Weyerbacher tightens its belt, seeks investor dollars

Weyerbacher Brewing is going through a rough financial patch. The 24-year-old Easton, Pa., brewery laid off two longtime salespeople to trim costs as it seeks new investment.

“We’re in the process of reorganizing a little bit,” said Josh Lampe, the company’s COO. “We’re getting some funding from investors. As part of that, we had to get the company healthy before the investment came in.”

Lampe continued, “We haven’t been able to meet production. Sales volume wasn’t there. We had to redirect assets to cover that.”

Additionally, he said employees temporarily lost health care benefits as Weyerbacher fought with its insurance carrier over billing.

“We’re hoping to have that resolved soon,” he said.

Weyerbacher, which has about 30 employees, produced about 15,000 barrels of beer in 2018, down from a high of 18,000 barrels, according to Lampe.

Whatever financial challenges the company faces, they are not unique for a brewery that size.

Mid-size craft breweries don’t produce enough beer to benefit from either cheaper bulk purchases or the efficiencies of larger brewhouse capacity. Nor are they big enough to go toe-to-toe in the battle for shelf space with nationwide craft beer competitors, like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Bell’s.

Meanwhile, their overhead and debt are far greater than that of the many 1,000-barrel-a-year breweries that have cropped up in recent years. That means they must continue to grow in the face of even more competition just to keep up with costs.

Weyerbacher has carved a unique presence in the Philadelphia market since its founding, emphasizing strong beers including an imperial pumpkin ale and the first Belgian-style quadruppel bottled by an American brewery. Unlike so many breweries that focus on a variety of India pale ales, Weyerbacher’s biggest brand is Merry Monks, widely regarded as one of the best Belgian-style tripels in the world.

The company was growing as recently as 2012, building a $1 million expansion that tripled its capacity to 30,000 barrels a year. In 2017, it announced it was expanding distribution as far away as Texas. Ironically that same year, the brewery earned considerable publicity by releasing Dallas Sucks pale ale.

Lampe said, “2018 was a difficult year, but things are looking bright for 2019 and we’re feeling positive about it.”

As for the two laid-off beer reps – Mike Lubieski and Ethan Sterner – both are popular and familiar faces in the local beer scene. Lampe said the layoffs were temporary and he hoped Weyerbacher could re-hire the two.

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