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Gilbert Gets Its First Microbrewery in Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.

Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 15:09

Wilderness Brewing Co.

Jonathan Buford

Buford and friends tasting some of the new brews

Jonathan Buford and Brett Dettler are making big things happen in Gilbert. For two and a half years, the business partners and longtime friends have made preparations to open Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., the first approved microbrewery in Gilbert.

The duo has put a lot hard work into making their dream become a reality and with the location set and the beers already brewing they’re getting really close.

“I was running my window cleaning business and decided that I wanted to do something that my heart and soul was into,” Buford said.

Dettler, who owns Trophy’s Steak House in Queen Creek, was feeling the same way but had been captured by the beer selling side of the business, Buford said.

“It was the same story. [Neither of us] was thrilled with what we were doing,” Buford said. “So I picked up home brewing with the intentions of one day opening a brewery.”

From that point, Buford has spent his days running his business, perfecting beer recipes out his garage and raising funds for the brewery. The owners hope to open by the end of the year or early next year.

Between impressing investors and finding inspiration for good craft beer recipes, the guys have had their work cut out for them. College Times recently caught up with the brew master to get a feel for what launching a brewing company is like.

College Times: There is a pretty cool concept behind Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. How did you come up with it?
Jonathan Buford: I’m an avid outdoorsman. I go backpacking, camping, fishing, all of the above. The diversity of [Arizona] is what captured me on a backpacking trip one time and… when you walk into a wilderness area, there is a sign that says ‘You are now walking into a wilderness area,’ and each has its own identity. So I thought that would be great to represent our [company]. Every beer has its own identity, our location has its identity and everything about our business has that unique identity. As I looked into it further, I found that these areas are designated by Congress to not be touched by man. I thought that was pretty cool, like a pristine idea, so I wanted our beers to represent that.

So are you modeling your beers after different wilderness areas?
What I like to do is go backpacking and while I’m there, design the beer recipe while I’m in that wilderness. It doesn’t always happen that way – that’s a lot of money and travel and time – but [for] several of our beers I’ve done that. I draw from the inspiration of what’s around me.

Have you decided on all your beers?
Our mainstay beers we have named, but there will be more.

One thing I found interesting is that you used a Kickstarter campaign to help launch the brewery.
Yeah, we did. When I got into this I wasn’t much of a business man. What I did well was get people excited about one particular cause or idea, and Kickstarter is a great way for a creative person to do that. Now that I’ve received the money, I’ve realized how important it is to have capital in this country. If you’re going to start a business on a dream, you’re going to pay a ton of money in expenses that just come from out of nowhere. So what Kickstarter has done for us, financially, is provide a pathway to initiate the building of a brand without huge investment money, which will come down the road. But what it really does is impress the investors that, hey, you got a brewing system, you got a lease and you got the initial licensing. I call it the hype machine. It just gets people believing in an idea.

What has been the biggest challenge for you during this process?
The number one challenge is to sit down your dream and remold it. You think you’re going to get into a brew pub situation where you’re going to brew and people are going to pat you on the back and say “Great job.” And, really, as an owner and a proprietor of a new idea what you’re going to have to do is deal with city officials and impress people with money, and none of that has to do with brewing. They want to know that you can make money, and they’d rather you have a brewer under you than you be the brewer yourself. That’s the biggest challenge, just having to associate with these bigwigs [and] these people that can get my dream going. So molding my dream into a new direction has been the biggest challenge.

Any final thoughts?
Well, brew pubs are blowing up and breweries are blowing up. We’re going to hit 1,000 breweries in the country this year. We will hit over 40 in Arizona, but I guess those numbers don’t matter as long as people understand that it’s not a bad thing that a lot of new places are opening as long as those places are serving the neighborhoods that they’re in. That’s where our vision is. We want to distribute to our neighborhood. We’re not going to try to go into other states and sell our beer. It’s about our neighborhood first.


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