Start-Up Story: The Twisted Cactus Brewing Company

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Most people in their 20s can’t even figure out what we want for lunch. Twenty-four-year-old Steven Erkelens has his life planned out for the next eight years.

Erkelens and his girlfriend of almost three years, Alexandria Davis, are the founders of the soon-to-be Twisted Cactus Brewing Company in Ahwatukee Foothills.

Erkelens has always appreciated the hard work that goes into creating a good beer. Unlike most beer drinkers his age, Steven recognizes the importance of flavor, hops, grains and yeast that go into creating different kinds of beers.

“I have a big passion for beer and I love all the different tastes and people that’ll take the time to understand it,” Erkelens says.

The idea for the brewery really flourished when his parents bought Unwined Bar & Bistro last May.

“It really took off when his parents bought the wine bar. It definitely wouldn’t have happened without them,” Davis says.

What was once a dream is becoming reality for these young twenty-somethings. It’s still in the early stages, but the idea of Twisted Cactus Brewing has grown so much in the last year. Soon, the brewing will begin on the stage located at Unwined. Erkelens is ready to transition from brewing small batches out of his home to making large amounts in the restaurant.

“I bought a little kit at home and started doing it that way and now we’re about to drop about $12,000 on our system,” Erkelens says.

The pair works full-time at Unwined, and plans to run the brewery there in between shifts. Erkelens predicts brewing 30 gallons about three times a week in their new 15-gallon system.

“We’re [going from]making 5 gallons, four times a week at home to making 30 gallons, three times a week. It’s going to be a big step up. But it will actually be a little bit easier because we can make it at such a higher volume,” Erkelens says.

The beers will be named after different types of cactus to play off of their desert name, and they’re in the process of purchasing merchandise with their logo including T-shirts, hats, cups and stickers that will be available for sale on their Facebook page. Their official website is getting ready to launch as well.

“We came up with a business plan and for the first year we’re going to do four flagship beers. We’re going to have a Blonde, an IPA, a Brown Ale and then a Seasonal,” Erkelens says.

Starting out, they want to try to keep distribution small scale. They will of course make the beers available in the restaurant and possibly bring them to Tempe, Scottsdale, Glendale and other areas in the Valley.

The brewing won’t always take place at Unwined, however. Within the next year, they hope to make enough money to get their own warehouse location to brew out of so that they can do collaborations with other breweries around town. They also want to enter the beers into competitions, festivals and fundraisers.

After getting settled into their own location, Twisted Cactus will include foods to pair with the beers like burgers, pizza, truffle fries and desserts, Davis says.

Eventually, they want to include a bigger menu of bar food alongside the brewery.

For now, the short-term goal is to get the brewery up-and-running, and that means coming up with a lot of ideas, like including the beers with the food at Unwined.

“I’m one of the cooks here and I help out so I know how to make the dishes,” Erkelens says.

Other ideas include starting a beer class where people can learn the story behind Twisted Cactus and sample the beers. Erkelens also proposed a “Tuesday Brew Day” where people can buy tickets and “help” brew a batch of beer.

“We can take a poll on whatever they want it to be called and then whenever they’re done, they get two free tickets out of that batch, so then they kind of helped us brew the beer,” Erkelens says.

Building this company from the ground up is a team effort. Erkelen’s parents have helped them with the hectic work like applying for a liquor license and giving them the space to brew. They even got their logo from Davis’ family friend who is a graphic designer.

“We have support from her family and my family and everyone is here to support us. The only stressful part is the paperwork. The brewing is the fun part,” Erkelens says.

 

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