SIBLEY, Iowa — The opening of Drink Me Brewing Company was fulfillment of a 40-year ambition for brewer John Berry, who owns and operates the microbrewery with his wife, Lillian.
The Berrys are Sibley transplants of only nine and a half years. John works remotely as a senior customer relationship management advisor for Edgenuity, an online education resource creator out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Lillian is the clerk at the Sibley Public Library.
Home beer brewing has been a favorite hobby of John's for more than four decades. Plans for Drink Me were finally set in motion in 2014 when a historic brick building on the corner of Ninth Street and old Iowa 60 became available.
The building at 210 Ninth St. was constructed in 1890 as a Brown & Chambers upscale department store. Over the past 130 years, it functioned as a variety of local businesses before sitting vacant for several years.
The city of Sibley was on the verge of leveling the building when the Berrys asked to purchase it.
They weren't set on using the space as a brewery at first, but when John mentioned it in a city council meeting, several council members pumped their fists and said, "Yes!"
"Owning a brewery is what every home brewer dreams of," Lillian said. "How can you say no to the chance to fulfill a dream when it falls in your lap?"
The Berrys were able to buy the building from the city for a dollar. Then the real work began.
The old building had some structural problems that needed immediate repair, as well as more than 100 holes in the ceiling.
"There were times I felt like Don Quixote," John said of the renovation process. (Don Quixote, the title character of an early 17th century Spanish novel, is such a dreamer that he borders on delusional.)
"We thought we'd be doing this for the rest of our lives," Lillian agreed. But they persevered and refused to grow discouraged.
"It's like that saying," Lillian said. "'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.'"
In total, they spent five and a half years doing most of the work themselves, with volunteer help. The Sibley community was so excited to have the Berrys do something meaningful with the old building that many offered their time and skills to make the idea a reality. The labor and materials for the bar were donated by a good friend. Another screen-printed bar towels. Still others have helped sand, paint and clean the space.
Meanwhile, John wanted to get to the business of brewing, even though the tasting room wasn't ready yet.
During construction, periodic openings invited "The Brew Crew," a niche loyal following, to partake of John's latest brews, including taking home cans. Drink Me beer has also been offered on tap at the Sibley Golf Course and at 1015 Steak Company since brewing began in 2017.
The Berrys shared a saying John has repeated over the years of brewing beer and fixing the building simultaneously: "It's like building the plane while flying it."
When it came time to choose a name for the brewery, the Berrys consulted their kids. Ultimately, they decided on the name "Drink Me," partly as a reference to a scene in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." They even created "Drink Me" growler tags as nod to the novel.
John and Lillian finally opened the tasting room Nov. 30, much to the delight of local beer enthusiasts. They sold more than 650 beers on opening night.
Drink Me's specialty is high-alcohol beer, often aged in barrels that formerly held wine and liquor. The oldest brews in the storeroom have been maturing in barrels for more than two years.
"You get to tweak your recipe and try different things," John said of his creative process. His favorite part of brewing is seeing other people enjoy what he's made.
Although John loves to experiment with ingredients and flavor profiles, he plans to always have a basic, light beer on tap — what he calls a "gateway beer" — to mirror the kind of beer most people are used to drinking.
The bar currently has six taps, and the Berrys plan to eventually work up to 12.
Although Drink Me does not serve food, patrons are welcome to bring their own — one guest even had a pizza delivered. Sometimes the food truck from Burn Unit BBQ parks outside Drink Me Brewing.
A selection of board games is displayed in the front window area, with the idea that people will hang out, play a game and have a beer. Already, groups have come in and used the games, the Berrys said. There is even enough space for kids to run around.
"After all the years this building was a warehouse or empty, to actually hear the laughter in it is heartwarming," John said.
The tasting room is open 6 to 10 p.m. Fridays and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturdays, unless a special event is scheduled (as is the case this Saturday, Jan. 11). The Berrys plan to hire additional employees in the future so they can be open more days of the week.