Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wildland Firefighters

Wildland Firefighters. The men and women who do this normally get into the field simply because of lack of direction.  There is always a need for firefighters and it serves as a summer job after high school/college for most.  Many of them move on to other careers after their first or second season and some even move on to structure firefighting.  The few who spend season after season are the guys I know. Like brewers, these guys work their guts out and there is no end in site.  They, well the ones I got to know, love to have a GOOD time and they love their families. I dunno, they are just my type of people. That's the best way to equate it.  Lets go back a bit: My cousin is a seasoned vet of the hotshot world.  He has traveled the country paying his dues, leaving a bit of himself on every fire.  Many Hot Shoters move to where the work is from season to season, and leave the crew they spent the recent summer with, as my cousin did. When I got the phone call that he was coming to Arizona to join the Granite Mountain Hotshots, I was elated.  Normally he was based in Nor Cal and I would receive pictures from rugged hillsides with a blazing plume looming in the background.  I always stopped and put myself in his shoes, imagining that my paycheck depended on me heading towards a 5 thousand foot smoke tower, simply to cut a line and attempt to quell the fire in 100 plus degree heat. My cousin, at the time of joining the GMH crew was lead chainsaw.  He literally carried up to 100 pound pack (with a saw) and cut the way for the crew.  (Sorry about your rush hour traffic debacle, but maybe you are not in the worst spot ever!)  These guys are the ultimate brothers and sisters, spending countless hours in their crew buggies traveling from fire to fire, exhausted.   I never got to fight fires with the Granite Mountain crew, but I would have.  I would have marched into a fire with them after the year I spent getting to know most of them.  We would get pretty rowdy in Prescott at the local watering holes, with nothing but pints of craft beer, stories, and smiles.  My cousin always gave me a heads up when they were coming home for a mandatory day off (after working 14 days strait it's a federal mandate to send em home for 2 days)  Yea, 100 hr weeks wearing the hot fire suits, carrying heavy weight, wearing out your boots in 100 degree temps warrants a 2 day off period. That's how I knew them, as skinny, overworked and starving for a good night on the town. Wow, I am so blessed to meet those idiots and have fun with them.  Garret, one of the GMH crew members, and I got particularly close. He worked as hard as anyone, and Wildland Firefighting fit him perfectly.  When I received a phone call the evening of June 30th 2012, It was my cousins broken voice.  He was trying to let me know something had happened.  My cousin was promoted three months before the fire and left the GMH crew for a new full time job in Wildland Firefighting. On June 30 his new crew was traveling to the Yarnell Hill Fire, which was still in its infancy.  He was so elated to get to see his old GMH crew members.  During the lengthy drive from Norther California, my cousin recived a call that  forever changed his life.  The call was from someone in charge on the fire at Yarnell Hill with tragic news. 19 down. My cousin soon called me, knowing many of them were friends of mine.  I said, "Is Garret ok?" "He is OK right?".  The rest is personal. The rest left a pit in many peoples hearts forever.

 Garret attempted to wear the same shirt everyday for a year.  That smelly bastard looked so good in that shirt! He made such a positive impression on everyone that he came in contact with. Upon arriving to the campsite we chose for my 30th birthday party, Garret had a gift waiting for me.  A goodwill picture of a stoic Navajo Indian with some humorous sayings written around it. I can't help to laugh while writing this. He and those 19 guys were incredible.

The main reason I am writing this post is to inform you why we are choosing the Wildland Firefighter Foundation as a charity that we will back for years to come.  Mostly, it because they protect the Wilderness we are so fortunate to enjoy.  Also, the care that they took for my family and friends affected by the Yarnell Fire. During a time of tragedy is a difficult task. Brendon, AKA doughnut, occasionally comes into the pub and reminiscences of his 19 compadres over a pint. When I heard that he took employment with the WFF, I knew we had to see what their needs were and how we can help.  This year, $1 of each Slide Fire Red will go to the WFF. Speaking with the folks at the WFF, they were so humbled and appreciative that we were making that donation.  I said, "wait till next years donation!"

