In late-October, while the craft beer community was still processing the news of Stone Brewing’s sizeable layoffs, wondering and worrying about the long-term, highly visible individuals who had been cut from Team Stone, one of the most well-known delivered some shocking news of a positive ilk. That ex-Stoner is “Dr.” Bill Sysak, who announced he is in the process of opening his own brewery, Wild Barrel Brewing Company. A bon vivant and hospitality professional known throughout the world (this is not hyperbole) for his extensive beer and food knowledge, this is Sysak’s first fermentable foray where he is in an ownership position. Scheduled to open mid-Spring of next year, Wild Barrel will be sited in San Marcos and eventually feature multiple tasting rooms. Read on for more on the finer details and Sysak’s vision for the business and a rather exciting life post-Stone.
What will your role and responsibilities be at Wild Barrel?
My title will be CEO, and my role will be driving the concept of the brewery, from initial design and layout to the styles of beer we make, marketing, direction and growth. I have a very talented team with me, and my 39 years around craft-beer has afforded me access to a ridiculous number of friends and consultants, all of whom are proven leaders in the industry. I have the vision, I have the plan, but I also know that I don’t have all the answers.
What led you to opening a brewery and why did you select San Marcos as your home-base?
I’ve been approached by investors many times over the last 20 years about opening a craft beer bar or brewpub, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I left the medical field in 2008. The opportunity to work for Stone in 2009 was too great to pass up, so I put it on hold until last year. As far as San Marcos, even though there are a number of breweries there already, including two that I love—Port Brewing / The Lost Abbey and Rip Current Brewing—I think there is still plenty of room for craft breweries that produce distinctive, unique beers. It also doesn’t hurt that the City of San Marcos is pro-craft breweries.
How long have you been working on this project and how has that process been?
I started the process in early 2015. I had a couple of false starts, but by the beginning of 2016 my partners and I, with the help of consultants, started to finalize the business plan and operating agreement. We have a large portion of our funding accomplished; enough that we had reached the benchmark to move forward with announcing the project last month. We are currently negotiating a lease, which will be followed by our TTB and numerous other filings. We are getting quotes on brewhouses and hope to put that order in over the next two weeks. Other areas such as POS, beer menus, glassware, growler filling system, draft system, beer styles, labels, website are all either selected or in development.
Who will handle the brewing and what are some of the beers they will produce?
Bill Sobieski, an award-winning home-brewer and Certified Beer Judge, who is well known in the Southern California craft beer community. I’ve known Bill for over 25 years, and he will be our director of brewery operations. I think with the constantly increasing number of beers the craft beer consumer has available to them, having a focused beer portfolio is critical. In hyper-competitive markets like San Diego, Portland and Denver, the days of a new brewery making whatever beer styles the brewer wants to that particular week is over. To be successful today you still need to make beers that cater to every palate, but you can’t just randomly select styles. We will have one gateway beer to start, not three. It will be a Belgian wit, light and refreshing to capture the converted BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) drinkers, yet complex enough to be the first beer of the night for a beer aficionado, 5-6% (alcohol-by-volume) with classic ingredients, but with more pronounced citrus notes than most wits. You can expect us to have two or three San Diego-style IPAs on at any given time. I love hops and, apparently, most of the craft beer community does also. Even though it will take us some time to acquire hop contracts we aren’t going to let that stop us from making IPAs with the hops that we want to use. One of the biggest mistakes I see new breweries make is the kitchen-sink IPA. They throw Mosaic, Citra, Nelson, Simcoe and three other hard-to-get hops all in one beer. It smells and tastes great, but they can’t continue to produce it. Our core IPA will be in the 7-8% ABV range with classic West Coast hops like Cascade, Centennial and CTZ making up the majority of the hop bill until we get to the late addition, then you will see a rotating finishing hop that will be highlighted. You can also expect to see a couple of bigger IPAs throughout the year, mainly doubles. All I can tell you about the coffee stout right now is that I am talking to four local roasters and our goal is to have the beer change seasonally. The only roaster I can confirm at this time is Mostra Coffee. Bill is also recreating a beer called Mission Impechable that he first created 20 years ago.
How do you believe your beer expertise will impact this business and make it better?
One of my roles at Stone was running the beverage program for their hospitality division. I have also been a consultant to various bars, restaurants and breweries over the last 20 years. Those experiences will be invaluable in starting a brewery and subsequent tasting rooms. Having personal relationships with hundreds of potential accounts around the country will be helpful and having purchased beers through bottle releases since their inception gives me insight into that process also. I’ve already had discussions with some of the best breweries in the country about doing collaborations, so expect to see a number of them.
Who are some individuals who have been instrumental to the conceptualization of Wild Barrel?
My closest friend over the last five years is Chris White. Not White Labs’ Chris White, although he is a friend also. Chris is mine and Bill’s partner, and will serve as president of Wild Barrel. He is an entrepreneur who already runs two successful businesses; Golden State Cigars and Golden State Pools. Chris has been involved from the beginning and I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him.