“It wasn’t that I wanted to make more beer to sell it. I wanted to sell more beer so I could make more beer.”
Such was the business plan of Curt Dale when he began selling Dale Bros. craft beers after two decades of simply making home brews for himself, family and friends. Curt and his brother Andy, along with Andy’s wife Karen McMillen, operate the popular Dale Bros. Brewery in Upland.
“I was the salesman and the brewer, I just wanted to sell beer so other people would pour it at their restaurants so I could make enough money to make more beer,” says Dale.
When the brothers were young, the Dale family lived in Claremont, but moved to Louisville and later Vermont. Curt returned to Claremont in 1976 to attend college, and the family returned in 1980. Andy graduated from Claremont High in 1982 before eventually joining his brother in his home brewing hobby. After years of experimentation and refinement, their hobby turned serious.
“As soon as you make your first good batch, you start to think about making it professionally,” says Curt Dale.
While they lived locally, Curt says he still considered opening the beer business in the East because that’s where he spent his formative years.
“We looked at New England for a while and thought that would be a fun place to be,” he says. “Vermont, where we lived, is just chock-full of breweries right now. It has a population of only 500,000 people, so if you are there, you are basically exporting your beer to distance lands. “
The demands of distribution were enough to convince him to focus the business close to home. They found an industrial park on Ninth Street in Upland, where Curt Dale began setting up the brewery in 2001.
“When Curt started as a sole proprietor, he wore all hats at the same time,” said Andy, who explained that the idea of having a true tasting room and on-premise sales didn’t dawn on them until later. Instead, Curt focused on distributing Dale Bros. beers through local restaurants, bars and retail outlets. He sold and delivered the brewery’s first keg to Pizza N Such in Claremont in 2003.
“We opened as a growler-fill room and not a tasting room,” says Andy. “We had a small retail business, and for a small brewery it is essential to have that retail business on-premises, because it is the best way to generate operating cash flow. You just can’t produce enough beer at the size we were to make an honest living solely through distribution. We struggled along for a while; we were a little capital-starved.”
Dale Bros. found enough success to move to their current location in November 2012 in a newer industrial complex building near Cable Airport. The facility at 2120 Porterfield Way in Upland has allowed them to expand production from five 10-barrel tanks and two 30-barrel tanks to six 10-barrel tanks and seven 30-barrel tanks.
“Although we got off to a slow start in terms of our production capabilities, in the past year-and-a-half we will have added 190 barrels of fermentation space,” Curt said. When we left the old facility, we were at 80 barrels that were being used.”
Today Dale Bros. beers can be found in many local restaurants, bars and other venues, as well as the big box wholesale stores, grocery stores and large liquor stores like BevMo and Total Wines and More. In addition, the Dale Bros. tasting room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 2-9 p.m. and Sundays from noon-6 p.m. They also have kegs available for personal events
“It’s amazing how many people we would talk to who hadn’t heard of us,” recalled Curt.
Added Andy, “There probably are still a lot who haven’t heard of us, but now it feels as if within our home territory that our brand recognition has grown considerably.”
This is the first is a periodic series of articles about Dale Bros Brewery. Stories from “Sips, Suds and Spirits” focusing on the local craft beer scene now appear in 9-0-9 Magazine. An abbreviated version of the above article appears in the July magazine.