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Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Culinary Arts (VIDEO)

John Buford co-founded Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
John Buford co-founded Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Katie Johnson

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.

Arizonans are pretty accustomed to the seasonal beer trends: hefeweizens in the summer, pumpkin ales in autumn, and the occasional holiday cider.

But thanks to an up-and-coming brewery, Arizona is finally experiencing a trend that's truly fresh.

In the seven months since opening, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. has produced 65 beers in 44 styles. It's a turnover rate that earns the Gilbert-based beer business both devoted followers and frustrated fans. But brewery co-owners Jonathan Buford, Patrick Warem, and Brett Dettler wouldn't have it any other way.

See also: "Urban Legend" Award Celebrates Creative Phoenix Pioneers in Honor of New Times' Fifth Big Brain Awards

A flight of beers at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
A flight of beers at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Katie Johnson

At Arizona Wilderness Brewing, beer culture is as protected as it is intertwined with the environment around it. Using locally sourced ingredients like farro from Hayden Flour Mills, coriander from Somewhere in Thyme Spice Co., and Sel Gris French sea salt from Go Lb. Salt, the brews distilled at Arizona Wilderness are about quality rather than quantity and, as such, their time on tap is brief.

"Think about our brewing company like walking through the wilderness," Buford says. "You're going to go through your seasonal changes. You're going to go through your different climates and different terrains, and that's kind of what we model our beers after."

Video by Evie Carpenter.

 

Brew master, Patrick Ware, giving a behind the scenes tour at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Brew master, Patrick Ware, giving a behind the scenes tour at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Katie Johnson

It's a model that the trio developed less than three years ago in Buford's Gilbert garage. The longtime outdoorsman had left his window cleaning business to pursue what he describes as "art meets creative science." After absorbing every podcast and book on brewing, including John Palmer's How To Brew, which Buford still views as the beer bible, he turned to Ware and Dettler to fill what he considered the voids in his beer-making operation.

Despite initial financial challenges (Buford had to dip into his wife's 401K and Ware sold his car), the trio managed to turn their passion into a reality, transforming the outdated former space of a Godfather's Pizza into a packed East Valley restaurant and distillery that hardly sees an empty seat during lunch hour.

"We knew we would be great," Buford says. "We had that in us. I said, 'Give us a moment to shine and watch us shine. It's going to happen fast.' . . . And it did."

Seasonal beers on tap at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Seasonal beers on tap at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Katie Johnson

Suffice to say, the brewery's quick success has gained the attention of beer festivals and brewers alike, including Danish brewer Mikkeller, who's set to produce a collaborative brew with Arizona Wilderness in June of this year.

With that success also comes investors' proposals for Valley expansion. But Buford's not interested.

"We have not had to change our ethics or values at all," he says. "No one demands that of us. I think people come in looking for us to not do that. If we came out and said if we're going to open a production facility and brew five beers, people would be appalled."

Appalled? Perhaps. But can we really blame the Valley for wanting more access to Gilbert's best kept secret? Certainly not.

Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.

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