Folks, this is what craft beer can do.  It brought many of those 19 together on time their off time, home from fire ravaged land. They will never get to see AZWBC, but their collective spirit lives on in these brewery walls.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 loves me, loves me not.

My mood is set to Bliss. My sleep patterns, 6-8 per night. Bags under my eyes...GONE. As many of you know, these things weren't always this way.  As I reflect on all things 2013, I don't know whether or not to A.)quiver in fear B.)jump as high as I can (2-5 inches at best) or C.) both. I'll tell you this much: we are open and that's the daily agenda around here.  No more cryin', no more stress to "get open".  January of last year we had big hopes of opening in the Spring. We had little worries and construction was finally underway. Kids at the playground on the first day of summer. Then, in a act of brilliant defiance, life went, well,  all life on us. Months past, money ran dry, mortgages went late (WAY LATE), and sleep was near impossible. It became quite a long and pretty intolerant year.  " We will open in _________, we promise" became our motto. I could keep doing this in this blog, but why? I can barely remember those times.  This year doesn't end anywhere NEAR failure. For this year, my friends, may just be the greatest year of my life.

It all starts with partners and the close family/friends.  I still lay my head on a pillow every night next to my beautiful and amazing wife, Katie.  Trust me, that's number 1 in my life whether or not we opened. I still love her with all of my heart and apparently she feels the same. So that's a win! My parent's would be proud of me even if I started a pooper scooper company (Pick Your Poo?), so I've got that still. Score. Then there is the always fragile, ever changing, fine-line walking thing called business partnerships.  Funny thing, we are still brothers.  Any of those two ridiculous bearded men could have snapped in the turmoil of opening a business. My "big ideas" and ridiculous notions have never met a stern "NO", rather, a cultivation of the idea seed into a more manageable goal. They are the kind of partners that fit the  proverbial "he would help you at 2 am across town no matter what." Creative flair, meets conservative accountability, combined with the iron workhorse. The beards. It's a pleasure to be their partner, but better yet, part of their families. We have assembled a staff that has come together as a motley crew of bad-assery and silliness that I am totally in love with.  We know the importance they bring, therefore they are an extension of us. I mean c'mon every Saturday has been dubbed "Cat-ur-day" with them all dawning cat shirts. So good! We got them all Cicerone Certified Beer Server Exam's for Christmas.  They are our first crew and need to be honored as that and eternally thanked.   Brewing beer for a living is not the dream. No, it's having all of the above.  That is what makes me feel all of the freaking pride in the world.  That's the good stuff.

Finally, the beer. Oh the beer. We have made 24 different styles and 30 batches in 4 months.  From local produce, to a documentary featuring locally grown white wheat. From Cabernet grapes in the desert to wild yeast in a date porter. From spices, to barrel aging. The fact that you all show up...BRAVO. We aren't starving artist exclaiming to the world that "No one understands".  The life-blood. And we've only just begun! We know we aren't universally accepted (just read some of our SCATHING reviews!) We also know that we will fall short at times.  But know this: WE CARE MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. To the "bad review writer" they may think this place is four walls and a register just pushing another product.  To us, it's our legacy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for accepting us and giving us a chance. Much love!

Shameless Plug: Check out our youtube channel!:   


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good men down, we must rise.

I am en route to the Yarnell Hill Fire 19's memorial. The bus I am aboard is packed with the loved ones of my friend, Garrett, who was a true badass.  I feel sympathy and sadness as any normal person would at this moment.  He was an amazing soul and friend, and his family and friends are now a large part of my life.  This blog however is about Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. and without convoluting things to terribly, I can draw some incredible insight from the situation.  There is a certain brotherhood among first responders that has absolutely astounds me. A true humbling experience that cleanses the soul from any bitterness it may have picked up. I'll tell you this: Hearing how many people have said something along the lines of , " Garrett and the guys talked about your brewery so much, they were so excited about it!"  gives me such a feeling of pride. Hotshot  firefighters and brewers are so similar, but we pale in comparison to their tenacity and heroism. The beards( in the off season), the quasi brash personalities, smelly, and dirty men and women who choose a career based on passion and tireless work.  That's why I respect those guys.  They did it the way they wanted to...the hard way.

