West O Beer
503 Terrace Park Blvd - West Okoboji, IA 51351-7300
PASSION FOR QUALITY IS A GOLD MEDAL WIN FOR IOWA BREWERY
Sticking to one’s principles in business may be a daunting task, but it has paid off with a big, gold medal win for
one northwest Iowa brewery. “It may sound trite,” Matt Matthiesen says with an easy-going smile. “But our philosophy has always been simple: Brew Good Beer. This win changes none of that; it just underscores our commitment to the process.”
The win he mentions is a big one for his company, West O Beer, which sits on West
Okoboji Lake. On October 4, 2014, Matthiesen received word that one of their beers,
West O CocOTM Stout, had won a gold medal in Denver, Colorado at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival® 2014, in the category Sweet or Cream Stout. One other Iowa brewery took home a gold medal, Lion Bridge Brewing of Cedar Rapids.
Pick any segment of industry and there will be contests and awards. What makes this one so special is the status of GABF. Head Brewer Karl Schmitz, who created the recipe for West O CocO, sums it up. “It’s a huge festival, and one of the biggest beer competitions in the United States. 268 medals were given out this year, out of 5507 entries.” Matt Matthiesen adds “It’s a really big event. I remember just standing there a few years ago before we even opened the brewery, staring at the big screen with the award winners. Thinking.”
Matt and Michaela (Sailer) Matthiesen grew their home brewing hobby into a 6,000 square foot state-of-the-art brewery that opened on Memorial Day weekend in 2013. In less than six months they were able to expand into wholesale distribution. In January 2014 the Matthiesens tripled their brewing capacity with additional equipment, after first year sales exceeded expectations. Now, wholesale distribution extends to Des Moines and Council Bluffs, and into South Dakota and Minnesota, in both kegs and bottles.
One of those bottles will soon be the now-famous CocO Stout. Label and box artwork had already been approved, with
a target distribution date of mid-November. The beer has real cocoa nibs, bourbon vanilla beans, imported sugar, and caramel malt. What started off as “an easy-drinking Stout” according to Karl Schmitz, is now the beer everyone is asking about.
The gold medal means a different kind of dynamic now for West O CocO Stout. Matthiesen alludes to it, saying “It’s a great honor, but also a great boost for marketing a beer.” West O Marketing Director Lee Shiney expands on that. “A business usually hopes to have a very good product or a very good service. Then it wants a fan base to organically spread its popularity and strengthen the brand. But the brass ring we often dream of is validation from a higher authority. We hope through some miracle that a Warren Buffett or Oprah Winfrey will say ‘hey everyone, this is the real deal.’ This is that kind of moment.”
Not that they needed the higher authority. Their fans number into a few thousand on Facebook and Twitter and for their “Big Fan” email newsletter sent out from www.westobeer.com. They regularly make the trek to West Okoboji to fill half- gallon growlers with beer, spend time drinking pints in the West O tasting room, and constantly ask if their favorite beer is available in their favorite locations yet.
What’s on tap for West O’s future? Matthiesen explained that West O Beer produces its styles of beer mainly based on recipes Karl Schmitz either wants to test or has developed throughout his career. Schmitz was attracted to the Matthiesen’s demand for quality, and brought his own book of recipes to produce for the fledgling brewery. “Karl was very instrumental in our start up phase and early success,” Matt said of their head brewer. “This proves that he’s the best of the best. I think we’ll let Karl have a majority vote in selecting what beers are next.”
There is one thing that won’t be in West O’s future – resting on their laurels. The entire team knows that luck and hard work got them to this point. Schmitz says “We are going to continue to focus on what we’re doing, and always try to improve our process.” Matthiesen echoes that. “We’re going to grow our distribution...we cover enough territory and now we need to better saturate that area, especially with a beer like CocO Stout during the winter months. This is a big win, but we have our work cut out for us.”