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Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Heeds the Call of the Wild

To its founders, Arizona Wilderness represents a way of life (Issue 25)
Arizona Wilderness

Co-founders Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware sit together on one of the few unfilled patio tables, pondering the next move for Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. They think about the brewery that has come so far so fast, with a future as bright as the Arizona sun. What's next? It's hard to say, but chances are Ware and Buford will choose the right path, as they have serendipitously done so many times before.

Growing up in Arizona, Patrick Ware developed a love for the outdoors – hiking and camping with his Dad. While studying at Arizona State University, he split time between his studies and homebrewing, eventually taking an internship at Gordon Biersch under the tutelage of Dieter Foerstner, who would soon help him land his first professional brewing position with SanTan Brewing in Chandler, Arizona.

Meanwhile Jonathan Buford was living in Ohio, though he longed to return west, where he first fell in love with the Arizona landscape. Ultimately, he decided to follow his heart. Armed with only his 1988 Chevy Nova and $300 ($100 of which went toward gas), he struck forth to the Copper State.

Buford’s entrepreneurial spirit initially led him to open a window-cleaning company, which he helmed for six years. All the while, though, Buford’s passion for craft beer was brewing. Listening to audiobooks about beer and brewing while washing windows, he was determined to one day open a brewery of his own. Once more, his true calling bubbled over.

A regular at local watering holes, Buford was often mistaken for some guy named "Pat." When this became a regular occurrence, he determined to track down his doppelganger and get to the bottom of the situation.

Buford soon figured out that the mysterious "Pat" was none other than Ware, who had become the head brewer at SanTan Brewing Company. He introduced himself, and the two shared stories of their love of the Arizona countryside. After telling Ware of his goal to open a brewery focused on local terroir, Buford offered to make Ware head brewer of the venture, and Ware accepted.

Jonathan Buford and Patrick Ware founded Arizona Wilderness on a shared vision of a brewery that embodied the land it was built upon, such as the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, shown here.

It took Buford’s life savings, a highly successful Kickstarter campaign and an outside investment to fund the brewery before Buford could set everything in motion. Unfortunately, things weren’t so peachy. Without warning, the investor got cold feet, and Buford was left scrambling to find a way to come up with the funds to complete the project.

Originally, Ware was to be an employee, not an owner, but the only way Buford could pay Ware was in shares of ownership. Now partners, they scrounged together every last penny to get the doors open.

When the doors did open on September 2, 2013, the pair still owed their contractor $36,000. Buford had 60 days to come up with the money or the contractor threatened to take possession of the brewery. It took until the final day before the contractor was paid, but Ware and Buford were now bona fide brewery owners.