As the founders of Two Brothers Brewing and Windy City Distributing, Jim and Jason Ebel have been major players in the Chicago craft beer scene for nearly two decades. Now the siblings are setting their sights on Arizona.
Two Brothers beers made their debut in our state last week. The Ebels also launched the Arizona Beer and Cider Company to distribute their beers, along with others. And they’re opening a huge brewhouse in Scottsdale.
The brothers actually are quite familiar with the Valley. Their parents live in Scottsdale, their grandmother lives in Peoria, and they have aunts and cousins in Glendale.
“One of our main things is family, and we have family out there,” Jason Ebel (pictured above on the right) says by phone from Illinois. “For years I’ve come out to Arizona as often as I can.”
In Chicago’s west suburb of Warrenville, Two Brothers will celebrate its 18th anniversary next week. It recently completed a huge expansion, and already has another scheduled to begin in March.
With so much going on, you’d think it’s an unlikely time to turn their attention to faraway state, even one where family resides. But the Arizona craft beer scene, Jason Ebel says, is at a unique point.
“We see Arizona as this rapidly growing beer market, like where Chicago was 10 years ago or so,” he says. “It’s really on the cusp of going crazy and being this fantastic beer state.
“If we can help move that along, we feel it’s a great time to be doing it.”
‘100 percent craft-focused’
Besides launching Two Brothers in this state, Arizona Beer and Cider will introduce New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing next week and Colorado Cider Company the following week.
“There are a lot of great distributors in Arizona, but none that are 100 percent craft-focused, that really understand all the aspects of being a craft beer distributor,” Ebel says. “We saw there was a potential niche there that needed to be filled.”
In addition, Ebel says they’ve signed up a Valley brewery and another Arizona brewery from outside the Valley.
“You gotta wait for the press release on it, but I’ll tell you we signed up a couple of cool local guys,” he says. “We should be launching both of those within a couple weeks.”
Are there out-of-state breweries the company is targeting to bring to Arizona?
“Absolutely,” Ebel says. “I’m not going to go there right now because of any distributors there that might read your article. But there are some great beers that aren’t in the Arizona yet that are good friends of ours.”
But don’t expect Arizona Beer and Cider to bring in just any brewery. After 15 years, Windy City (which the brothers sold to distribution giant Reyes in 2012 for a reported $50 million) worked with just 28 suppliers.
“We’re not brand collectors,” Ebel says. “Our goal is not to have a humongous book. It’s to have the best book.”
In terms of Two Brothers beers, the brewery is planning to send its entire line of offerings to the Valley, including eight year-round beers, eight seasonals, three artisan, and a new line of barrel-aged sours.
“We don’t do that for every state, but Arizona’s become a target market for us,” Ebel says.
Two Brothers’ flagship long has been the versatile and easy-drinking Domaine DuPage French country ale, although Sidekick extra pale ale has become a close second and still is growing fast.
“I do believe Sidekick probably will pass Domaine in 2015 in terms of volume of sales,” Ebel says.
Garnering attention recently, though, has been the brewery’s Project Opus, a line of sour beers aged in 100-barrel oak foudres.
One of those beers – aged for two-and-a-half years and dubbed Sour #2 – just won the gold medal for wood- or barrel-aged sour beers at the Great American Beer Festival. It’ll be released on draft and in champagne bottles, probably in February, Ebel says.
“It’s gonna be pretty hard to find because we don’t make a ton of it,” he says. “I would assume fewer than 100 cases will hit the entire market.”
Old Town Scottsdale brewhouse
Perhaps the Ebels’ most ambitious project, though, is Two Brothers Taphouse and Brewery, which they hope to open in Old Town Scottsdale before the Super Bowl in Glendale on Feb. 1.
They’re currently renovating the cavernous (8,165-square-foot) building on the southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Drinkwater Boulevard that once housed Saddle Ranch Chop House.
Gone are the mechanical bull and rustic country decor. New is a modern industrial look similar to the Two Brothers’ brewpub in Warrenville.
The brewpub will serve what Ebel calls “upscale pub fare” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. (Pictured above: The Warrenville pub’s best-selling fish tacos.)
There will be an extensive selection of coffee drinks, since the Ebels also own a coffee-roasting company.
A 10-barrel brewhouse will produce exclusive beers for Arizona, while all package beers will continue to come from Warrenville.
“We can produce 100,000 barrels of beer a year on our current system,” Ebel says. “We don’t need to make Domaine DuPage in Arizona, know what I mean?
“Our goal is to do different stuff that would just be for the Arizona market. To us, that’s what’s fun. If you’re gonna open another brewery in another state, give it a local flair that makes sense for that market.”
Warm reception so far
Asked if he’s encountered anything he didn’t expect in Arizona, Ebel doesn’t hesitate.
“One of the things that’s surprised me – in a positive way – is the reception we’ve gotten,” Ebel says. “Whether it’s been the retailers or the other breweries in town, they been very receptive to what we’re doing and that we’re coming in.
“They realize we’re here to enhance and not to try to take over. In Chicago it’s not quite so friendly, I would say. It’s not that it’s not friendly overall. We have a lot of great friends in Chicago.
“But the market is more mature. It’s more saturated. So there’s a little bit more of hard edge to the market in Chicago than in Arizona right now. And that was a really nice thing to find.”
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