Arizona is a great state. Not just a great beer state, but a great state. Sure, we make the news for our heat and former governors wagging their fingers at President Obama but living here is amazing. The diversity of climates (yes, it’s true), vegetation, ecosystems, cultures, and natural vistas make the state a remarkable place to live and explore. Most people don’t understand that. It’s not all about the heat.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company gets it. Everything they do seems to revolve around celebrating and preserving this state. From taking local sourcing of ingredients seriously, to making brewing sustainable, to killer photos of the state populating their website and social media, a visit to AZ Wilderness Brewing is like perusing a travelogue of the best of Arizona.
Arizona Wilderness has received great press lately, with some calling them one of the best breweries in the state. Author Christian DeBenedetti named AZ Wilderness as one of the breweries you must visit in Arizona (the rest of the book's entry about Arizona was lame, but that's another story). So successful has AZ Wilderness been, in 2019 they opened a second outpost, in downtown Phoenix, to accompany their original location in Gilbert.
What to Expect (Gilbert location):
AZ Wilderness Brewing Company in Gilbert is located in a free-standing building on Country Club/Arizona Avenue, just south of Guadalupe. It features four separate seating areas: the main indoor dining room, two patios, and a tasting room. You might add a fifth, if you count the rail seating that encircles the dining room on the outside, connecting the front patio with the rear patio. The front and rear patios are given significant shade and are both blanketed by the best mist system I think I have ever seen.
AZ Wilderness Brewing has found (pardon the pun) wild success at this location, which thankfully is far from Gilbert’s crazy downtown. Every time I have visited (Saturday afternoon, weekdays), they are doing brisk business, but without the party/free-for-all atmosphere the heritage square area of Gilbert has become. There might be a waiting list for the dining room, but if you are looking just to sample the beer, try the “Tasting Room,” a small indoor bar just off the front patio. You’ll find 8 – 10 bar seats, cool AC, and a low-key vibe.
The décor of the entire building resembles a great wilderness lodge, with knotty pine wood touches running throughout the space. Benches are made from wood, bar tap handles are made of wood. There’s a giant tree sprouting from the center of the main dining room. The tasting room’s bar was cut from a single log and has the original bark preserved on the front rail.
The ‘wilderness lodge’ theme perhaps surprisingly is somewhat underplayed, with distinct Arizona accents supporting the vibe. State maps and photos of significant Arizona landmarks adorn the walls, but it doesn’t seem kitschy at all. Rather, the Arizona theme display here seems almost out of respect—respect that the state has given the brewers such a remarkable diversity of ingredients to work with.
And we must talk about the ingredients.
More than any other brewery in Arizona, the guys at AZ Wilderness seem to delight in harvesting and experimenting with the most unique local ingredients they can find. There are brews on display here you will NOT find replicated anywhere else. There’s a grand display of wild yeasts, along with local malts and wheats and adjuncts collected from around the state. At times, it seems like the beer menu is a non-stop “Wild and Woody” festival.
A typical beer description might read something like this: “We harvested these wild yeasts from the upper Salt River valley while backpacking through the Superstition Mountains looking for a space to start a nature conservancy. Along the way, we discovered a remarkable region of prickly pear fruit and juniper berries which we added to the juice of Meyer lemons we found at a farm in Buckeye.” I’m serious. They take great pains to document and share where they get their ingredients from. It all adds up to a very eclectic beer program.
As I write this, I am tempted to call this “very exciting.” But, I find myself stopping short of doing so because while it is adventuresome, not everything I have tasted is a hit. The “Piaute Pale Ale” is probably the safest brew on the menu and the one with the least regional flair. [It is also my favorite.] Likewise, their Baboquivari Belgian Blonde and DC Mountain DIPA are solid and are the brews most likely distributed around Phoenix.
Their real experimental stuff, however, can be an acquired taste. “Boilgeist” is a strawberry shortcake infused IPA that I just didn’t understand. “Picacho Pecan Brown Ale” was really bitter for some reason. Their winter seasonal Wassail was not to my liking (and I am used to bottle conditioned beers). I did a whole flight of Saisons recently and only the “Connection” stood out. Perhaps the way to go here is to start with a flight and see what you like. With their ever-changing menu and wild experimentation, you’re bound to find something.
When it comes to food, AZ Wilderness serves “elevated” pub grub. It is mostly burgers, tacos and other finger foods, but their food menu reflects some of the experimentation and local sourcing found in their brewing. For instance, their meatloaf sliders feature gravy made with beer wort.
Parking can be a bit of a challenge. During peak hours, you may need to seek out space at the adjoining hotel [park carefully…look for designated spots.]
Recent Visits by Arizona Beer Traveler:
721 N. Arizona Ave. #103
Gilbert, AZ 85233
Read More About AZ Wilderness Brewing:
UPDATE: May 5, 2019
I got my first look at AZ Wilderness' downtown Phoenix location recently. They are on the southeast corner of Roosevelt and 2nd street. I found myself downtown during a recent "First Friday" so naturally, the place was awash in humanity. I mean, 2nd Street and Roosevelt is ground-zero for First Friday. It was so crowded, I didn't even attempt to enter.
The space is very 'outdoor' oriented. It is comprised mostly of open space with a sun-screened roof. There appears to be two serving areas but all the seating is patio-style. Reminds me of a 'quick-service/casual' restaurant, where you order at the counter and take it with you. Again, I didn't go in...I'll save that for another time...when I can actually get in the place.