Industry: Brewing & Beverage
Co-founders Ryan Wibby and Ted Risk are aiming to double production in 2017 at their creatively financed, lager-focused brewery.
A VLB Berlin-certified brewmaster with experience at top-notch breweries including Ithaca Beer Company and Deschutes Brewery, Wibby knew early on that he not only wanted to make his living brewing beer but to do so in a brewery of his own. Together with Risk, who he met while attending college in upstate New York, he began putting a business plan in place once he felt he had learned enough from working in the industry.
"Instead of just going out there and starting up my own thing, I knew I needed to get my feet wet and learn from other people at professional breweries," Wibby explains. "I got a lot of ideas for the business that way, implementing some of the good and making sure none of the bad would affect us." After reading multiple books on writing business plans, and nearly a year of Google Hangout sessions fine-tuning each section with Risk, who was then living in Chicago, the pair were ready to seek funding in May 2014.
"We didn't put any of our own money in because as a brewer, I didn't have any," he says. "So, we sold equity in the company, setting up different tiers with discounted rates so that the more someone invested with us, the higher discounted rate on our shares they'd receive." Raising the $1.5 million of capital needed took about a year, and Wibby and Risk retain 40 percent of the brewery's ownership with their investment partners making up the remaining 60 percent.
"Ted and I are the designated operating managers and day-to-day operators," Wibby continues. "So, we get to make the day to day decisions. We didn't want to go into business for ourselves and then have someone else control the company. We do meet with an advisory board of our main investors each quarter to tell them how things are going, where we're going in the future, and get their suggestions as we move forward."
It's a structure that's worked well for Wibby Brewing, which opened with five beers in Sept. 2015 -- including best-sellers Lightshine Helles and Wibby IPL -- and will have brewed about 15 different styles by the end of this year. "We shoot for a new seasonal every month," Wibby says. "And we try to keep at least six beers on tap at all times. I think we've had as many as 12 when we released a lot of barrel aged stuff."
While they brewed only 424 barrels their first six months, they will wrap up 2016 at about 1,500. Next year, Wibby and Risk plan to double their growth and produce 3,000 in the three-vessel, 15-barrel Specific Mechanical brewhouse located in their 8,300-square-foot facility. "Growing in a slow, sustainable way is really important to us," Wibby says.
Though the brewery is focused solely on lagers, Wibby finds other brewers a source of inspiration. He likes to translate his favorite ales into lager form, "with a similar hop flavor, aroma, and malt character, but, since it's fermented with lager yeast and aged longer, a crisper, cleaner finish."
He also enjoys putting a twist on traditional German styles. "Our seasonal Schwibby Schwarzbier is a black lager that I make with oats roasted in a local pizza oven," he says. "In Germany, they wouldn't allow you to use oats in the beer because it's not part of the purity law. But I decided I wanted to throw something different in there. The oats give it a smooth body but it's still crisp and clean."
Favorite beers: "The beer that I like the most and that changed my life is Augustiner's Helles," Wibby says. "I don't know if you can even get it here in the United States, but it's a light-bodied beer made in Munich, Germany. When I was over there during my time at the VLB, that's all we drank out of big half-liter bottles. It went down really smooth on nice days when we were riding bikes around the city."