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MankerBeer Meets: Pre-CBC 2014 – Jonathan Buford/Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co

arizonawildThis is not only the story about Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2014, about bearded brewers and wild beers but also a story of a wildcard for a brewery and one of the latest additions for the 2014 line-up at CBC – Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. When they were announced among the last breweries to be added to an already exiting list of breweries I honestly had no idea of who they were, so much Rate Beer for me.. With no doubt AWBC has been the hottest brewery in Arizona and evidently one of the best new breweries in 2013 as they were awarded best new brewery in Rate Beer’s annual overview, not to forget that three of their beers managed to end up on the top-50 best new beer list. The bearded trio Jonathan Buford, Brett Dettler and Patrick Ware are on to something great and for all European beer freaks CBC is the place to meet, drink and learn more about them.

Jonathan, formerly running a window cleaning business from his home garage decided it was time to do something else and teamed up with old friend and steakhouse owner Brett. While still running their businesses a successfull Kickstarter campaign helped them raise funds and rally investors which together with hard work and total dedication helped open the brewery in September last year. Jonathan has explained their vision to local news station KTAR; “Our vision and goal is to not only bring craft beer to the city of Gilbert, but we want to represent Arizona around the world,” Buford said. “It’s a great tie-in to the award, because people can now say ‘Hey Arizona is making some of the best craft beer in the world.'”

We managed to catch Jonathan during another busy brew day to check what is happening and what we will can look forward to at CBC.

MankerBeer (MB): You raised a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for AZWBC, what would have happened if you didnt manage to meet the goal?
Jonathan Buford (JB): The Kickstarter campaign was nice, but it was essentially for a different business plan. We were planning a 3.5 bbl production brewery in another town. It was a night Kick in the rear, but we raised 15 times that to get this started. It was a great PR boost if anything, and we are grateful for that.

MB: Among 2.600 new breweries in 2013 you managed to rank as #1 in Rate Beer’s Best New Brewery awards – what effect did that have on you all,  both as individuals but also for the brewery? Does it put more pressure on you or does the attention help?
JB: Pressure, no. You’d be amazed how much pressure we put on ourselves. What it did was put a huge swell of new visitors upon us. In 6 weeks we expanded from 17 staff memebers to 44. We grew 150%. We sold 5 times the amount of beer. It pushed us to work harder and keep the quality as high as possible. We have a core value system and we made sure it didn’t affect that, so we hired a GM to run the restaurant and get that under control. That was a great turning point.

MB: What kind of brewery would you like AZWBC to be, now and in the future?
JB: A local pub with world class beer. Expansion will be limited and not very timely. We enjoy the unique environment that we are establishing. Come to AZ, come to Gilbert!

MB: Arizona is not really known for being the craft beer state of the US, how does the raft beer scene look like today?
JB: We are rockin’. I mean the craft beer guild meetings are doubling in size. We have quite a beautiful thing going, and all of our beers are selling at high rates. That is helping quality too, if your neighbors are brewing great beer, well, you had best improve! There are breweries high and low brewing incredible beer, and solely focusing on their local area, not so much outside of the state.

MB: As a young and aspiring brewery, the Rate Beer nomination set aside, how difficult is it to make a living within the brewing industry today with small breweries opening daily and taking their share of the already limited market?
JB: If you live a modest lifestyle…it’s simple. Dedicate your heart and sole to what you do, it will repay in many ways monetary and non monetarily. On a busy Friday night only 1-2 of our total customers would even know about other breweries in the area. Now, for production breweries, I am sure that is a tad more competitive.

MB: How does it look with distribution and capacity growth for the next couple of years?
JB: It looks like a 27 foot dark wood bar. Maybe a keg here and there to friends.

MB: CBC is not only a celebration for the beer lovers but also for the brewers who gets a chance to meet and talk about the shared passion, what breweries and/or brewers do you admire the most?
JB: First off I really admire Mikkel. He seems to have a knack to pull this craft thing together into a cohesive effort. I love people like that. Anyone who does this for a living is a badass. I love meeting all of the brewers/entrepreneurs young and old. So much wisdom, and we are all idiots. Dont try to out drink us, that’s dangerous!

MB: What beers will be poured at CBC?
JB:
1. American Presidential Stout – 11% RIP with AZ smoked jalepenos and cacoa nibs.
2 Pappy Van Winkle Barely Wine
3. Chirichaua Common aged with AZ wild Brett
4. Wet Beaver Wit brewed with organic beets and dryhoped with Amarillo.

That is the most kegs we’ve ever sold.

Thank you Jonathan, beer geeks, freaks and cheeks – do not miss Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co!

Magnus "Manker" Björnstjerna

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