  Previously, I wanted to write a blog entitled, " What's taking so long to open?!?!", but it seems so trivial on this July morning that we mourn friends and family. I am invigorated more than ever at the chance to get this brewery started.  Be patient with us, we are so very close.  The key to remember is we all didn't come into this with wads of cash.  We are truly earning this with blood, sweat, and tears. Making sure to protect our brand and allowing it to be 100% OUR direction comes at somewhat of a cost and time is the currency we pay with.  Keep your excitement alive and we will deliver! I promise the sweat is rolling off our foreheads today as we clean and get ready for final inspections.

Today... today I celebrate life and all its intricacies. I hope you all can too, with a fine craft beer of course!

I will miss you my ginger bearded friend.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Yes things suck, but this is the path chosen!

I had half written a post about all things entailing "starting your own brewery" and all that broad subject encompasses. Then came Rob Fullmer's recent post on his blog "Beer PHXation" Read it and ponder a bit and then return...

I know this: people like Rob have a cautious approach towards constant growth in an industry that most of us feel we have a place in.  He has garnered respect from me as being one of the most observant individuals in the craft beer industry. I am also very relieved his blog got to me before I rambled on about our current situation.  I had things like "The American Nightmare" and "All those homebrewers getting into this who build a brewer thing probably have no idea that this is an industry of sales and relationships, and your love for beer will , at times, offend people" in my post. Then, after reading his blog, I stepped back and reflected on all the progress that Brett and I have made. There are so many positives because we pushed for this crazy dream. I see the ceiling and floors we chose.  I see the bars and lights that were installed with a vision for comfort.  I see our team tirelessly working their butts off to see this take hold. All the stainless steel was procured from a vision in a garage over a raging 10 gallon boil. I see the logo I fell in love with while backpacking the heart of Arizona. What we have learned certainly wasn't free, isn't free, and never will be free.  The mistakes we made will be made by numerous "dreamers" that will risk it all and not ever receive the advice they should have.  All because they probably just didn't ask the right questions.

The growth of an industry always starts with trends.  When investors feel more confident that the trends are more bullish and are established as a market, well, they pour their money in.  Success stories start popping up and the dreamers start to see dancing pint glasses that "they made".  Honestly, go for it.  I could tell you what a torturous road is ahead, but you don't give a dam.  Look your loved ones in the eyes and BE HONEST.  You will lose more than you will win.  If your business plan doesn't show a 95-99% risk to your own life and your investors money, re write it.  You will lose many close friends.  Your passion will lend to frustration.  You will not be living a dream many many days.  You will go broke.  Give yourselves 2-3 years from the start of your fundraising effort, and please, OH please, learn to not lie to yourself. Then finally, remember that your idea is so played out. So boring.  More craft beer is an amazing thing but everyone else has already done most of the things you have yourself wrapped around as "new" and "exciting".  That's why this is so hard! Your selling something that has already been done!  Learn to be good at that. Really focus on that.

Lets end with this positive note:  The Arizona craft brewing scene is winning. Guys like Jon Lane from OHSO NANO brewery in Phoenix is the kind of guy that is leading an amazing charge for a local craft beer scene without the bullcrap.  Not one brewery we asked for help and/or advice turned their back to us.  Arizona beer is not just trending, it's growing and getting better.  We are all apart of the ride.  Cheers.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updates and Rainbows

Finally an update!
Here is the deal, we have been slow to give updates because, honestly, we didn't know if we would make it this far or not.  As in... an empty and lifeless building and selling our dogs for money.  We risked it all signing the lease somewhat blindly in September. Ignorance truly is bliss, but we are driven to move forward! Paying rent for a building that's not open is a tough road to go, so we have been plugging away like mice chasing the smell of cheese in a maze.  We can now at least see the cheese ( though it's under lock and key still)!

