Wes O'Brien, left, and John Edwards bottle Sudwerk beer in April. New owners have revived the brewery's output over the past year and have doubled the staff. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

Local News

Sudwerk’s sales grow, floating on a sea of dry hop lager

By From page A4 | July 25, 2014

In front of the Dock Store, Ryan Fry, co-owner of Sudwerk Brewery, moves a mop aside and sits down on a new bench installed and sealed last week. The additional seating — and the freshly stained fence next to it — are small facets of the brewery’s recent, rapid expansion.

“Our dream mission is to turn Davis,” Fry said, opening his arms wide, “into the mecca of craft lagers.”

Since Fry and Trent Yackzan formally purchased the brewery at 2001 Second St. in 2012 from Yackzan’s grandfather, Dean Unger, and co-founder Ron Broward, the two Davis natives have doubled its beer sales by reviving dusty relationships with their distributors and increasing community outreach.

Last year — their first full year — they sold about 3,500 barrels of beer, the equivalent of about 580,000 12-ounce bottles. This year, they planned for just under 5,000 barrels. Instead, they are on track for 7,000, have doubled their staff and plan to hire at least two extra hands by December.

Fry and Yackzan began working at the brewery in the latter 2000s, while the brewery was still recovering from a low point in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They helped Broward and Unger revive sales, up to 6,000 barrels in 2011. By then, the owners were looking to sell, and Yackzan and Fry spent a year and a half in negotiations to purchase the brewery.

“That took so much time that we lost a lot of those relationships,” Fry said. “Now we’re just beginning to rebuild those again.”

Rebranding the brewery started, of course, with reinvigorating the beer.

Take Sudwerk’s flagship beer, the Dry Hop Lager: a long-standing German tradition, re-brewed with a complement of West Coast hops. Sudwerk calls it “reinventing the American lager.”

And it worked: The lager consistently lagged in sales until the hops were added. Now, it’s Sudwerk’s best-selling beer.

This belies the craft brew India Pale Ale (IPA) explosion, which local powerhouses like Petaluma’s Lagunitas have made their focus.

“We’re kind of out in no-man’s land,” Fry said. “A lot of people think lager is a bad word.”

But while he acknowledges sticking with the lagers has been good business, there’s something more personal to it, too.

“We make beers we like to drink,” Fry said, and declared, half-jokingly, that “it’s the most appropriate for any occasion.”

As Sudwerk’s popularity grows, Fry and Yackzan have begun to diversify their offerings — and plans for the future pour out of Fry like an open tap.

They canned the Dry Hop Lager earlier this month, and if it does well, may consider adding a canning line to their bottling and kegging capabilities. They want to scale up their barrel program, which started in earnest this past January. Small batches of beer are brewed in used wine or liquor barrels, one bottle specially packaged and picked up by members once a month. A half-year later, the wait-listed program has generated interest from around the country — with one customer inquiring from the United Kingdom, Fry said.

Sudwerk’s brewers also hope to revive more lost German lagers, like they did with the Fest Märzen, and Friday night’s Dock Party is a debut for their first two sour beers, which could become a monthly or quarterly offering next year.

The brewery plans to open its first tasting room in Sacramento or the Bay Area in the next couple of years, and retailers and distributors in Arizona and Texas are lobbying Sudwerk to fill out the paperwork and start shipping out of state.

They will add more tables to the Dock, building out a sizable biergarten and maybe, sometime soon, Fry and Yackzan will be able to reacquire the restaurant, which was leased out in 2006.

“The best is yet to come,” Fry said.

— Reach Elizabeth Case at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case

Elizabeth Case

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