EDITOR’s NOTE: This is just part two of our conversation with Two Brothers Brewing. Part I of the Ebel Dialogs posted yesterday at 12:30 p.m.
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, 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: Can you tell us about the evolution of the beer lately. What cool new techniques are you using over at Two Brothers? Are their certain ingredients, brands or styles that you’re getting geeked about these days?
Jason: In October, we released another IPA. It’s called the Wobble, and it’s going gangbusters for us. It’s all late edition hops. As a matter of fact, it’s the only beer we don’t hop until there’s 25 minutes left in the boil. No hops at all till that 25-minutes-left-in-the-boil mark. That was new for us to try, and there are loads of hops in there, but it’s a great beer and as I mentioned it’s going gangbusters for us. It’s become our No. 2 seller already.
CBB: What’s your No. 1?
Jason: Our Domaine DuPage French Country Ale. That’s the big dog.
Jim: It has been for 15 years at least. It has a lot of legs.
CBB: You guys have a cool history. You started off as a homebrew supply company, is that right? Do you still do that?
Jason: Very good. Yep, in 1993. We still do it a little bit. We have a store up in the front of the brewery. We’re still in that realm. Big brew day is coming up here next month — National Homebrewers Day — and we actually invite the local homebrew clubs in the area to come out, and we brew wort for them on our big system and they take however much they want — 5, 10, 15 gallons — and they make a batch there in the brewery with their equipment. Last year, we gave away 10 barrels of wort that they turned into beer. You see kettles going throughout the brewery.
Jim: You seem’em out there with their propane burners and hops. It’s pretty cool.
CBB: The Two Brothers movement is growing. Where does Two Brothers distribute now? How many states are you in?
Jason: We’re in 10 states, so Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri — those all kind of make sense because they’re close together — then it goes Pennsylvanian and New York — which don’t make any sense. Then Florida and now Arizona. We actually opened our own wholesaling company in Arizona. About six months ago, we opened Arizona Beer and Cider Co. We distribute not only our stuff, but other people’s stuff as well.
CBB: There’s no legality in that situation that makes distributing your own beer weird?
Jason: We’re allowed to do that as an out-of-state brewery.
CBB: Ah, well, you guys are insanely busy. How many employees do you have now?
Jim: Nearly 400. It’s a lot of management, and a lot of people rely on us. We’re very honored to be able to support those people and their families. It’s really something important for us to make sure we’re treating our employees well and giving them good benefits.
Jason: It’s pretty gratifying at the end of the day when you sit down to open a beer, lean back and think: There are 400 families that rely on a paycheck every day, and it all stems from what’s in my hand. That’s pretty neat.