How Arizona Wilderness Works to Key in on Barrelage Yield Increases

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.
Erik Zwack​, ​Head Brewer​, Arizona Wilderness Brewing — Gilbert, Arizona​

​BREWER: How has your business strategy evolved to help grow and stay competitive?
​ZWACK: Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company has strived to showcase local ingredients and tell the story that comes along with it.  All the citrus, fruit, and nuts that we use are grown by local farms in Arizona. Also, our Sinagua base malt is locally grown and malted giving us a unique flavor that is shared across our various beer styles. Using Sinagua has also helped with our water conservation efforts in Arizona, saving around 425 million gallons of water in the Verde River. When we brew with these ingredients, we make sure to educate our consumer about the local aspect that we use and where they come from. The story behind all of our beers engages the consumer and promotes all of the aspects of Arizona.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
ZWACK: When I was at TAPS Fish House and Brewery,​ David Huls took me under his wing and really helped expand my brewing knowledge. At the time, I was an assistant brewer and he had 15 years experience and over a million barrels brewed. David pushed me to start asking “why” things are done. Asking why and doing more research expanded my knowledge of the biological and chemical side of brewing and therefore made me a better brewer. I left TAPS a few years later, always keeping in touch with David and eventually he recruited me back to TAPS for a Head Brew​er​ job. Later that year I received a silver medal at GABF for my Irish Red, finally achieving a goal that David had set for me back when I was an assistant brewer. I would not be where I am at today without his mentorship and motivation.

​BREWER: What idea did you or your team come up with lately that has been a big benefit to how your brewery functions?
ZWACK: I started at Arizona Wilderness in February, 2020 and we have been working on process improvement since then. The first major change that we made was the purchase of a Streamline Strainer from GW Kent. This piece of equipment allows us to filter out hops during our transfers into our serving takes, increasing our yields by a half barrel on average. This half barrel per batch translates into an increase of 100 barrels of beer a year, and for a company that only produces 3​,​100 barrels currently​,​ it is a huge win. We have also begun the transition of dry hopping with only Cryo hops. The ability to achieve the same aromatics with half the amount of vegetal matter increased our yields by 15-20% on our IPAs. The brewing team continues to think of new ways to benefit brewery functions.

BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
ZWACK: I am a big advocate of beer education for the consumer. I believe that educating the consumer about styles that they may not be familiar with can increase sales and diversify a consumer’s palate. I like to use craft ​L​agers as my example. Most consumers, that I have observed, associate craft ​L​agers to macro ​L​agers and are unwilling to try them because they think they are “water”. I like to educate consumers that ​L​agers can be on the hoppy side (German and Czech Pilsners) or can be rich and malty (Maibock, Doppelbock, Marzen). Education about styles outside of IPAs is something that I try and implement on a daily basis to expand the beers that customers drink.

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