A Tucson restaurant chain is jumping full-time into the craft brewing industry, a popular tattoo artist is opening a bar and a longtime Tucson brewery is stepping in to keep a colleague’s legacy alive.

Jamison Phelps, head brewer for Mosaic Brewing, pours flaked oats into a tank during the brewing process at 3895 N. Oracle Road on Nov. 2. The owners of Serial Grillers took over Dillinger Brewing’s lease at the Oracle Road brewery and bought the brewing equipment to launch Mosaic Brewing.

All of that went down last week when Dillinger Brewing announced it was closing after seven years.

Dillinger sold its Oracle Road brewery to Serial Grillers, which will expand on its year-old Mosaic Brewing beers that Dillinger has been brewing for the Tucson pizza and burger chain for the past year.

Art and Sol Tattoo Gallery’s owners are taking over Dillinger’s downtown taproom in the historic Coronado Hotel.

And Dillinger sold its intellectual property to Borderlands Brewing, which will continue making a trio of Dillinger’s most popular beers.

“It’s all people that I like,” Dillinger co-owner Eric Sipe said of selling the brewery he launched with Aaron Long piecemeal to three different buyers. “I did what I wanted to do. It worked out well and now I’m happy to see it in the hands of other people who I think will do even better things.”

All of the deals were finalized on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

Serial Grillers took over Dillinger’s lease at its Oracle Road brewery and bought the brewing equipment to launch Mosaic Brewing. It will add four or five beers to the half dozen that Dillinger has been making for Mosaic over the past year. The 12-year-old Tucson restaurant chain has four locations of the pizza and burger restaurant Serial Grillers and two other concepts, Toro Loco Tacos & Burros and Transplant Detroit Style Pizza.

“We didn’t have plans to do this, but it just felt like the right time for us,” said Travis Miller, who owns Serial Grillers with his brother William and partners Jared Yokota and Robert Mcfayden. “If we make the beer that we used to buy, we’re able to capitalize on that.”

Tucson tattoo artist David Meek and his Art and Sol Tattoo Gallery partner/wife Johnna Meek are slipping into Dillinger’s taproom at North Fourth Avenue and East Ninth Street. The couple has known Sipe and Long since the brewery hosted a one-year anniversary event for Art and Sol several years ago.

“Our relationship has just grown over the years, and when (Sipe) decide to sell his brewery operations to Serial Grillers, his next phone call was to me, asking if we wanted to be involved,” said David Meek.

Keeping tradition alive

Borderlands Brewing got the intellectual property and plans to continue brewing Dillinger’s three core beers — Tiki Party Sour, Mangonada Sour and the Roadrunner Red.

Borderlands Brewing and Dillinger Brewing taps next to each other at Borderlands Brewing. Borderlands Brewing will continue to brew Dillinger's three core beers.

“We’re essentially just continuing the tradition and what Dillinger has done in the past seven years,” Borderlands owner and CEO Es Teran said. “They obviously have a following in Tucson.”

Sipe and Long, who met while they were students at the University of Arizona, launched Dillinger Brewing a few years after graduating, once both had gotten their feet wet in the craft brewing industry. Long worked for a Phoenix beer distributor while Sipe worked at Borderlands early on and at a craft beer-focused bar before opening Dillinger in 2016 on North Oracle Road not far from Tucson Mall.

Five years later, in the height of the pandemic, they inked the lease for the downtown taproom that had been home to the popular Coronet Restaurant, now located near the Tucson Convention Center.

For the past couple years, Sipe has been running Dillinger Brewing on his own after Long moved to San Diego to take a job as marketing vice president with the award-winning Mission Brewing.

Sipe said that he and Long flirted with the idea of selling Dillinger’s for a year before reaching out to potential buyers.

“I was looking for a local place that I liked to keep the brand alive,” Sipe said.

Borderlands was the natural first call, Sipe said; the two breweries have a long relationship that includes collaborating on marketing efforts during the pandemic.

“We were happy that we were able to work out a deal to acquire the brand and continue to service the community,” Teran said.

Right place, right time

The thought of brewing their own beer had crossed the minds of brothers Travis and William Miller when they opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2012. But the startup costs to launch a brewery, especially when they were transitioning their Serial Grillers food truck into a full-on restaurant, were prohibitive.

Travis Miller, owner of Serial Grillers, pours malt into a mill to brew beer.

The brothers had gone so far as to road-test recipes at home, but the idea stayed on the shelf while the Millers, joined by partners Yokota and Mcfayden, grew the company.

Last January, Serial Grillers contracted with Dillinger to brew six beers under the name Mosaic Brewing including a cherry gose, blueberry wheat and two IPAs (hazy and double). The beers are on tap at the restaurants alongside a couple of Dillinger’s beers.

