Former ASU student spreads love for craft beer through Valley

Former ASU student Clayton Steffen never thought he’d be where he is today.

The part owner and operator of The Whining Pig has his fingers in different pies as of late, with a second location set to open July 14 in Gilbert. 

More are on the way, including a location in Scottsdale, for a total of five in the Valley. There’s even talk of two more opening out of state, with one housed in Louisiana — but Steffen said that plan is still far off.

He recently partnered up with James Goshow, Jacob Rendel and Nick Luis to open up Bonus Round, an arcade bar located in uptown Phoenix.

“Clayton was invaluable in the opening of Bonus Round,” Rendel said. “He brought his incredible beer knowledge as well as his customer service mindset to help train the staff and influence our menu selection.”

Originally from St. Louis, Clayton has lived in Arizona for the past 17 years. He said the main difference between his hometown and Phoenix is the culture.

“There’s a lot more here – it’s a melting pot," he said. “There’s this whole wide berth of people, especially here in Central Phoenix where we have so many pockets of rich and poor, but low to middle- to upper-(class), and then you have everyone from other states.”

Steffen attended ASU for three years, but didn’t graduate. While there, he studied structural engineering at the main campus in Tempe.

“I loved it,” he said. “I had fun — probably too much fun there. But going down there now, it’s just insane how much it’s grown. ... And it gave me a love for beer.”

Steffen said he selected structural engineering as a major because he enjoyed working with his hands.

While attending school, Steffen found himself split between being a rhythm guitarist and lead singer for a pop-punk band on the verge of making it big.

He opted to stick with his bandmates and left the school, with the results was not being what what he had wanted. The band split up after a solid two years, and they’d be on and off for a following two more.

Afterwards, Steffen took a project manager position at Intel, a job he said was nothing more than accounting.

“You still get to see stuff getting built, but I wanted my hands on something more. Because just paperwork and sitting behind a desk all day – it was just like an office job. It wasn’t what I was looking for.

“The pay was awesome, but you’re dying on the inside,” he said, laughing. “So what’s your soul worth?"

Steffen left Intel after three years, and took a year off playing music around Phoenix. He also took up custom carpentry, but the pay on that end wasn’t satisfactory. It was at this time that he met Greg Malkin, the former owner and operator of The Whining Pig, in 2014.

“I’d been coming here since it opened,” he said, “and I love this place.”

He offered to work for Malkin as a bar back at The Pig’s Meow, a former sister site of the Whining Pig, and began bartending after a few months. After Malkin’s wife left the bar, Steffen was brought on as a bar back, and eventually became a partner.

"Clayton was an excellent fit for the Pig," wrote Malkin in an email. "He loved working there and it showed. I'm not surprised by his achievements, and its his hard work and dedication that lead to his partial ownership of the current Pig and, as I would assume, of the new Pig."

Malkin left for San Diego after attempting to open more bars in the area, and is currently attempting to open brewery there. This left Steffen and fellow owners Matt Fulton and Katy Arnold with the Pig. They’ve made changes to the bar since then, streamlining certain processes and replacing old equipment.

Describing his love of craft beer, Steffen said that Guinness was his first favorite to drink. He moved onto Four Peaks’ Kiltlifter afterwards, before the brand was purchased by Budweiser parent company AbInBev.

As far as what he enjoyed now, Steffen said he preferred darker styles and India Pale Ales

“I always drank darker stuff, so Scottish stouts and those like that,” he said. His first taste of an India Pale Ale came from Colorado-based Founder’s Brewing, namely their All Day IPA.

Today however, it’s, “Any IPA by Knee-Deep Brewing out of California."

“I don’t know what it is, but they put out consistently 11 percent (alcohol by volume) IPA’s that are incredibly hoppy, which is kind of a feat,” he said.

He likened the craft industry to having a walking pace, before running into a full sprint in recent years, with people “trying to catch up.”

“Especially people who are insane about finding the newest thing,” he said.

He motioned to the bar.

“These days, it’s such a pain here trying to keep up because everyone’s got a new beer every week. So I’m making sure that I have everything and making sure that I’ve tried everything.”

Although he left ASU, Steffen attributed his time there as a major guide and influence to his work today.

“To build out a new bar and having that construction background – having all that knowledge helped," he said. "You kinda look back, and you realize that it was necessary to go through all that. You couldn’t have just jumped right in and do it. It’d be a totally different situation.”


Reach the reporter at djulienr@asu.edu or follow @legendpenguin on Twitter

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.