Sonoran Prince is the kind of beer that can suddenly invade your daydreams. Aged in French oak, sandy-golden in the glass with a long-lived froth like ocean spume, the sour ale has crisp acidity, unshy carbonation, and a lush backbone of bursting ripe summer peaches just loaded with juice. More than a ton of Schnepf Farms peaches go into each batch. Sonoran Prince has become one of the signatures of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., which, today, will be holding the grand opening of its impressive downtown Phoenix location.
This opening will boost Phoenix’s already-robust beer culture.
And not just because the beer-garden-style drinkery on East Roosevelt and Second streets can pack 650 people. Not just because you can chill in a large outdoor area or at a sidebar along the sidewalk, watching cars and people roll by. Not just because some days the kitchen will be serving burgers until long after midnight. It's simply because, crucially, the beer is that good.
“We wanted to give the neighborhood what it really wanted,” part-owner Jonathan Buford says. “We spend a lot of time down here, man. We said there’s two things not happening here: a ton of outdoor drinking that’s facing the street ... and then late-night good food.”
Opened in 2013 in Gilbert, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is a leading light of the Valley’s beer scene. Buford and Patrick Ware’s brewery produces thoughtful, dependable versions of beer styles widely popular in America, doing so heavily using fruit, grain, and other ingredients from local farms. But where the brewery really excels is when head brewer Chase Saraiva pushes into more challenging territory: foeders, wild fermentations, brewing with foraged ingredients, complex sours, wine-beer hybrids, mixed-style beers, and so on.
Bringing Wilderness’ erudite, curiosity-slaying brews to Phoenix at a brewery-run location instantly upgrades our beer landscape.
This year, Wilderness has been expanding operations. In early February, during Arizona Beer Week, Wilderness unveiled that it had moved its wood fermentation and barrel-aging programs across the street from its main brewery and into a 6,000-square-foot warehouse. Today, a downtown beer garden two years in the making opens.
“We want to give to the neighborhood and be part of it,” Buford says. “We don’t want to gentrify this. We just want to add to this.” He notes that he wants to provide, for the many food and culture havens adjacent on Roosevelt Row and beyond, “a living room.”
The downtown location sure has the space to accommodate a crowd — and the liquid goods.
The beer garden has the feel of a small compound. A comfortable outdoor area features picnic tables, road-facing high stools in a line, raised fire pits, and lounge-style Adirondack chairs. Plenty of space. Seats and standing room overlooking the open lawn across Roosevelt, the giant cranes erecting newfangled condos to the east puncturing the sky.
Inside, you order drinks at the long bar facing the open, spacious, shoebox-shaped room. (Food is counter service, ordered inside next to the bar.) Barkeeps pour beer, Arizona wine, and on-tap cocktails, as well as samples: wood-fermented saisons, Belgian brown ales made from White Sonora Wheat, and royalty: the Sonoran Prince.
Wilderness has stocked its downtown spot with some heady brews. Saraiva and his team have readied an oud bruin, a blended dark sour ale with historical roots in Flanders, using sycamore bark and leaves. Oud Sycamore Bruin has been batched, aged separately in tequila and French oak barrels for 20 months, and recombined. It tastes like gose bruised and lost in the forest during a thunderstorm.
Another eye-opener on tap downtown is Rosé Nouveau. This is actually a beer-wine hybrid, a style that has been snowballing in popularity among leading brewers across the country. Rosé Nouveau was made from a base of standard beer inputs (60 percent) and wine fermentables (40 percent) — the latter being cabernet sauvignon grapes from Page Springs Cellars. The result marries the two sides more fluently than Wilderness’ Sangio Cerveza, a 2018 take on a grain-grape hybrid style.
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These are the kinds of brews that both your beer nerd and casual drinker can get behind.
With their downtown location, Buford says his team is “going for an ideal drinking vibe.” When that outdoor shipping container is ready and lifts its retractable doors, a friendly sun is shining, and the jammy tunes, burgers, and beers made from local Sinagua malt and wild yeasts are flowing, it’s hard to see this spot having anything else.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Downtown Phoenix Beer Garden.
201 East Roosevelt Street; 480-497-2739.
Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday to Sunday 11 to 2 a.m.