Beer Connoisseur Issue 25
Co-founders Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware sit together on one of the few unfilled patio tables, pondering Arizona Wilderness’ next move. They think about the brewery that has come so far so fast, with a future as bright as the Arizona sun. What’s next? It’s hard to say, but chances are Ware and Buford will choose the right path, as they have serendipitously done so many times before.
Growing up in Arizona, Patrick Ware developed a love for the outdoors – hiking camping with his Dad. While studying at Arizona State University, he split time between his studies and homebrewing, eventually taking an internship at Gordon Biersch under the tutelage of Dieter Foerstner, who would soon help him land his first professional brewing position with SanTan Brewing in Chandler, Arizona.
Meanwhile Jonathan Buford was living in Ohio, though he longed to return west, where he first fell in love with the Arizona landscape. Ultimately, he decided to follow his heart. Armed with only his 1988 Chevy Nova and $300 ($100 of which went toward gas), he struck forth to the Copper State.
Buford’s entrepreneurial spirit initially led him to open a window-cleaning company, which he helmed for six years. All the while, though, Buford’s passion for craft beer was brewing. Listening to audiobooks about beer and brewing while washing windows, he was determined to one day open a brewery of his own. Once more, his true calling bubbled over.
A regular at local watering holes, Buford was often mistaken for some guy named “Pat.” When this became a regular occurrence, he determined to track down his doppelganger and get to the bottom of the situation.
Buford soon figured out that the mysterious “Pat” was none other than Ware, who had become the head brewer at SanTan Brewing Company. He introduced himself, and the two shared stories of their love of the Arizona countryside. After telling Ware of his goal to open a brewery focused on local terroir, Buford offered to make Ware head brewer of the venture, and Ware accepted.
Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware founded Arizona Wilderness on a shared vision of a brewery that embodied the land it was built upon, such as the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, shown here.
It took Buford’s life savings, a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and an outside investment to fund the brewery before Buford could set everything in motion. Unfortunately, things weren’t so peachy. Without warning, the investor got cold feet, and Buford was left scrambling to find a way to come up with the funds to complete the project.
Originally, Ware was to be an employee, not an owner, but the only way Buford could pay Ware was in shares of ownership. Now partners, they scrounged together every last penny to get the doors open.
When the doors did open on September 2, 2013, the pair still owed their contractor $36,000. Buford had 60 days to come up with the money or the contractor threatened to take possession of the brewery. It took until the final day before the contractor was paid and Ware and Buford were brewery owners.
A traditional brewpub, with one main dining room, a small bar and modest patio, Arizona Wilderness opened in Gilbert, Arizona, a growing, thriving town southeast of Phoenix. The 17 employees were settling in and business was good. Not even six months into their existence, a nationally known beer publication announced that Arizona Wilderness had been voted the “2014 Best New Brewery in the World” which changed their fortunes overnight. Local Phoenix news stations appeared wanting interviews. Craft aficionados from all over wanted to experience the wunderkind brewery. They doubled, then tripled, the workforce to keep up with demand. Two hour waits at the door were the norm. Full serving tanks of beer became a pipe dream; at one precarious point their stock dwindled down to their final two beers. Only through hard work and the divinity of the yeast would enough beer be produced for the thirsty public.
“Arizona Wilderness” is a way of life for both Ware and Buford. Hiking, camping and enjoying nature is what they live for. Photographing nature is one of Buford’s biggest passions and might have been his profession had the brewery not panned out. Buford’s amazing photos are looped on the brewpub’s TV screens. Most of the beers have names that reflect the Arizona landscape. DC Mountain Imperial IPA, a highly hopped double IPA and their second biggest seller, Superstition Coffee Stout, are both named after a local Arizona mountain ranges. Refuge IPA remains their best selling beer and is arguably the best IPA produced in Arizona.
Everything at the brewery centers around Arizona, including building relationships with local farmers and businesses. Sourcing local is always a priority including trading spent grain to farmers who provide beef for the brewpub’s extensive menu. Their incredible Blood Orange Gose is made from Arizona grown blood oranges, Sonoran white wheat and locally sourced salt.
Because of the continued success of the brewpub Arizona Wilderness recently opened an additional tasting room onsite. Within this room resides Ware’s baby; a new, humidity controlled barrel aging room to satisfy the pair’s fondness for Belgian-inspired brewing.
In an unending quest for brewing knowledge, Ware and Buford have traveled extensively to learn from and collaborate with some of the world’s best brewers. Travels have produced collaborations with Almanac of San Francisco, Way Brewing of Brazil, Lervig in Norway, among others. None match the “star factor” of collaborating with Logan Plant, the owner of North London’s well known Beavertown Brewery who also happens to be the son of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant. After collaborating in England, Plant came to Phoenix, the group traveled north to Sedona, picked local pine cones which they later smoked and added to a collaborative smoked gratzer.
Arizona Wilderness has brought to life what their souls envisioned. There is an “it” factor there; an infectious energy that draws people back again and again to the brewery. Nature, artisanal craft beer and a passion for both; a recipe for success in Arizona.