A year ago today we were filming the Kickstarter video in plans for the nano brewery in Queen Creek. When LA Fitness shut us out, we were dumbfounded. Especially because money was put into that place from our own pockets and no one in that company told us of the special clause LA fitness held.  This is just part of the growth of our business knowledge and toughening of the skin'.  It's like touching the oven and getting burnt.  So instead of avoiding ovens all together we learned to cook! *Terrible called and asked me to stop using their ideas, so I digress:*
  You can piece together the major events in our history from this blog/Facebook, but from Oct-January we were misled, misjudged, misunderstood, misinformed, and misrepresented.  We blame ourselves, and from it we learned a beautiful lesson. That lesson being:  KEEP YOUR PAYING JOBS. Money will fall from your pockets like a hipster changes clothing styles.  Too many people assumed we are living a dream, but we shiver at the thought of the possibility of what may have been, and shoot, at this point I shiver at what tomorrow will throw our way.  Anyways, we have prevailed and construction is well underway.  The contracting company, Heritage Construction Specialists, is plugging away to build our dream.   Honestly, we are the new Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company moving forward and that's just it in a nutshell.

Being the first brewery in Gilbert's history (there was a discussion about this topic, so I will re-word, "we are the first approved microbrewery by the Gilbert Town Council in regards to brewing beer in it's town's limits") we had a few bumps in the road.  Their was a bunch of learning on both sides, and that added to the unforeseen month delay.  They have been a pleasure to work with, so not to worry all was discussed and approved.  Soon, the county health inspection will be underway and the light at the end will continue to brighten!

On a good note: Patrick Ware (formally of San Tan Brewing fame) joined the team.  First things first, San Tan is a company we really admire.  Anthony, the owner, fought the good fight and I really respect the road he has taken and am in awe of his success.  There was nothing but respect when Patrick made a career change from both sides, and I consider it a win for AZ craft beer.  Why don't I brew it all?  I want to build a brand that lasts further than my mind can see. With his knowledge, dedication, and skills, ok and his handsome beard, I believe we have a winning team.  Not to say anyone who does it any other way can't build, I just think I am a wimp and would die weeks into the ordeal. Go to San Tan Brewing with serious admiration for a company who has fought and clawed their way through Lame Recession (I can't call it the "GREAT RECESSION" cause' it wasn't great)  and have built an incredible brand.

Wrapping things up:  I know this blog wasn't as much about this beer as it could have been.  That will come soon enough. Now we continue to build, raise money, spend it, dance, cry, laugh, and soon, oh so soon, BREW BABY BREW.  It's a go, it's real. Next we just have to keep the doors open.  That's a whole different story!


