Rob Fullmer is the executive director of Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, which is gearing up for Arizona Beer Week, taking place Feb. 16 to Feb. 26. The biggest of Arizona Beer Week’s 300-plus events is the Strong Beer Festival, set for Feb. 18 at Salt River Fields. Learn about Rob Fullmer…
Hometown: I was born in Milwaukee. I’ve lived in Arizona for the last 30 years, splitting time between Tempe and Flagstaff.
First job: I worked as a lifeguard in college and bartended Howard Johnson’s Lounge in Madison. The late Clyde Stubblefield, the Funky Drummer, was a regular customer.
Favorite ways to spend your free time in AZ: Since we have 14O brewery locations across Arizona, I find myself traveling quite a bit. This state is so bio-diverse and has several microclimates. We have two recognized viticultural areas with as many wineries as breweries. We have dozens of award-winning distilleries, world-class places to eat from resorts to greasy-spoons. Arizona boasts sun, snow, mountains, deserts, renowned bird-watching area, riparian vistas and the largest stand of ponderosa pines in the nation. It’s fragile and beautiful. Metropolitan and quaint. After almost 10 years on the job, I’m still scratching the surface. Traveling this state and talking to the people that live here is a selfish reward of the job.
Your biggest accomplishment and why: Being the director of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild is a combination of bringing a lot of seemingly unconnected things together. I don’t think a lot of people understand that this is the 14th largest state in population in the nation. We’re not able to have that kind of presence in the craft beer world in terms of push and influence outside of our boundaries. The brewers in Arizona do incredible things. They’ve won world-class medals and the public spaces they create are some of the most engaging in the country. We’ve managed to maintain and build up on some of the most favorable sets of business laws for these types of businesses. We haven’t lost a legislative battle, and we’ve managed to keep a lot of bad laws from happening. We maintain one of the biggest festivals in the Southwest, and it is one of the last large events happening post-pandemic. I would put our organization and its support network on the same level as states that have four or five times the number of breweries.
In the end, it’s because what we’re doing resonates with our members, the breweries of Arizona and their owners.
The biggest obstacle you overcame: In the first half of my life, I don’t think that I would have guessed that I would be so comfortable in a role that has such a demanding public side to it. Sometimes you have to walk into a room projecting that you’re bulletproof. The whole “turn your weaknesses into positives” thing. This job demands it. I’ll leave it at that.
Someone who inspires you and why: Ira Glass, the genius behind This American Life. He is a masterful storyteller. His personality shines through without being detrimental to the story. He’s also built a network of other storytellers in a genre that he completely dominates.
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: If you’re going to represent the often competing interests of 100-plus businesses, you have to do enough listening to tell their stories and clarify and contextualize their short- and long-term goals. You’re often in a state of uncomfortable murkiness, wearing down sharp edges, finding nuance. All of this lives in your brain as inner-dialog and in your heart–emotionally hoping to find resolution. You’re never going to be right for everyone, but you can be right enough to get where everyone needs to be. Path? There isn’t one, but you’ll arrive where “there” should be.
Favorite quote: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” –Otto von Bismarck
I think there’s an expectation that someone who does lobbying for the liquor industry has some sort of Sun Tzu Art of War quotation and philosophy at their disposal. The reality is you have to live in the world that you create and you take the wins where you can. I’m also fond of a quote by François-René de Chateaubriand that really speaks to the negative contentiousness of recent times:
“You are not superior just because you see the world in an odious light.” I say that in my head a lot to keep optimistic.
Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: Beer goes to die at my house. We keep a well-stocked fridge, but I end up giving a lot of it away before it expires. I do most of my social drinking and work-related drinking out in the field. My wife, Brenda, and I socialize at home over coffee while we pet our dog, Hazel.
What makes someone fabulous: Well, I think you have to be extraordinary but there are a lot of people out there that do incredible things. I think you have a sense of style about it and that comes from understanding who you are. If you are able to incorporate those things in what you do in the right way, that makes you fabulous.