“Our idea behind that was to come up with our own recipes that Dillinger was (brewing) for us,” Miller said.

When Sipe pitched the idea to sell Dillinger’s, Miller said he and his partners were all in. Under the deal, finalized in September, Serial Grillers took over Dillinger’s lease for the brewery at 3895 N. Oracle Road and bought all of the equipment. Dillinger’s head brewer Jamison Phelps, who had been with the Tucson brewery a couple of years after spending time with Florida’s award-winning Cigar City Brewing, has agreed to stay on.

“I really think this was just right time, right place for us,” Miller said. “We’re hoping that this is another way to push people into our restaurants but also helps us create another revenue stream for our business.”

Serial Grillers is waiting for final approval of its manufacturing liquor license and will add its signature graphics, designed by Mcfayden, to the brewery’s interior before opening under the Mosaic Brewing name. In addition to the half-dozen beers it has long brewed, Mosaic will have another four or five on tap at the brewery.

Miller said brewing their own beer will allow Serial Grillers to begin doing beer events to celebrate new releases. In the past, Serial Grillers’ beer events “always did really well for us,” he said.

“This is a way for us to create our own beer events and have people come into our restaurants,” Miller said.

Serial Grillers is already scouting out potential locations to open a second Mosaic Brewing taproom, he added.

Beer and tattoos

Veteran Tucson tattoo artist Meek has never owned a bar, but he sees the symbiotic relationship between running a bar and running a tattoo parlor.

Tucson tattoo artist David Meek, left, and his Art and Sol Tattoo Gallery partner/wife Johnna Meek chat with friends as they prepare to pour their first beer after purchasing Dillinger Brewing’s taproom in the historic Coronado Hotel building, 402 E. Ninth St., on Nov. 1. The couple has renamed the bar TraXide Taproom.

“We share a similar clientele and from my experience in the tattoo business, it’s just about customer service, keeping a clean environment and providing a quality service,” he said the day before he and his wife/business partner Johnna signed the lease to take over Dillinger Brewing’s off Fourth Avenue taproom in the historic Coronado Hotel building, 402 E. Ninth St. “I think they work really well together. We are in the experience business, not necessarily the tattoo business. Everything we do is about customer service and the experience.”

When Dillinger Brewing co-founder Eric Sipe reached out in mid-September and offered to sell Meek the downtown taproom, he jumped. Meek had often mused aloud about wanting to own a bar.

“I’m extraordinarily nervous, but that comes with every new venture from when we opened our first small studio” to when they opened Art and Sol Tattoo Gallery at 2921 E. Fort Lowell Road in 2019, he said. “You just get comfortable being uncomfortable and you just go for it.”

The Meeks plan to eventually rebrand the bar as TraXide Taproom, an homage to the trains that run along the edge of downtown and the street cars that cut through the center of Congress and Fourth. Meek says the name is a nod to the upscale romanticism of trains and the urban grit of the street cars, both of which are represented in the bars dotting Fourth Avenue.

Meek said he plans to transition into TraXide slowly “as it unfolds.” The taproom hours will be the same as will the staff, which has agreed to stay on, he said.

Building on a partnership

Borderlands Brewing has Dillinger’s Roadrunner Red on tap at its downtown taproom.

“It’s been a staple in our taprooms for a few years now,” said Teran, who took over Borderlands in 2019.

Borderlands hopes to begin brewing Roadrunner Red and the two other core Dillinger brands in the next couple of weeks, once they can fit it into their production schedule. The all-female brewery operation, helmed by Production Director Ayla Kapahi, brews 14 to 15 beers including their flagships: Citrana Southwestern Gose and Toole Avenue Hazy IPA.

Teran said adding three more beers “will help our operation,” which has been rebuilding since the pandemic downturn. The brewery opened a restaurant/taproom in the Sam Hughes neighborhood on East Sixth Street in January and plans to open Borderlands North in the River Center shopping complex at East River and North Craycroft roads in the next few months.

By year’s end, Borderlands will expand its downtown footprint with a new agave-centric restaurant called Sonora Moonshine Company, located in the historic VFW building at 124 E. Broadway Blvd.

“We’re still struggling, but we’re excited to open more points of retail,” Teran said, noting that Borderlands has scaled back production and no longer distributes statewide, focusing its marketing efforts instead on the greater Tucson area.

A beer for a king who was never crowned. In the tradition of coronation beers, Edward VIII's ale was made in time for his coronation scheduled for 12 May 1937. But his abdication five months before the event prevented the beer from being sold. Rediscovered in the cellar of Greene King Brewery in 2011, a batch of the abandoned ale is now going to be put up for auction.


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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch