No one can accuse Arizona Wilderness of resting on its laurels, even when those include being named the best new brewery in the world.
Last week I caught up with co-founder Jonathan Buford, who filled me in on the many, many things going on at the Gilbert brewery.
There almost too much to try to organize, so I’ll just throw it out somewhat randomly:
• Expansion construction in the former bagel shop that shared the building with Wilderness is well under way. Buford is hesitant to predict when it will be ready, but the first week of April is a good estimate.
• The new space mostly will be used for a larger 15-barrel brewing system, a grain room, and a wood barrel room. The existing 7-barrel brewing system has been sold to Dubina Brewing in Phoenix.
• The new space will include what Buford calls a tap room – an L-shaped bar and just a couple tables – with glass walls that allow people to watch the brewers in action. It will only seat about 35 people.
• No food will be served in the tap room, but people will be welcome to carry over food from the brewpub’s dining room.
• The tap room will include a growler refill station, and Wilderness currently is re-evaluating its growler restrictions in light of its soon-to-increase production capacity. No promises, though.
• On a related note, Wilderness has no plans to begin distribution anytime soon. The increased production is meant to fill its own taps, not send beers to other bars, according to Buford.
• Another related note: A new 30-barrel fermenter will be dedicated to Refuge IPA, meaning the brewery’s mega-bestseller will always be on tap (an idea Buford had resisted for the past year).
• The patio will be extended along the south side of the building to accommodate another 45 people. A substantial entrance made of mesquite (fitting the Wilderness theme) will be built on the west end of the patio (facing Arizona Avenue).
• The brewery has procured a bunch of weathered wood from an old Arizona tower. It will be used on the walls behind both the existing bar and the tap room bar.
• The brewery’s barrel-aging program will be expanded. A dozen-plus wood barrels already are there, and Buford says more are on the way.
• Wilderness has hired a new chef – or, rather, promoted one from within. Former sous chef Bridget Korkowski is the new person in charge.
• Korkowski’s first task was to upgrade the menu, which she’s done. It won’t launch until Monday, Feb. 23 – at the end of Arizona Beer Week – but you can get a sneak peek here.
• On a related note: “To all the vegans out there, we’ve heard you,” Buford says. “We’ve heard you. We’ve heard you.”
• Why are they waiting until Feb. 23? Mostly to train kitchen staff on the new menu. But also because they’re in the process of planning a kitchen expansion (when the current brewing system, located next to the kitchen, is sold).
• American Presidential Stout, which made RateBeer.com’s list of best beers in 2014, will be released this year at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival on Saturday, Feb. 14. It will be released at the fest from now on, Buford says.
• Wilderness only will host two events during Beer Week. The first will be a fabulous beer dinner featuring its own food and beers on Tuesday, Feb. 17. The next day will be a Barrel Fest featuring all of its barrel-aged beers.
• After traipsing all over the globe in 2014, the Wilderness guys are planning to increase their travels even more this year. In just the next few months, they’ll be brewing overseas in Australia and making a return trip to Denmark.
• In addition, they’ll be collaborating with several U.S. craft breweries, as well as brewing a beer with Logan Plant (son of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant).
There are several other really cool things in the works, but this is all Buford will let write me share for now. Stay tuned…
Keep up to date on local food & drink news: Click here to receive a daily email of MXSW posts