Wicks Brewing Co.
Written By: Sid Robinson
Photographed By: Alazzia Gaoay
Sometimes the blink of an eye is all it takes.
It seems that way for Ryan Wicks and his father, Brad, who opened Wicks Brewing Co. in Riverside three years ago last month.
From the time they started tossing around the idea of opening a craft brewery a couple of years prior to their eventual opening day in 2013, things have fallen into place in rapidly for Wicks Brewing.
“Looking back it seems like opening our brewery was a whole different lifetime ago, but at the same time, it’s gone by in a flash,” said the 33-year-old son, who was born and raised in Riverside, graduated from Arlington High School and attended UC Riverside. “When we opened three years ago it was absolute chaos.”
That’s not surprising, considering the Wickses didn’t exactly ease their way into the craft brewing business.
“The first beer we served when we opened was from the very first batch of beer that came through our new brewing system,” Ryan Wicks said.
Talk about hitting the ground running. Ryan admits that the first six months of operation were tough. While he and his dad had experience building and working in restaurants, neither had much familiarity with day-to-day operations. They immediately made changes and soon hired Brian Herbertson as their head brewer.
“The quality level of our beer has gone through the roof, and our food has gotten progressively better,” he said.
Since then, Wicks Brewing Co. has firmly established itself as one of the Inland Empire’s premier craft breweries. For the second year in a row, Wicks’ flagship hoppy pale ale, Paladin, won a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition in April. Another beer, Bard’s Song, earned an honorable mention.
“Pretty much every beer that we release is on a level with anything being produced commercially in the world,” Wicks said. “We’re very very happy with the products that we’re releasing now.”
Wicks said his initial business plan was far different from actually transpired. The Wicks' owned a home brew shop at the time, and they wanted to create an educational brew-on-premises facility focused on teaching brewing classes. The idea stemmed from a visit to Brew Bakers in Huntington Beach, where their friend and brewery owner Dennis Midden offered a brew-on-premises system for the public to make its own beer.
“That’s what got me hooked—brewing a beer that I had full control over from start to finish, where I was responsible for the entire brewing process,” he said.
In their quest to build the foundation for their educational brewing endeavor, they realized that the people who would come for the four-hour process of brewing their own beer would also want to eat. So they decided to add a kitchen.
“As we were looking for equipment we found a brewpub that had gone out of business in central California,” said Ryan, who was an engineering major at UCR before switching to sociology and psychology and eventually business administration. “It was exactly what we were looking for, even though at the time we didn’t realize that’s what we were looking for. It was a turnkey brewing system. It was the brew house, the fermenters, all of the boilers—everything that we needed to set up a brewpub.”
About the same time, the unit next door to the one Wicks Brewing was about to occupy became available, giving them ample room to be bigger and better.
“At that point we made the decision that we would try to make a go of it as an actual brewery,” he said. “We opened with everything you see here today, minus some of the brewing equipment that we have added. We started as the world’s first brewpub, distributing microbrewery and brew-on-premises facility.”
The brewpub has seating for about a 100 people, but Wicks says that the overall capacity is closer to 200, which is necessary for most nights when the place is packed.
“The feel of our taproom is different than what you’ll find in most taprooms,” he said. “It’s more of a restaurant feel, with the goal of exposing people to craft beer. If we give them something that’s comfortable and then bring the beer into it, then it makes for a more inviting experience. People who may not have been to a brewery before will feel at home because it’s a restaurant, and then we bring them the beer that’s been brewed 20 feet away.
“We want to educate people and get them to brew their own beer and spark their passion for craft beer, which will lead them to try other breweries and start exploring.”
Wicks said they didn’t have intentions of distributing the Wicks beers to local bars and restaurants, but within the first year of operation they were in the distribution business.
“We couldn’t keep up,” he said. “About six months after we started distributing, we upped our production. We got a couple more fermenters and doubled our production, and we’ve since added another fermenter, which added another 50 percent. We’ve tripled our production since opening, and we’re hoping to add onto that by the end of this year as well.”
Bottling their beer was the next step, and by 2015 Wicks was offering Paladin in bottles. In the brief time since, they’ve bottled five more of their beers, with several more scheduled for take-home distribution this summer. Wicks also produces its own homemade root beer.
“Ultimately, we want to bring attention to all of the great breweries in the Inland Empire,” Wicks said. “We wanted to take care of Riverside first, but now we self-distribute to all of the Inland Empire, and we’re moving more and more into Orange County and Los Angeles. I want to help put the Inland Empire on the map.”
Wicks Brewing Co., 11620 Sterling Ave., Riverside, CA 92503. For more information call (951) 689-2739 or visit this website.