The 10-3-1 Plan That Helps Drive Empyrean Forward Since 1991

This is a continuing series highlighting the oldest craft brewery in each state with members of the organization that helped build the brand. Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights each Monday to help learn how these veterans of the industry have grown.

Jim Engelbart, Operations Manager, Empyrean Brewing Co. — Lincoln, Nebraska

Date the brewery opened: March 1991
What beers were tapped on opening day? Gold Ale, Amber Ale, Oatmeal Stout and Brown Ale

BREWER: Why did the brewery open in the first place? What was your biggest “Year 1” struggle?
ENGELBART: Three friends envisioned the perfect first brewery in the state as a brewpub that also happened to be the states’ first hickory grill. Running out of beer, needing more kitchen and more dining room to meet demand were all struggles from Day 1.

BREWER: Go ahead, pat yourself on the back; what was one of the key “good ideas” that were had early on which help drive growth or sustainability to the brewery?
ENGELBART: The best idea was to keep the brewery in one central location versus building separate pubs at each new site. We now operate four pubs but only have to manage one brewery.

BREWER: OK, now admit a defeat; what was a decision or a circumstance that hurt the brewery? How did you solve that issue or find your way through it?
ENGELBART: The hop crisis of 2008 hit really hard and we revised a bunch of recipes, and stopped filtering at the same time to save money. While beer quality did not fall off, the change to sometimes cloudy beer and rumors of the changes were enough to get the local homebrew club whispering about us cutting corners. Sales didn’t suffer greatly but it took years to win back some of our early fans. The results were we’ve learned better ways to purchase and control costs and our messaging.

BREWER: What excites you in your brand (be it liquid, equipment, strategies or something else) this year and how did you decide to pursue this avenue?
ENGELBART: We continue to get excited about the simple things that brought us to beer at the start: The best beer, perfectly paired with a meal in the right environment equals magic! We continue to stay busy teaching yet another round of service staff the art and craft of building these guest experiences in our pubs.

BREWER: Being a veteran company in the craft beer industry, what “words of wisdom” do you like to share when a new brewery owner approaches?
ENGELBART: Have a plan. A 10-year vision for where you want to be, a three-year task list that gets you closer to that vision and a one-year plan to complete those tasks in workable chunks.

Photos courtesy Empyrean Brewing

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