Since the idea for Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. in Gilbert was first conceived, it was a community effort. It was something bigger than just an idea—it was something demanded by the Town of Gilbert and beer nerds across the country, who donated to a wildly successful Internet campaign.
Funded by a Kickstarter and hype spread by word of mouth, this unassuming strip mall brewery was recently named the best new brewery in the world by RateBeer.com, a crowdsourced beer rating website similar to Yelp.
And with a decadent twist on bar food, I just had to make the drive to check this place out.
My dining partner arrived on a Sunday afternoon, where we quickly learned that word of the “best new brewery in the world” had spread. There was a 45-minute wait for a two-person table, so we took the opportunity to indulge in a couple brews at the packed bar.
With its ever-rotating selection of custom beers, you’re unlikely to find the same beer at Arizona Wilderness twice. On this trip, we ordered up the Oaked-N-Ordinary, an ale true to its name, and the Santa Teresa Enkel, a nod to the rare monk-brewed beers of Belgium. The Oaked-N-Ordinary is aged in red oak barrels, which certainly comes across in the beer, but it erred more on the side of “ordinary.” It certainly wasn’t the start I was expecting from the much-buzzed-about brew pub. I was underwhelmed, but it was tasty nevertheless. The Santa Teresa Enkel was the closest thing that would please the sensibilities of my “Bud Light only, please” dining partner, but provided much more complexity with bitter and sweet elements.
When it was finally time to be seated, we were led out to the patio and were sat at a long picnic table with another party. It’s all part of the community feel this little-brewery-that-could aims to foster, and the food they serve up perfectly complements the laidback-but-super-cool atmosphere.
We were starving after the wait, so we opted for extreme decadence, as recommended by our friendly server. The Belgische Frietjes should probably be banned in the United States for being so sinful. The hand-cut fries are cooked in duck fat, spiced with rosemary and thyme and topped with slow-roasted pork. Prepare to throw calorie counting to the wind. These thin-cut fries that are super crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and well worth the jog you’ll have to crank out later.
As far as entrée selections are concerned, Arizona Wilderness Brewing takes one thing almost as seriously as it takes beer—burgers. Sure, they have two salads hidden off on the side of the menu, but who is able to resist burgers like the Mushroom ‘N’ Beer Cheese, Chili Verde Pulled Pork or the Black Bean Delight?
Following the culinary trend of plopping a fried egg on pretty much every dish known to man, Arizona Wilderness created the Good Mornin’ Burger. The patty is blended with brisket and topped with cheddar, thick-cut bacon, roasted red pepper, beer-braised onions and of course an over-medium egg, all on a pretzel bun. Like the beer, this burger is your typical brewery fare with a few twists courtesy of the exploding fatty egg yolk and hoppy onions.
Opting for something a bit lighter (and let’s face it, if you’re eating light here, you’re going to fail wildly), I ordered up the Spicy Red Pepper Chicken sandwich. Sriacha lovers, rejoice! This super spicy chicky is topped with a few of my favorite things—roasted red pepper, salted arugula and hummus. Even if you’re not a beer fanatic, this sandwich alone is worth the trip to Arizona Wilderness.
I finished off my meal with some beer flights because, well, screw it. I’ve already indulged this much, so I put the pedal to the calorie-consumption metal with samples of the Superstition Coffee Stout, Bear Wallow Berliner Weisse Grapefruit, Refuge IPA and more samples of the Oaked and Santa Teresa. While the Superstition Coffee Stout was an in-your-face combination of espresso and beer that I certainly appreciated, I have to say the Refuge IPA was the clear winner here with supreme floral notes that just feel good on the tongue. The Bear Wallow Grapefruit is a good option for patrons who aren’t big on beer, but if you’re not a massive grapefruit fan, give it a pass.
So is Arizona Wilderness Brewing really the best new brewery in the world? It’s tough to say not knowing the competition. I tend to think Gilbert citizens were just excited to have a taste of brew culture in town and rate it highly on RateBeer.com But hey, even if it’s not the best, it’s difficult to deny the appreciation this buddy-run brewery has for the art of beer.