Weyerbacher Brewing Co.
20 S. Sixth St.
Dan Weirback showed more than a little horse sense when he decided to open an English-style microbrewery with the German name Weyerbacher in an old livery stable in Easton, Pa.
Weirback was running a potato chip distributorship and had been homebrewing for eight years when he decided to open the microbrewery, christened Weyerbacher because that was the Old Country version of his family name. With former partner Joseph T. Nanovic, a lawyer, he set about raising capital. It took them six months to draw up the business plan and another six months to raise the amount they initially thought they would need.
"It took about $250,000 to get off the ground, but we've since had to commit another $50,000 to $100,000," Weirback said. Construction began in April 1995, and the brewery opened that September. Nanovic returned to his law career but still owns a small share of the brewery.
The brewery building dates to 1888 and once served as the livery stable for a nearby hotel. The brick building has old-fashioned wooden front doors, and if you look beyond the cases of bottles, bags of grain and brewery equipment inside, you'll find the spindle dividers for the original horse stalls. The wood flooring has been covered with plywood to make it easier for wheeled equipment to travel over the floor.
The old building with its wooden floors produces a lot of dust, so Weirback installed a closed-off "clean room" to house most of the brewing equipment. Since he was interested in producing British-style ales, he installed two 12-barrel open fermenters from JV Northwest.
"The foam creates a tremendous barrier," he said. "No bacteria is going to land as long as you take precautions." The fermenters are covered with sheets of plexiglass.
Much of the equipment was purchased used. A 14-barrel dairy tank served as a hot liquor tank for the first eight months and now serves as a holding tank, and another dairy tank is used as a fermenter.
"You can pick up dairy tanks for $400," Weirback said. "They would have cost $10,000 if they were called 'brewing equipment.' " A drawback to dairy tanks is that they take up a lot of floor space. Since space is at a premium in the old building, he purchased two 15-barrel unitanks at a cost of about $15,000 apiece. Weyerbacher expanded the brewing setup early in 1996 with the addition of three seven-barrel and two three-barrel Grundy tanks, which serve as conditioning tanks.
All of the English-style ales are made with British Munton & Fison malts and both British and American hops, including East Kent Goldings and Cascade. They are dry-hopped in the fermenters.
ESB Ale weighs in at 5.25 percent alcohol by volume and just under 30 International Bittering Units. It's made with pale and crystal malt and about 5 percent wheat malt, to aid head retention.
"The ESB was something I perfected at home," Weirback said. He quickly learned that the hops utilization for a larger batch is much higher than for a smaller batch, so the recipe required some fine-tuning. Another year-round beer is Easton Pale Ale. British pale ale malts give the pale ale a rich darkness ("Most people think we must use crystal malt," Weirback said), and after Cascade and Willamette hops are added the beer checks in at 42 IBUs.
Only a former homebrewer would attempt to sell the public on a strawberry wheat ale or a raspberry imperial stout. Weirback said he was disappointed with the Strawberry Wheat, which he made last summer with frozen strawberries. The Raspberry Imperial Stout, however, came out exactly as he had hoped. The recipe included pale, crystal, wheat, Munich, chocolate and carapils malt, roasted barley and Target and Fuggles hops. Tart, whole raspberries were added during secondary fermentation, and the beer sat for seven to 10 days before racking. The result was a well-balanced brew reminiscent of a raspberry-filled chocolate candy. It weighed in at about 8 percent ABV. At 40 IBUs Weirback didn't make the beer as hoppy as most imperial stouts; instead the raspberries provide the tart finish.
Other brews have included porter, black-and-tan, Autumnfest Ale, Winter Ale and an India pale ale with about 55 IBUs. The Winter Ale featured 2 percent chocolate malt in addition to pale and crystal malt, and Fuggles hops, and measured about 6 percent ABV. Weirback described it as slightly on the malty side, with a candi sugar flavor (from the chocolate malt, not from candi sugar), very smooth and clean.
When Weirback decided to expand into American-style ales, he created the Two Rivers Brewhouse line, which features more mainstream beers brewed exclusively with American malts and hops. The first beer released, Golden Amber, is a low-alcohol beer (under 4 percent ABV) in the American amber style.
"Weyerbacher beers are very special beers true to the British style of ales," Weirback said. "They're up there in (malt) flavor and hops. Some people wanted to buy 'the local beer,' but the British-style ales were too much for them."
About two-thirds of the beer sold is bottled. As of early February, Weyerbacher had about 30 draft accounts in the Lehigh Valley area of east-central Pennsylvania and about 30 in the Philadelphia area, with a few in New Jersey and the Harrisburg, Pa., area.
Weirback recently began conditioning beer in small wooden casks and planned to set up regular "Firkin Fridays" in on-premise accounts. "I think it's a great product and a great way to sell beer," he said. "It harkens back to old times." He uses East Kent Goldings to dry-hop these ales in the cask.
For about the first six to eight months the brewery was operating, Weirback worked side-by-side with production supervisor Kirk Decker to brew and package the beer. Now, Decker and brewers Al Prinz and Bud Parsons do most of the hands-on work; Weirback concentrates on sales and only takes part in production about once a week. Prinz and Parsons also spend some time making sales calls. Financial manager Barbara Lampe handles the bookkeeping several days a week.
Business "was great at first," Weirback said. "Then there was a lull, which was a little bit of a shock to us, but we managed to work through that." Because sales started off so well, the brewery then made more beer than it was selling, which caused some problems. "I was really concerned about freshness," Weirback said. "We want to make sure we don't overproduce again."
Demand has been so strong that the brewers usually brew between five and seven days a week. They generally bottle every other day, using a Meheen MicroMaster bottling unit. The in-between day goes to filtering and carbonation. "It's not a sterile filtration; you get some residual yeast," Weirback said. The beers are not pasteurized.
Weirback is concentrating on increasing sales within the current markets, rather than expanding into new ones. He has had some problems with distributors, whom he called "the bane of the industry."
"There aren't too many who do just micros and do them well," he said. The Easton area is still a fairly untapped market for micros, but he expects interest to increase at a fast pace this year.
Weyerbacher produced about 1,700 barrels in 1996 and is on track to produce 2,500-3,000 barrels this year. "We're growing about 50 percent over last year's sales," Weirback said. Since that translates to a jump from about 1,200 cases a month to about 2,000 cases a month, Weyerbacher is clearly still a small microbrewery. All 5,000 square feet of the building's first floor are often filled with ingredients, bottles and equipment. In fact, when a new shipment of bottles arrives, bags of malt must be moved outside temporarily so there is room to bottle. Weirback plans eventually to expand into the basement, which measures another 6,000 square feet.
Weirback's dream is to one day be "as big as Sierra Nevada," but he adds, "We don't mind waiting 10 to 15 years to get there like they did."
Weyerbacher beer is available primarily throughout east-central Pennsylvania and in the Philadelphia area.
This story originally appeared in Brew Your Own magazine in May, 1997. Weybacher has since become a brewery-restaurant.