Monday, December 10, 2012

A Wilderness rant

On this Sunday morning , I sit with the coolness of December on my ears and nose, watching my breath float away as I exhale. The creek's flow echoes off towering , warm sunlit cliffs that hold in the magic of this place. I am on day 2 of the annual Aravaipa Wilderness December fall colors trip that I think about on the hot days of summer as if it will never come. I count the days down already to next year's excursion.  The calmness I feel here is where I developed my passion and direction of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., and it still lingers in the air. Back home in the basin of the sun, our little company had a trying, somewhat difficult week. Nothing out of the norm, merely the ebbs and flows of business that keeps entrepreneurs up thinking at 3 am. The ebbs seem to be great at times, but we will push through them. The great news is my window cleaning days are officially behind me. The scary news: I have no income! The leap of faith left a company I started 6.5 years ago as a 24 year old knocking on doors and providing a service based on ethics and trust. Wow, I look back with a blissful eye. Moving on from that business isn't the safe route by any means. I am being led by my own dangerous (at times) passion , which seems to dictate my life at all angles. Taming it has been a learning experience, but as I sit here, chilly, full of warm oatmeal, and grinning from ear to ear, I am realizing that in my third month of being 30 I am more tame than ever.  I understand how to excite people and light the torch that we all carry. Admittedly, I didn't understand the details of this business as much as I should have.  Sure, we planned for a difficult road to opening a brewing company, and did everything we could to get it all right.  The truth: We lacked wisdom.  Wisdom isn't free and it usually comes from the worst moments, dangerously teetering along the tightrope of bad decisions. Documents sitting in front of us , aren't simply words dancing. They are your business, holding legal authority over anything related to passionate motions that mean well. The details have bogged us down, and we learned some valuable lessons these past few months. Patience, patience, patience, hard freaking work, along with the smartest people I know as our business advisers will get us through this to opening day.  I have drug some people through the mud of my dream, and I hope they all know that I will always be indebted to them for believing.  Believing when there is no progress for weeks and wondering if money will ever be made...EVER. I don't, and never will, take this lightly, and it has consumed me more than I could have ever predicted.

A quick up date: The city of Gilbert's planning committee is reviewing our project as we speak.  This meeting is to approve the construction project of AZWBC, hopefully in December.  We have made it so freaking far, and just a few more hurdles to opening our doors.

I'll quit rambling and go wade in the creek again for morning photography session to clear my mind.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

An epic novel is born. Apologies to weary eyes.

Recently I was invited to Russian River Brewing Company from a brewer and good friend Travis.  I finally found a moment to fly to the bay area and figured I had best visit some old friends and make some new ones. It's what I do.  My lovely, gracious, and oh so gorgeous wife gave me a few thousand flyer points and off I flew. Off to live a "glorified vagrant" life for 5 days.  When Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is up and running, you'll probably notice some of the bay area influence.  I have many  family and friends here, and have frequented the area throughout the years gathering info, ideas, and sharing a few classy ales with some amazing people all over that area.  No one is a stranger in SF it seems, and I want to capture that  here in AZ.  Anyways, after very little planning I landed in COLD SFO and the B.A.R.T. became my savior.  A stop at toronado(hey spell check, quit changing it to tornado!) is always in order and a beer or two with the uh , friendly, uh, friendly like a sleeping alligator, bar tender and rented a truck up to Santa Rosa.  Every time I go to Lagunitas I am dumbfounded by their growth.  Lets be honest though, their pulled pork nachos deserve a spot in the pork and/or nacho Hall of Fames. This will be coming to a menu near you!  Onward to Russian River Brewing, a quick trip up the road.  The production facility is in an industrial park, and wreaks of spent grains and CO2 (more on the CO2 later). Upon entrance I see the infamous MoreBeer! 26 gallon brewing setup for their experimental brewing.  Yeah, the same one Tim and I bought and the sole reason this ridiculous idea got started.  That system  looked at me and said, "You bought yours because of me, hows that working chump".  So next, a brewery tour was in order.  The "Vinnie Way" was all over this place.  Rewind a bit. Vinnie Cilurzo (who was out of town on this occasion) is a brewing legend in the bay area and owns/operates Russian River Brewing Co.  If a word has come out of his mouth or written from his hand, it has probably been heard or read by me.  This trip was confirmation that, yes, he is insane in every good way.  The lab, the 60 bbl brewhouse, the fermentors, and the barrels.  Oh the barrels!  We made it into the taps and tasted the products.  A few unreleased beers, a few well known, and a few more touched me in the tongue and I touched back.  Great beers, as always, and with the brewers who made em.  I felt at home in the house that Pliny built.  We went to the pub and checked the 15bbl brewhouse there.  I ordered a vegan pizza and got beat up verbally by the Russian River brewing crew.  Punks!  The night will be remember as one of the greats.

