Are there many things better than when two breweries with great track records for crafting sour, funky beers collaborate on a brand new sour, funky beer? We submit that there are not.
Last week, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. (from Gilbert, Arizona) and San Francisco sour experts Almanac Beer Co. teamed up to brew a Brett-fermented saison that’s been in the works for a while. According to Arizona Wilderness founder Jonathan Buford, the two breweries first met at last year’s What the Funk!?, a mid-GABF sour beer festival hosted by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Later that night, Buford says, the breweries happened to run into each other again at a pizza joint and things got a little wild.
“We bought them a round of Schlitz,” Buford says. “That turned into bottles of Dom Perignon or something—something stupidly expensive. But it was so funny because it went from non-alcoholic beer to ‘What’s your most expensive bottle?’ At some point we have all these amazing drinks in front of us, and we’re cheers-ing, and everyone in the restaurant’s caught on and they’re clapping for us. We just really got a kick out of the vibe from Almanac.”
Fast-forward to Friday, when an ongoing friendship culminated in a mid-Arizona Beer Week mashup. Brewed alongside Phil Emerson, Almanac’s Oak Program Manager, the as-yet-unnamed saison was crafted with a malt bill containing Arizona-grown Sonoran White Wheat and will be fermented with California Lemongrass and macerated Ponderosa lemons from The Farm at Agritopia, where Arizona Wilderness gets many of the ingredients used in their farm-to-table beers as well as in the brewpub.
The beer will be fermented with a strain of yeast never before used in a Wilderness beer, Buford says.
“Essentially it’s going to drop the pH to give the beer a slight tartness, and for us, what a perfect beer to mess around with some new yeast on,” he says. “If it sucks, we’ll just blame it on Almanac, and if it’s awesome it’s all ours!”
After primary fermentation, the batch will be split between neutral French oak and chardonnay barrels. Buford says he doesn’t plan to package the beer yet, but the positive response Arizona drinkers have had to Almanac’s bottled sours are encouraging for a brewery looking into distributing its own funky brews.
“We are going to package sour beer, and it’s confusing to the consumer if there are no parallels on the shelf,” Buford says. “Arizona was at one time notorious for Cantillon bottles sitting on shelves collecting dust, so it’s nice to see someone like Almanac sell beer here and to see the consumers going, ‘I love this style of beer.’”
Look for the Wilderness/Almanac collaboration to premiere this summer at Arizona Wilderness’ taproom and possibly in cans or bottles (“No package plans … yet,” Buford says). Tune in later this week for more Arizona Beer Week coverage.