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Benjamin Miraski/Medill

The bottling line and fermenters stand inside the Two Brothers Brewing Co. The company expanded capacity in its new location with the purchase of larger tanks from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago.

Brewing up success

by Benjamin Miraski
May 21, 2008


Benjamin Miraski/Medill

Jim and Jason Ebel of Two Brothers Brewing Co. stand in their new brew pub. The restaurant opened in February, expanding the company's business, and is on target to meet revenue goals.

About Two Brothers Brewing Co.

Name: Two Brothers Brewing Co.

Business: Brewing

Headquarters: Warrenville

Founders: Jim and Jason Ebel

Revenues: $615,000 in 2007; anticipating $500,000 additional revenue from restaurant operations in 2008.

Production: 6000 barrels in 2007. Project 10,000 barrels in 2008.

Employees: 35

Thanks Mom: "My mother was a catalyst and she said, you guys either need to do it or shut the hell up because you are driving me crazy" - Jason Ebel

Two Brothers Brewing Co. is a case of constant reinvention, not only in its beer styles, but also in its business. What began as a small, Warrenville homebrew store in 1993 has evolved into a prize-winning brewery with about $600,000 in revenues, distribution in six states, and now a restaurant. While the business has had three very different models, it's finally at the stage its unlikely founders, an architect and a lawyer, first envisioned.

“We wrote the first business plan by doing a pub,” said Jason Ebel, the architect. “We quickly realized we didn’t know the first thing about running a restaurant, but we knew how to make beer so we thought we’d start with that.  But, we always dreamt about opening a pub.” Jason focuses on the brewing, while brother Jim, the lawyer, tends to the business operations.

That dream came true at the beginning of February when the doors of the brew pub opened, bringing with it a jump to 35 employees. The restaurant is expected to add another $500,000 to the top line this year.

Two Brothers is very much a family affair, with the original fermenters having been converted from milk tanks from the Ebels’ grandfather’s dairy farm. The company moved down the road to a larger facility in November which now houses its restaurant and brewery. With demand constantly increasing, the company expanded again in late April, purchasing bigger brewing tanks from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago.

“That beer sells like crazy, especially in summer time,” said Robbie Lane, co-owner of Four Moons Tavern at 1847 W. Roscoe St., in Chicago, referring to Ebel's Weiss, a German-style wheat beer.  “It’s a unique weiss beer,” she stated.

According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry in the U.S. produced slightly more than 8 million barrels of beer in 2007.  While that is still a drop in the total beer bucket – craft beer sales make up just 3.8 percent of the industry – the segment is the fastest growing part of the industry, expanding 12 percent in 2007.

“Every time we turn around, there’s more and more and more demand and we can only grow so fast,” Jason Ebel said.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at saying, ‘Not right now. Maybe someday. Keep in contact,’” he added.

Despite holding off distributors, the company is on target with the new expansion to increase production by 67 percent from 6,000 barrels to 10,000 barrels in 2008. The beer is distributed to Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and is now sold in the company’s restaurant.

To run the restaurant, the brothers brought in a family friend, Gabe Nanni, who has more than 20 years of restaurant experience.  The concept went from paper to fruition in just five months – unheard of in the restaurant industry.

“Standing in the middle of this empty room, it was weird. I could see what this was going to look like and said ‘Yeah we can do this. This will be great’,” Nanni said.

The restaurant runs on the same concept as the brewery: be eco-friendly and use the best ingredients possible. For the food, that means using as many organic products as possible. While Jason Ebel said it almost doubles the cost, they have been able to keep every item on the menu less than $10.

Even though the company is willing to pay more for its ingredients, that doesn’t mean that the company isn’t concerned about costs.  According to Jim Ebel, controlling costs is the biggest hurdle for the company.

"Everything is getting so expensive. You’ve got a lot of bio-fuel production now which is driving the cost of all grains up,” Jim Ebel said. “That’s a huge concern of ours right now because every month it costs us more to make beer than it did the previous month.”

The company took a little bit of a price increase at the beginning of the year, just to stay ahead of the rising cost, Nanni said.

However, the brothers contend the expense is justified. “We really care about the quality of ingredients we use,” Jason Ebel said. “I think the flavors carry through the whole gamut of what we do.”

That quality has recently been recognized by the beer industry. At the 2007 Great American Beer Festival, held in October in Denver, the company won a Bronze medal in the Belgian and French-style Ales category for its Domaine DuPage beer, the company’s top-selling beer.

Despite the horror stories that often come with family businesses, Jim and Jason Ebel said they get along well because of the different strengths they bring to the table. “You know that if it’s not your area of expertise, you’re not going to push the hot buttons,” said Jason.

The spirit of the collaboration runs throughout the organization, with everyone pitching in with ideas for beers and the business. This is encouraged because no one in the organization has an official title.

“We started the company out that way because we are all a family and we all work together,” Jason added.

With the arrival of the summer, the company is looking to expand that family to include local farmers. As with everything, the Ebel brothers are focused on their eco-friendly agenda.

“There’s a way to get some quality organics while working with a small farm and keeping your carbon footprint down,” Jason Ebel said.

Despite the ever-changing sources of ingredients, turning out a quality product, both from the brewery and the restaurant, remains the focus for Two Brothers, a tenet of the business which is echoed in the praise from one of their own employees.

“It’s a testament to our brewmeister and our head brewer that they can take different conditions and make it so consistent. The magic of craft brewing is to be able to do that time in and time out and we do it tremendously,” Nanni said.