Ohio Brewer Spotlight: Wally Weiss of Sibling Revelry Brewing
A few weeks ago, I got to meet up with Wally Weiss, Assistant Brewmaster at Sibling Revelry Brewing in Westlake. Sibling boasts a beautiful taproom and some pretty awesome beers as well. Wally was kind enough to field a few questions, show off the awesome brewing facility and explain the process that goes into their creative brews. Cheers!
Fermenting Ohio: What has been your journey to professional brewer thus far?
Wally Weiss: I feel I have been one of those weird exceptions in the brewing industry in that I didn’t start out as a homebrewer. I didn’t know about brewing and had never brewed before. I’m originally from Olmstead Falls. I was a purchasing manager of SeaWorld Ohio, which was owned by Anheuser-Busch at that time. What had happened was I had an opportunity to go to California with family, so I did, and one day went to the San Francisco brewery and asked if they had any job openings. Since I technically already worked for the company, they asked if I wanted to brew beer and start a two-year apprenticeship program. I literally walked into the job. I started off in the brewing department, but it got monotonous. We were only brewing the core Budweiser products, so no fun experimental brews. AB fronted all this money into their automation so it got pretty boring sitting behind a control board and being removed from the process. When I started there, there was still a manual process but then they moved to their “Brewery of the Future” model and everything was modernized and it became just watching the computers brew the beer. I moved on from the brewing department and worked in QA, and then I went over to Operations and worked on different bottle lines, can lines and keg lines. At some point I was trained on and knew everything going on in that brewery, so management asked me to write up their operating procedures and lead the training for their San Francisco location. After some more life changes, I ended back in Columbus taking on some QA jobs and toying with the idea of going back to school. Eventually, I had the opportunity to head north and became Operations Manager for Catawba Island Brewing Company. I was there for about 2 ½ years before making the decision to go back to Cleveland. In February, 2016, the Kennedy Family opened Sibling Revelry's doors and I’ve been here since July, 2016.
FO: Do you try to have a set number of beers, will some of these always be on tap?
WW: When I started, we originally only planned for 10 taps but wanted to expand to 16, (which we did). We have a smaller pilot system that allows us to try some experimental batches and fill the taps when the schedule allows. For the “regulars”, our Lavender Wit is one of our biggest sellers, especially in the summertime. It won Best of Cleveland by Cleveland Magazine a couple months ago, our Red and IPA will always be on tap and then we’ll have our seasonals that will rotate in and out.
FO: Does everything on the pilot system make it out here to the taproom?
WW: We really haven’t had too many issues of not using a pilot batch. Sometimes we brew something that might not seem like much right after fermenting, but given some time it really takes on some character and turns out ok. If there’s a break in the schedule and we have some time to experiment, Head Brewmaster, Pete Velez, and I will talk about it and we’ll work on building a solid recipe and go from there.
FO: What’s the favorite thing you’ve brewed since arriving at Sibling?
WW: My favorite has been a pecan brown ale. I got to put that whole recipe together. I went out and got pecans, made some simple syrup out of those, added some brown sugar and baked all that before putting it into the beer. It was really an experiment, I had never read of anyone doing it that way but the flavors really carried over well and it was one of our bestselling beers.
FO: How long does it take for recipe development here at Sibling?
WW: Pete and I have enough experience (I have over 13 years, and Pete has brewed for just as long as well as a former career on hops sales) so when it comes to breaking down beer profiles, we don’t really wing it. We’re able to take a small sample to gauge what will work within our bigger batches. We’ve been doing it so long it’s like second nature.
FO: Does the Cleveland beer boom and influx of new breweries pose any challenges for you?
WW: It’s definitely a challenge for newer breweries that want to distribute. Shelf space is getting tight but for me personally, people are going to pick and choose what they want, I think the trend is definitely headed to the state having many local brew pubs and people choosing small batch brews from those more regularly. Right now, there’s at least 18 new breweries in planning for Ohio, so it’s not slowing down. We self-distribute and have an amazing sales team, Carol Sanders, our Sales and Marketing Director, came from New Belgium and takes great care of us and has made some amazing deals happen. We’ve signed on with the Indians for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and we’ll have 17 spots in the stadium so we’re doing really well in this craft beer boom.
FO: What about your beer ingredients, is there an effort to stay local?
WW: We do have a line of beer called Ohio Native, which is all Ohio grain and hops, we did an Ohio Native Pale Ale and I have a lager now that’s all Ohio, too, so we like to be locally focused when we can.
FO: What are you most excited about in this brew year?
WW: There is so much planned, it’s going to be amazing and we're all pretty excited. Pete brewed a gluten-free saison, so the next thing will be a GF Pale Ale, we’re excited to get more people into the tasting room that previously couldn’t enjoy the beer.
FO: How has this industry changed from when you first started?
WW: Craft beer has just blown up, when I was in California there was only a handful of people drinking craft beer. I remember going into Lagunitas and there was nothing there and they had a small little brew system. Now, they’ve expanded to Chicago and are huge, it’s just amazing how it’s boomed and not just in California. When I left Ohio in 2001, there was really just Great Lakes and Thirsty Dog, and now it’s just amazing how many there are.
FO: Do you think Ohio beer can hold its own when compared to the California brews?
WW: Oh yeah, for sure. Mid-West is the best!
A big thank you to Wally, Pete and the various other folks who let me wander around and interrupt a busy production day. Do make a trip out to Westlake and experience Sibling Revelry Brewing for yourself!
Sibling Revelry Brewing
29305 Clemens Road
Westlake, OH 44145