(Easton, PA) – Earlier this fall, BeerPulse’s Chris Ferullo caught up with Weyerbacher Founder and President, Dan Weirback, for a discussion about the brewery’s ongoing expansion, recent repackaging effort, and the release of this year’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.
BP: Can you talk a bit about how Weyerbacher came to be? Your website mentions that you had a pool business and a potato chip route previously.
DW: Well, the chip route was the last thing I had, and I wasn’t really happy with it. My wife and I took a weekend getaway in Vermont and ended up touring the Long Trail Brewery. And she knew that I was thinking of getting into something else and suggested that I think about (opening a brewery). I had been a homebrewer already, of course. It took me about a year and a half to two years of putting plans together and trying to raise funds which is always the hardest part…mostly friends and relatives. And when we finally started, we didn’t have enough money. I think we had half of what we wanted in the budget, but we made it work. So it took us a long time to get traction in those early years, because we were undercapitalized.
BP: You started the brewery with the intent of making mainstream microbrews, and refer to that original decision as a “wrong step”. Do you mean that in financial terms or more philosophically?
DW: We got in just at the beginning of the big (microbrewery) wave and it turned out to be a wrong step. We realized only later just because it was hard to make a go of things doing those (mainstream) styles. We started out with Pale Ale and ESB, and every brewery seemed to have a Pale Ale out there. And Sierra Nevada was still going to be the clear leader. So it got to a point where you’d get a minuscule share of business and you just couldn’t (make) it on that. So we started exploring into bigger beers, more esoteric stuff, around the third year, and we started to get traction with that. These unusual beers is what got us noticed, so we kept going in that direction.
BP: And the first big beer was the raspberry?
DW: Raspberry imperial stout was the first one we did, basically Charlie Papazian’s idea from the Complete Joy of Homebrewing. And then we did Blithering Idiot (barleywine); that was really kind of done on a lark. We really didn’t expect it to sell that much and become what it has. But it’s now our number two brand behind Merry Monks.
BP: You’re currently in the midst of an expansion. How much capacity will this add?
DW: I think we did 9,500 barrels last year, and this year we’ll probably hit 14,000. The new space gives us the ability to add more tanks and get to 30,000 barrels. And whether we’ll do that remains to be seen. I don’t expect it in one fell swoop. It’d be nicer to grow it 20 or 30% a year. It’s easier to keep things sane and keep the quality good where it’s at. Right now we’re higher than that and it’s all good also. But it gets difficult to put a strain on employees and systems sometimes; we’d rather grow there instead of go there.
BP: Is the expansion focused more on entering new territories, or better serving current markets?
DW: Well we’ve been running really close on beer the last year. We haven’t had any big shortages but we would’ve reached the point where we would if we didn’t have this extra space to put a few more tanks in. But no, we’re not looking to branch into new areas. I’m not going to say “never”, but it’s not in the plans at all. We kind of see our brand growing in the territories we’re in, especially with the packaging changeover. We want to be able to make sure that we can supply those rather than take on new areas.
BP: Will the expansion allow you to increase your barrel-aged and sour output?
DW: It’ll give us a chance to do more of those things because right now we’re so crowded on space that it’s nearly impossible to fit any more barrels in here. But with the expansion, we’re gaining about 50% space increase. And yeah we want (head brewer Chris) Wilson to do more experiments with that, the sour beers and barrels that aren’t sour and just more creative stuff. I mean did you ever have the chance to taste Rapture? Incredible beer. And you know, it’s two years in the making. I’d very much like to see Wilson do that again.