EDITOR’s NOTE: This is just Part I of our conversation with Two Brothers Brewing. Part II of the Ebel Dialogs will post tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., so clear your schedule.
Brothers in businesses always make for great stories. Find two obsessive overachievers from the same gene pool, get them focused on building a business, and you have a pretty good recipe for success. Jim and Jason Ebel, the two brothers behind Two Brothers Brewing Co., share that impressive sibling resume, but instead of cars or politics, these brothers are brewing geeks.
Both were ex-pats in Europe who fell in love with bold beer styles and started homebrewing, which led to the brothers opening a beer and wine making store called The Brewer’s Coop in Naperville, Ill., in 1992. Jim went to DePaul University’s College of Law, while Jason went to the Siebel Institute of Technology, earning his diploma in Brewing and Fermentation Sciences. Jason moved to Colorado to brew, but was coaxed back by brother Jim to start Two Brothers. Eighteen years later, Two Brothers produces some of the best craft beer in America through multiple brewpubs, a wholesaling company, 400 employees and distribution in 10 states (Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, Iowa and Pennsylvania).
We got the opportunity to meet the Ebel brothers at the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, and like most brothers, the two had plenty of interesting stories to tell. Ensuring a fitting backdrop, we met the brothers under the golden pendulum of the Oregon Convention Center. I grabbed a table (with CBB marketing guru Pete McNeil), and we stretched out our legs. In typical CBB fashion, I had no questions prepared. Luckily, the Ebel brothers were just naturally entertaining. I threw a few questions their way, and this excellent interview became the result.
CBB: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules here at the Craft Brewers Conference — especially around lunch time. I’m sure you guys are pretty busy.
Jason: Yeah, I’m on the Craft Brewers Conference committee. We get all the presentations sent to us, and we select all the talks. Been doing that for 11 years; so yesterday, I was just doing intros for all the talks I helped pick and then helping to put panels together.
CBB: I imagine that job has grown since you’ve started.
Jason: On my gosh. Unbelievably. The number of tracks we have: You’ve got the marketing track, the brewery packaging track, the technical track. When I started, that didn’t exist. There were just a couple of things. Now the color chart is amazing for the display.
Jim: Ten tracks.
Jason: Exactly. But it’s been a great show. Over 11,000 people attending this year. There were maybe 500 at our first Craft Brewers Conference years ago.
Jim: No! Well, maybe 500, but there were only 50 breweries in the U.S. back then. ‘97 was our first conference. It’s changed quite a lot.
CBB: Has the feeling changed? You mentioned before we started that a high tide raises all boats, but doesn’t the industry feel a little different these days?
Jason: From the perspective of comradery, it still feels the same. But now, we don’t know anybody. We used to know everybody.
CBB: You’re like the old guys now?
Jim: That’s for sure.
Jason: I think it’s great overall. We’ve got so many people now bringing craft beer into the industry. The way I look at it, and I think about it on a regular basis. If you’re a good brewer, it makes you have to be even better.
Jason: So for Two Brothers, we always have to be on top of our game. We’ve got to be better than we were yesterday, and we have to constantly be involved, because there are so many choices now.