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A West O Windfall

April 4, 2014, 9:55 PM by Jared Ransom

A West O Windfall

Success in any avenue of life can come from passion, hard work or even a hint of luck. For Matt and Michaela Matthiesen, their success comes from all three. Their journey from the basement of their home to a full-fledged micro-brewery started ten years ago.

"When he turned 30, we had a birthday party for him and a friend of mine collaborated with me, it was the first time I brewed beer. He brewed beer at home, so we made a batch for Matt for his birthday," West O Beer co-owner Michaela Matthiesen said.

The next Christmas, they got their own brewing kit and away they went. Soon, that passion for brewing turned into a business idea.

"It was just a hobby that we enjoyed doing together and one thing led to another when we started talking about the planning process of the brewery and here we are," West O Beer co-owner Matt Matthiesen said.

West O Beer made its debut in the Iowa Great Lakes in the spring of 2013.

"I don't know if we had expectations other than I think our nerves took over," Matt said.

They soon found out there was no need to be nervous. The brewery was a hit.

"One of our major goals was for the people of Okoboji and the surrounding area to be very proud of our beer. We want them to feel like it is part of the Lakes. It's not just Matt's or mine or Karl's, we want people to be part of it," Michaela said.

That goal was achieved in the first few weeks of being open.

"We ran out of beer last summer, right away," Matt said.

It's a good problem to have, but not something they likely could've handled alone.

"We, somewhere along the planning process, made the decision that we needed to have a head brewer with commercial experience and looking back at the planning process, that was probably the best thing we ever did," Matt said.

The six types of beers from West O are in the hands of Karl Schmitz, who they hired away from another brewery.

"Started stacking cases on pallets and ended up being a brewer. There wasn't too much opportunity for me there, I felt, anymore, so I was looking for a new gig," Schmitz said.

He ended up in Okoboji and now his creations are being enjoyed by thousands.

"Hopefully it wasn't a surprise, I thought they were all good beers, but yeah I'm very pleasantly pleased with them. I hope they would go over very well and it seems they have," Schmitz said.

"The beers that Matt and I brewed at home together were, to us, very good, but now that we've had the beer here that Karl has brewed, these are awesome," Michaela said.

Success for West O Beer has come through dedication to their craft and hard work getting the word out about their brand and they feel that they've gotten a bit lucky being in the right place at the right time.

"It's ripe. It was ripe for a micro-brewery to be in the area, because a lot of people that come to Okoboji, to vacation from surrounding areas, Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Omaha, they were already introduced to the craft beer market," Michaela said.

Year number one at West O Beer went better than they could have ever expected. And now for year number two, there are better things to come. That includes a building expansion, so they're prepared for a similar mad rush from a year ago. They will now be able to triple their production amount and will soon expand the building to include even more.

They're also distributing their products to other businesses. West O Beer can be found in nearly 200 spots throughout Iowa, Minnesota and, very soon, South Dakota.

"It's kind of overwhelming, but when we started planning this, we wanted to be successful, so you go into it thinking success and you hope it comes out that way," Michaela said.

"It's been a lot of fun. When we started the whole process, it seems like eons ago. We had one child, now we have three. It's taken a long time to get to this point, but now that we're here, it's very gratifying," Matt said.

Just as gratifying as one of their home-brewed beers.

If you would like to learn more about their products, be sure to check out the West O Beer website.

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