The challenges faced by small brewers recently have been enormous. A pandemic, labor & supply shortages, not to mention inflation, have all taken their toll. Many beloved breweries have shuttered some, if not all, of their operation. Even an award-winning brewery, like Easton’s Weyerbacher, has had to temporarily close its taproom. But there’s good news, too. A leaner, more efficient brewery has emerged, and the beer continues to flow from their tanks into kegs & packages for us to enjoy.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this… A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Easton’s cherished Weyerbacher Brewing Company has taken that advice to heart, exploring new ownership options and better ways to run the brewery. A crowded craft beer market, financial uncertainty and equipment problems all prompted the team at Weyerbacher to reinvent the brewery.
Operations Leader Matt Tannous credits the brewery’s survival to a change in leadership, the return of founder Dan Weirback & a new way of doing business that makes the most of a smaller – yet highly talented – team of loyal people, who just plain didn’t want to work anywhere else.
Heady Times (HT): Weyerbacher has entered something of a new era. For those who may not know, how has the company changed?
Matt Tannous (MT): We’ve developed much more of an open and communicative structure. In the past, Weyerbacher employees just did their jobs. They had very little autonomy. Now, managers work with employees and their input is valued. It’s created a more creative and collaborative workplace for our small, skilled and motivated team. We are running a large operation with fewer people. It reminds us of our early years when a few passionate people built the business from the ground up.
HT: Can you tell us about the new employee ownership structure?
MT: Dan and his new team wanted to acknowledge the dedicated employees who stuck around during the hard times by giving them ownership stakes in the company. It’s much more than a mere token of appreciation though. It allows them to weigh in on bigger decisions.
HT: What have been some of the most exciting changes for Weyerbacher?
MT: Our new structure has created an environment where each and every person is focused on improvement. We’ve enhanced some old processes on the brewing and packaging side of things and we’re moving toward a refresh of the Weyerbacher brand itself. We’re excited to update the look and feel of Weyerbacher to reflect the progress we’ve made and show where we’re headed. Currently we’re working on a logo refresh that will be in the market soon.
HT: What can we expect from Weyerbacher this year?
MT: 2022 is very much a year of sticking to the tried and true. We’ve been focused on getting the very best out of our core beers. Seasonally, Imperial Pumpkin will continue to grow its market presence and enjoy an ever-so-slight refresh on its spice blend. We’re currently working on some new barrel-aged projects and hope to get those to package in early 2023. And we hope to get a Weyerbacher IPA into bottles as well!
HT: Tell us about your pilot series and how some of these beers make it to market.
MT: We use the pilot system to let the employees express their creativity. When the taproom is open and a beer is well received, we put some in kegs and test in local accounts. When we see good pull-through, we usually plan a small bottle run and test that release in the taproom again. In the past we’ve cannibalized core sales by pushing too many products without proper research. We’ve found greater success in testing the market with draught before pushing it to the package side.
HT: Retailers and consumers know Weyerbacher for brewing big beers, but they may be surprised by new releases that showcase more variety in the type of beer you brew. How do you strike a balance between the heavy-hitters that long-time Weyerbacher fans love with some of these newer, innovative beers?
MT: We understand the craft beer world is very much a world of trends and keeping up with the times. Trying new styles is fun and challenging. It keeps us fresh and tests our skills as brewers. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that for 27 years we made our reputation by making very distinctive beers. These will always be our prime focus and we always turn to them when we look for inspiration. Our core four (Merry Monks, Blithering Idiot, Tiny and QUAD) deserve our constant respect and attention.
HT: You mentioned it earlier, but as fall quickly approaches, it means the return of one of Weyerbacher’s most treasured beers – Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Why has this beer become such a calling card for your brewery?
MT: Pumpkin ales started coming out around 1998-99. They were all 4-5% ABV, a far cry from the big beers we were known for. Our largest wholesaler begged us for years to make a pumpkin ale. We finally gave in and crafted one that fits Weyerbacher’s style. At 8% ABV, Imperial Pumpkin hides its strength behind a solid malt backbone and showcases notes of caramel and toasted piecrust. It was already delicious, but the new spice blend in this year’s recipe surpassed our expectations. Besides, it isn’t fall without Weyerbacher Pumpkin Ale!