Metro Phoenix's Essential Brewery: Arizona Wilderness | Phoenix New Times

A Beer Series That Swirls the Desert's Flavors From an Essential Brewery

What is the most Arizonan beer you've tasted?
A transatlantic beer collaboration.
A transatlantic beer collaboration. Chris Malloy

Local News is Vital to Our Community

When you support our community-rooted newsroom, you enable all of us to be better informed, connected, and empowered during this important election year. Give now and help us raise $5,000 by June 7.

Support local journalism

Share this:
Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

9: Sours from Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company

Humans have been brewing for at least 5,000 years. Brewing is older than algebra and the novel and Rome and Led Zeppelin combined. They brewed in ancient Egypt and Sumeria, in northern Europe when BC flipped to AD, in monks' abbeys during the Dark Ages, and all the way to the dank, hazy IPAs of today.

The point is that beer has been around for a long time. Germany's purity laws, called Reinheitsgebot, are 250 years older than America. Coming up with genuinely novel beers isn't easy.

But that is just what you get at Arizona Wilderness Brewing.

The sprawling Gilbert brewery, approached from the parking lot, is a wooden fortress of misters and patios, the sides lined with people drinking beer in the sun. Inside, a perpetual eddy of walking, boozing, and chatter spins across a set of rooms. There are two bars. Behind them, you will find a barrel-aging room that could be a cargo hold from an ancient ship. You will glimpse steel fermentation tanks, and brewing wizards working them.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing is known for using highly place-specific ingredients in beer making. The Sonoran Desert's life forms are folded into the timeless process: barks and saps, spruce needles, local citrus and salt, even airborne wild yeasts for open-air, "spontaneous" fermentations.

When the brewery tackles something ambitious, what you may get is something unlike any beer ever made. Not in Germany or Denmark, Egypt or Japan, Portland, or Brooklyn. You get a beer anchored in place, frothy liquid through which here is wholly transfused, a brew that is Arizonan.

The point is that beer has been around for a long time. Germany's purity laws, called Reinheitsgebot, are 250 years older than America. Coming up with genuinely novel beers isn't easy.

tweet this
The brewery has no limits when it comes to beer style. "There isn't a style we won't produce throughout a given year," says head brewer Chase Saraiva.

Arizona Wilderness's best beer style, though, might be the sour. Sour is a broad category that includes dozens of kinds of beer, from simple sours like gose and Berliner weisse to huger, more unpredictable brews like wild ales. With long-fermented sours, the flavor intricacies can be mesmerizing.

Arizona Wilderness does a simple, fresh sour called Grapefruit Gose. The beer uses local grapefruits, salt, and kettle-souring, a method that taps lactobacillus to acidify beer over a short period (24 to 48 hours).

Grapefruit Gose is clean and bracing, an ocean wave in beer form. The brew is uncomplicated and doesn't hit you with unspooling nuances, only some salt, some tartness, and a nice citrus freshness.

On the deeper end of the sour pool, Arizona Wilderness crafts a beer called Denmark in the Desert, an imperial sour peach porter.

click to enlarge
A robust barrel-aging program lives at Arizona Wilderness.
Chris Malloy
The beer is a collaboration with Mikkeller, a Copenhagen-based brewery that has no brewery. Owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, rather, travels to other breweries, joining forces to make beers across the world.

The Mikkeller-Wilderness creation is a blend of two beers. The first beer is a sour blonde aged in barrels for a year, and then on peaches for another. This beer is combined with the second, a 7-month-old porter made with cacao nibs and caramelized peaches.

The result is high-ABV beer with heady yeasty and woody nuances from mixed cultures, with rapidly changing flavor and medicinal notes, with the strange depth of a Mexican mole or Proust sentence.

Yep. Close to five years in, this is still a novel Arizonan kind of brewing. 

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company. 721 North Arizona Avenue, Gilbert; 480-497-2739.
Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Essentials So Far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
23: Red chile at Elmer's Tacos
22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery
21: Kronuts from Karl's Bakery
20: Beef pies at Chou's Kitchen
19: Bavarian pretzels & schnitzel at Haus Murphy's
18: Red chili burro and sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos
17: Camelback Soda at The Sugar Bowl
16: Brisket Sandwich at Chelsea's Kitchen
15: Taco Hazz from Ta'Carbon
14: Barnone at Agritopia
13: The Jazzy from Emerson Fry Bread
12: Flour Tortillas from La Sonorense Tortilla Factory
11: Peach picking at Schnepf Farms
10: The Purple Fusion at Snoh Shaved Ice
9: Sours from Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.