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Going Wild for Arizona’s Craft Beer

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In case you didn’t know, two magnificently bearded men brewed some of the best beer on Earth in a suburban strip mall in Gilbert, Arizona between a Sonic Drive-in and a Circle-K gas station. Truth really is stranger than fiction, but nothing is as strange as the wild, sublime beer they seem to pull out of the thin, dry Arizona air. The dream of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. began in 2010 when, Founder, Jonathan Buford became obsessed with brewing the perfect craft beer. Teaching himself out of John Palmer’s How to Brew, Buford set up a homebrew station and never settled for “just okay.” He dumped batch after batch – gallon after gallon until he got the beer right. 

Three years later, in the nick of time, Arizona Wilderness opened their doors, and Buford confessed to Esquire that if the business had been delayed just one month longer, they would have gone bankrupt. A little over six months later, this suburban, strip-mall craft brewery won the 2014 Best New Brewery, and business exploded. With world-wide recognition, Buford and his brewmaster, Patrick Ware grew their team and expanded the operation by introducing a Downtown Phoenix, Arizona brewpub. They never strayed from Buford’s original intentions for the brewery. “The whole reason I started the Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. was to honor the state of Arizona and showcase its beauty” Buford stated. Brewing some of the wildest beers on the market with local Arizona ingredients, including wild yeast fermented in nature, Buford ensures every pint offers the best of Arizona’s diverse landscape.

Local ingredients for beers like Strawberry Sunset Mixed Culture Sour made with 400 lbs of fresh, local strawberries and Waste Not Want Not with citrus peels from nearby farms and second-use Carignan grapes from Page Springs, showcase Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.’s desire to brew farm-to-glass beer. That’s part of the reason they sell so little beer outside of their own locations. Don’t expect to find a case down at the local Wholefoods. Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. prefers selling directly to their customers. Just like they keep their customers local, their inspiration comes from the land itself. The name, Arizona Wilderness, came to Buford on a beer-fueled hike through the Chiricahua Wilderness, and he still hikes the wilds of Arizona for inspiration.

Every beer Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. brews is made with Arizona malt grown by one of their partners, Sinagua Malt. With the Verde River, a vital South West River, running low, Sinagua Malt set out to help farmers switch from high-water crops to something with a lower water yield that was still profitable. Malt turned out to be the perfect crop, and by helping farmers make the switch, they’ve kept over 425 million gallons of water in the Verde River. In the desert of Arizona, water is a precious commodity, as Buford puts it, “No water means no beer!” 

Another partner of Arizona Wilderness, Recycled City, collects food scraps and donates compost soil to local businesses, homes, and farmers. By collecting the food waste from Arizona Wilderness’ brewpub, Recycled City is helping to build a more sustainable farming community, and Arizona Wilderness sponsors a free month of composting for people wanting to start saving the Earth. To ensure every facet of Arizona Wilderness Brewing company is as sustainable as possible, even the beef used in their Brewpub’s burger comes from Arizona Grass Raised Beef. That means the cow was raised with no grain, no antibiotics, and no feedlot– the way nature intended.

The brewers at Arizona Wilderness constantly launch beers aimed at a low carbon footprint but huge hoppy flavor, and to celebrate Oktoberfest they are releasing the Oktoberforest Märzen German lager. Each can and pint sold of the crisp, malty lager helps The Nature Conservancy’s Oktoberforest restore forests all over the world. A lot of Arizonians don’t realize that the water in their homes comes from trees in the mountains, and with water making up 95% of most beers, it’s important for hop-enthusiasts everywhere to pitch in on the environmental effort. “Sustainability is about education,” Buford shared over the phone from Arizona’s desert, “That’s why we like having these conversations because making beer’s probably 1% of what we do and tell the story is 99%.” This Autumn you can celebrate the wilderness and protect the forest by sipping a pint from one of Arizona’s best breweries.


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