out with than the people my age. I’ve met people who live in the community who party harder than the guys I went to college with.”