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Before craft-beer breweries really started hopping in Tucson, there was Thunder Canyon Brewery.

Opening its first location in the Foothills Mall in 1997, the brewpub’s menu of craft beers and full meals still attracts a loyal following that pushed it into the final round of the Star’s Wing Madness bracket.

Up against Bianchi’s Italian with its popular Buffalo wings, Thunder Canyon Brewery lost 470-95 on Sunday night.

The restaurant has served chicken wings since opening in 1997, drenching drumettes with eight, house-made sauces. It even smokes the habaneros for its unique, Smokin’ Hot Habanero BBQ sauce.

The Hurricane sauce is one of the more popular choices and the favorite of owner Steve Tracy. It’s hot, but not as hot as the Natural Disaster wings.

“I can’t eat the super-hot wings anymore,” Tracy said.

Over the years, devoted diners and drinkers have kept the brewery buzzing. When the Foothills location, on the northwest corner of Ina Road and La Cholla Boulevard, began reaching its maximum brewing capacity, even with larger tanks, Tracy knew the business needed to expand.

In January 2013, Thunder Canyon Brewery opened another brewpub downtown, 220 E. Broadway. Tracy hopes to see brewing begin there by the end of this year.

“It’s great to see how the craft-beer community has changed,” Tracy said. “I remember in 1997, we brewed an IPA of the same recipe we use now, and you couldn’t give it away.”

Now, people search for local craft beers, Tracy said, a change from the days when Thunder Canyon Brewery was among just a few local breweries. Dark Lightning Milk Stout is Tracy’s current favorite. He likes its rich, roast flavor.

The hunt for a second location spanned Tucson but settled in an old building downtown as momentum for the restaurant renaissance grew.

“We’ve been in town for a long time, and we’re all locals,” Tracy said. “We felt we could do our part to help rejuvenate downtown, so we made that decision.”

The two locations attract different crowds. With the northwest neighborhood loyal to the shopping mall location, east-side and midtown diners can hit up the downtown spot without a commute north.

“We wanted to bring the building back to the way it was when it was built,” Tracy said of the downtown restaurant. “We got down to the original brick and opened it up on the inside. It fits with the architecture for the feel of downtown.”

Both locations share a love of Tucson. Thunder Canyon Brewery has been a longtime partner with various charities and community groups such as Beads of Courage, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and BICAS, among others.

“Do you like Tucson?” is a question asked during job interviews, said general manager Jason Schneider. “We all like Tucson.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357.

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