Wibby’s way

Longmont’s lager-obsessed brewer slings Old-World beers that give the Germans a run for their money

0
RYAN WIBBY discovered his love of lagers while studying brewing in Germany.

It had taken close to three months and almost $1,000 to get a case of Ryan Wibby’s Lightshine Helles lager delivered to the judges of the world-renowned Frankfurt International Trophy Wine, Beer and Spirits Competition. The beer had traveled halfway around the globe to be blindly tested against some of the oldest, most successful, most beloved breweries in Europe. And by the time it got there, Wibby had his doubts.

“I sent it in January and it didn’t get judged until early March or so,” the Longmont-based brewer says. “Traveling all that way, I really didn’t know how it was going to be received.”

However, both Wibby and the judges of the Frankfurt International Competition were in for a surprise. 

Wibby is a Boulder County native. He grew up in Gunbarrel and went to school at Ithaca College in upstate New York to study the family business of chemistry. During one of his classes at Ithaca, though, a craft-brew-loving professor introduced him to the chemistry of beer-making — and quite suddenly Wibby felt his calling: He wanted to start his own brewery. 

“From that first batch of homebrew, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,’” he says, adding with a chuckle, “which made for an interesting conversation with my folks about who was going to take over the family chemistry lab once I graduated.”

After graduation, Wibby worked at breweries on the East Coast; then he got accepted into the six-month VLB brew-master course in Berlin, Germany; then he got a four-month internship there; and by the time Wibby had made it back to the U.S., he was fully engrossed in the world of beer. He got one last gig working at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, spending every waking free moment drawing up business plans, and experimenting with his own beer recipes in preparation to return to his home state to break ground on his dream: Wibby Brewing Company in Longmont.

One of those recipes would become the same helles lager Wibby would later send to Germany for the Frankfurt International Competition. He says it had always been a goal of his to see how his own take on a traditional style beer would fare against the Old World’s — and in 2018 he got his opportunity.  

“When I was in Berlin, I got turned on to Augustina helles,” Wibby explains. “Augustina is a brewery out of Munich. And I mean, literally, it’s the only beer we were drinking and we were drinking it all the time.”

He’d been experimenting with his own version of that beer for a while, using traditional malt from Bamberg, Germany, and American Centennial hops from Yakima, Washington. It’s a delicious confluence of the Old-World style, with New-World hoppy character — Bavaria meets America — helles lager, Wibby’s way. 

Wibby explains, European beer competitions like the Frankfurt International Competition choose their winners a little differently than most U.S. beer competitions. Instead of just choosing first, second and third place out of all the contestants, at the Frankfurt International, multiple beers win gold, and multiple win silver and bronze — and from those winners a “Grand Gold,” a “Grand Silver” and a “Grand Bronze” are chosen as the top three beers in the competition. 

Wibby waited anxiously for the results for weeks. He knew that his American beer was being judged by German beer sommeliers; he knew that he was competing against some of the most established and respected breweries, not just in Germany, but in all of Europe; he knew the competition was high and he knew that his beer had been ferried across land and sea and had sat unopened for many weeks in fluctuating temperatures. But still, he thought his helles lager had a shot. 

And sure enough, he was right. 

“The Lightshine Helles won the Grand Gold at that competition,” he says, “which was really cool because there’s breweries that we beat out that are older than this country.”

That Grand Gold-medal winning helles lager put Wibby on the map. The only other American brewery to even place in that competition was Sierra Nevada, a goliath compared to Wibby, which he says put his small brewery in a really great spot. He’d gone to Germany, learned their craft, come home, brewed his own version of it, and had taken it back to sweep the competition — to beat the Germans at their own game. 

Wibby laughs (a little devilishly) at that notion, but doesn’t seem to disagree with it. “Yeah,” he says. “We did kind of do that. It’s great.”

That was in 2018. And still today, if you stop by Wibby Brewing on Emery Street, in the old Butterball Turkey truck maintenance plant, you can still get a pint of the Lightshine Helles lager. Rightfully, it’s become the brewery’s flagship beer. And, unlike the German beer judges who drank canned samples that had been shipped across the world (and still loved it enough to award it a Grand Gold), you can get it fresh on tap at the brewery. 

Don’t get too hung up on that one beer, though — there’s a lot more to Wibby than its award-winning, mind-bending, internationally renowned helles lager. In fact, all of Wibby’s beers are on a par with the Lightshine, and all are Wibby-ized versions of Old-World styles. The Moondoor Dunkel is supple, crisp and dark, with subtle tones of coffee and chocolate. And all the seasonal beers (like the upcoming Octoberfest-style Witoberfest) are well-worth sampling as they cycle through the brewery. 

“We’ve also turned our whole pavilion area into a big concert venue,” Wibby says. The brewery is hosting concerts with local artists every Saturday through the end of September. After which the brewery will be hosting football on the big screen on Saturdays and Sundays into the season. 

There’s a biergarten with a stage, live music, big-screen sports, and even a pool full of inflatable flamingos and tubes through the summer. But of course, those are only bonus features. The real draw to Wibby, as always, is its impeccably brewed, spectacular-tasting Old-World, Colorado-style craft lagers.

Previous articleQ&A with Jasmine Sim
Next articleQ&A with Donlyn Arbuthnot Whissen