Upon waking in an RV in the Russian River Parking lot at 6 a.m., I smelled something oh so sweet.  Grains!!!!! I was late to mash in!  Luckily, changing cloths wasn't part of the agenda, so I ran in to see Travis gripping coffee over the mash tun on the brew deck.  It's the system that Sam Calagione sold Vinnie a few years back, its, well, interesting. Damnation was being mashed and it was sassy in my nose. Not that I needed to confirm this, but brewers work HARD.  Sweat on a 45 degree morning is like a sunburn on a 110 degree day. Well... never mind, you get it.  A few ruff spots hear and there, and the lauter got to its thing flowing ahead of the boil.  I was the idiot who volunteered to mill grains for the next batch and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.  As the morning flew by I picked Travis's brain to borderline annoyance.  It was AWESOME.  What an amazing brewer that man be. He be real smart. Vinnie doesnt let ANYTHING with the initials O2 get by him.  CO2 is the only combatant to staling his beautiful beers and they sure use it.  I am not complaining, nor is the air-gas delivery guy, because this beer speaks for itself.  I caught the crazy bug even more and put some in my wallet. Crazy is good.

Getting back to SF for Breast Fest was a long traffic ridden drive.  The bridge held its breath as I crossed and I was in the city.  Breast Fest isn't a job for me to cover, but I met up with several faces I knew (Thanks Pitcher of Nectar for the tix).  A nice lil brewer laden group headed over to La Trappe after the fest. Sours and Belgians were flowing and I got to chat with Rodger and Claudia Davis formally of Drake's and Tripple Rock Fame.  They are starting Faction Brewing in the East Bay and we talked trials and tribulations.  Good stuff to hear from a legend.  A collaboration is in order with Faction next year sometime.  Some Sierra Nevada boys and I shared a few and talked some shop.   A few, or several, hours later the crowd finally slowed down and I slept on someones hotel room floor. With a Sheet and the window open.  Sore throats suck!

The next couple of days were filled with places such as Monks Kettle, Zeitgiesit, Southern Pacific brewing, and several more.  Berkeley was my last stop to visit the Drake's owned tap house, Jupiter, and my friend Jeff the brewmaster at Tripple Rock.  Ideas and beers were tossed around and off I went across the bay.  Another successful bay area recon trip (besides the 15 hr flight delay).  AZWBC will be better for it.

Where is the Toronado?

Travis and I sharing

Things need done.

Aaron getting his Aaron on.

We "bearded"
Barrel Love
The Vinnie Nail

Sharing with the brewers
The 15 bbl pub brewhouse
Travis and his B-I-L getting groovy at the pub

Bottling line 
Milling at the house that Pliny Built

Eating at the pork store on Hiaght/Ashbury is A MUST eveytime.

Breast Fest
Tree Beers!

Zietgiest and the trees.  We are getting trees at the pub.

These lights will be in the pub.

A lil gem that was Southern Pacific.

Like Whoa

Speaking the Gospel

Heat and Sun

OK back to earth, we found an architect that is weird enough even for me.  We had another visit to the proposed location (721 N. Arizona in Gilbert) and I thought the meeting went very well.  Thanks Eric at the Boulders for the referral. This means we have a contractor, an architect, a CPA, a lawyer, a building, and Gilbert City Council vote in order.  Life is good!  Lease negotiations are easy with good people.  We are blessed to have an easy going group to deal with.  I still say though, BEWARE homebrewers who want to go pro, these things can get mighty mighty risky!  You will pay for these minor things in the long run.  We will sign this lease as soon as we feel Gilbert officially approve's the plans.

Kickstarter swag is almost all here.  We decided, since the opening is still several months away, to look for possible locations to hold a AZWBC swag party.  This doesn't mean we are not going to send yours in the mail, it just means its much easier to hand it in person sans shipping.  Plus, parties are always fun.  Expect news on that soon.

Ok, back to planning, reading resumes, reading books and microscopes.  This one was too long, so next time I will talk about the Northern AZ yeast I collected, new recipes, and one last AZWBC tasting before we open.