February 5, 2014

Meet the AZ Brewers, A-Z: Arizona Wilderness Brewing

A few years ago, it wasn't uncommon to hear Arizona craft beer enthusiasts complain about the lack of creative breweries in the state. Sure, Four Peaks had Sirius Black and Sonoran had Inebriator, but you were hard-pressed to find more out-of-the-box beers Arizonans were craving. My, how the tides have turned in such a short amount of time. That's why it's fitting the first brewery in our Meet the AZ Brewers, A-Z series is none other than Arizona Wilderness.

Arguably Arizona's hottest brewery going, the three Beards — Jonathan Buford,  Brett Dettler and Patrick Ware — are making some serious waves in the AZ beer community. They recently received multiple accolades from reputable site RateBeer, including top new brewery in the world (that's right, the world) as well as having three of the world's top 50 new beers. So how the hell did these three bearded brothers band together? See for yourself.

Wash those dishes, Wilderness dude
Jonathan: The brains behind the operation, Mr. Buford started homebrewing in 2010. His first attempt was a porter that tasted like sour chlorine water. That's when he turned to John Palmer's homebrew bible, How to Brew. It changed Jonathan's whole outlook on brewing and turned him into a bona fide beer bookworm. He credits relentless reading and practice for fine-tuning his brewing skills. Some of his homebrew recipes even carried over to the pub including customer favorite Refuge IPA, which is Arizona Wilderness' first flagship beer that's to be tapped at all times.

Then came Kickstarter. Now well-networked in the Arizona beer community, Jonathan met his goal of raising at least $40,000 and had enough funds to buy a brewing system, barrels for aging beers among other essentials. But those funds barely scratched the surface of what was really needed to open a fully operational brewery. He needed some help.

This food a'int gonna run itself.
Brett: The business-side backbone to Arizona Wilderness, Brett Dettler successfully ran his parent's game- and beer-centric restaurant Trophy's, now called The Wild Side Grill. This Queen Creek spot was to be the original brewery location until gym giant LA Fitness bitched about a potential parking problem and, like most big businesses, got their way. But this was an omen for The Beards, as the city of Gilbert was long overdue to host its first-ever brewery. Not to mention the new location was much more central than Queen Creek.

With Brett figuring out the financial logistics and Jonathan concocting new recipes, there was still something missing.

Patrick: Apparently Jonathan and Patrick Ware look a lot alike — they were told this often. It must have been meant to be, for these two finally met at one of SanTan Brewing's Brew's Cruise events a couple years back. The two instantly connected.

Yes, both your nipples are still there Patrick.
A former brewer at Streets of New York and SanTan Brewing, Patrick brings bigger-brewhouse experience to the table and is the yin to Jonathan's yang (mind out of gutter, people). Patrick put it perfectly when he mentions how Jonathan has an interesting way of formulating recipes. He jokingly compares it to a scene in the movie The Fifth Element, where a girl is plugged into a large computer and goes haywire. But, oddly enough, this analogy explains why these two brewers gelled so quickly: Jonathan wants to create the world's most interesting beer and employs a creative process some might say is brilliantly quirky, whereas Patrick is practical and has a more methodical, traditional approach. Whatever they're doing, it's obviously working.

What's next? Though only open for five months, the Wilderness boys have accomplished more for the state of Arizona than some other breweries have in five years. Their focus on local is unparalleled — whether it's using high-quality fruit from a prominent Gilbert farmer or harvesting their own proprietary wild yeast strain from the great outdoors.

But the Beards are just beginning. Sure, expansion and distribution are part of the business plan, but there's no rush. They learned their lesson with rushing some things during the brewpub build-out phrase, so slow and steady will win this race.

There are, however, some very exciting things coming down the Wilderness pike. Look for their first coolship beer, the French Oak-aged Batch 50, to pucker palates in the coming months. Or how about an ale fermented with deep-red saguaro fruit. Not enough? They'll also be expanding their barrel program with barrels from highly regarded distilleries.

The future certainly looks bright for this bearded brood, but I'd like to file a formal complaint with the manager for this hair I found in my Superstition Coffee Stout...

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