The origin story of the Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. must start with the Refuge IPA, one of the mainstays of the Gilbert brewery that received recognition outside Arizona for its beers.
It was one of the first brews that Jonathan Buford started with in his garage in Queen Creek, and it is the same pale ale that enticed co-owner Patrick Ware to bring his experience from SanTan Brewing Co.
They met, had some talks and then went backpacking in West Clear Creek near Camp Verde. Ware eventually tasted the Refuge IPA in Buford’s home.
“He wasn’t sold and then he came over to my house, heard the vision and tasted my beer,” Buford said. “I think that’s what really did it. He embraced the idea of encompassing the pride of Arizona in the beer rather than just creating another brewing company.”
It’s how Arizona Wilderness was created in 2013 and became one of the most popular spots in Gilbert for the food as much as the brews at a place tabbed as the best new brewery in the world in 2013 by www.ratebeer.com.
Such an honor was a great way to start a business, Buford said, and not only led to a swell of swilling patrons, but also brought national attention with publications like Esquire magazine doing a spread on the place early in its existence.
“What makes it so blissfully ignorant at the start is you really don’t have a five-year strategy,” Buford, a Gilbert resident, said. “I remember creating a business plan and making everything up to appease an investor. And then we came up guns a blazing and everything came together.”
Using local products
Buford, who moved from Ohio in 2002, fell in love with the state and all its different regions. Within those regions are different ingredients, and the owners make sure to bring in local products for use. Every beer has at least one Arizona grown product, and about 60 percent of the food also does.
“I wanted to tell the true story of the state with the brewery,” Buford said. “It has so many dynamic landscapes, and the best way to do that is through the seven growing regions in the state.”