Cover Story: Nicki Werner

Be More

What would people be surprised to find out about you?

I studied brewing in Germany in 2018. It was through a scholarship program for women in beer, the Pink Boots Society. Myself and 12 other women brewers from all over the world traveled through Bavaria, Southern Germany. We visited breweries big and small, hop fields, grain suppliers, and research institutes. We even got to visit the last living nun brewmaster, Sister Doris! Technically, I learned a ton about my craft – tastings, equipment, and ingredients. One of the beers we recently launched uses a hop variety that was just being developed and grown in Spalt when I visited! Another huge takeaway was seeing all these different families and organizations harnessing the agency of beer to build communities that were aligned with their values. It ranged from environmental concerns, migrant needs, religious communities, deep investment in German culture and history – all kinds of things. That had a big impact on me. 

What is your life purpose? Do you have a personal mission statement for this phase of your life?

To make the culture I want to be a part of in my life. 

I spent a lot of my 20’s in universities learning – about history, power structures, inequities, questioning it all, being mad. Typical young person stuff – seeing the bigger world and trying to understand it. I worked for a performance artist, Deke Weaver, on some big projects. He always said that – make the culture you want to be a part of in your life. After a couple of years of working with him and seeing it in action, it stuck with me. 

The brewery feels like a big way to do that – building both an employee culture and a culture in our town, that makes a life I want to live. But I try to live that all the time – in my relationships, my hobbies, my self-care. How am I being an active part of building the future I want to see?

What drives you?

Seeing my family and friends happy and healthy, good food and drink, learning, a good challenge, trying new things, being inspired by other people, curiosity about the world, and a healthy level of perfectionism needed to drive craftsmanship. 

On a headier level, inequity drives me nuts. I’ve always been looking for my path to make change, even if it’s just in my tiny corner of the world. I am driven by the idea of building prosperity and wealth in our community and for our employees. High tide raises all boats, I am driven to make the tide rise around here.

What have been the most valuable lessons you have learned? 

Invest in good shoes. Cultivate gratitude.

Do you have morning rituals or daily habits that enhance your life? 

Coffee, eggs, and trying new hot sauces or chili oils. It sounds silly but I look forward to it every morning. This time of year is especially awesome because so many of our customers and partners raise chickens, so I get to try many different eggs. We trade them for beer or give their chickens the leftover grains from brewing. That kind of full-circle stuff makes me really happy. That, and spicy things.

After that, I like to look at the various plants and trees on our property. I’ll go to the brewhouse and mash in the brew to get it started. Then go scope out our little prairie plant spot or see how the mulberry trees are coming along. Taking a minute to see the plants’ progress helps calm me down and also dream about how big they will be one day.

What habits have you built into your life that increase your stamina and help you power through long days? 

Writing down my ideas and action plan first thing in the morning when my mind is clear. Stretching. Eating meals with my family, even just as a quick break. Saying no when I need to say no. In the hospitality industry, socializing and greeting is important. But I have learned to sometimes protect my time and just go home. 

How do you decompress or unwind?

Cooking, baking, walking, drinking with friends and family, gardening, and listening to podcasts.

Where do you find joy?

In people and in being outside. 

How do you want to be remembered?

As someone who was doing something! My grandma always said, “You never let the dust settle under your feet.” And I hope to stay that way.

Do More

Tell us about your business.

Jefferson Beer Supply, in Jefferson, SD, is a small-batch craft brewery about 15 minutes north of downtown Sioux City. We make beer on-site and our taproom is open to the public seven days a week. We offer craft beer, from light to dark and everything in between. We also offer wine, hard cider, non-alcoholic beer, kombucha, craft sodas, and boba tea. We have hot pizzas and a rotating schedule of food trucks. Our event schedule includes live music and comedy, trivia, beer-pairing dinners, festivals, kids’ activities, and more. We also sell beer to-go and are on tap at bars and restaurants throughout Sioux City and Southeast South Dakota. 

What’s the meaning behind the business name?

We saw it as being clear and direct. It’s a nod to our rural roots. When we landed on Jefferson Beer Supply we had western supply, seed supply, or tractor supply stores in mind.

What sets your business apart from the rest?

Our concept isn’t that groundbreaking. We want to spend time with people we care about in a place we care about, too. To celebrate the life and culture of where we live. To spend and invest locally instead of at chain stores. Throw in a sunny patio, some quality drinks, and voila!

Maybe the simplicity of what we are doing sets us apart. In the early 1900s, Germans brought a different kind of drinking culture to the US, biergartens. These beer gardens were laid back, daytime destinations, family-friendly, and low-alcohol beer. There is a word associated with them, “gemutlich”. It means “cozy” or “at home”. This culture inspired us. We don’t only say we are family-friendly; we mean it. Changing tables in the restrooms, wheelchair accessibility, a park behind the brewery, menu offering for any taste or age, and kids’ activity bags, and no TVs. We aren’t against them; it’s just not really how people spend time at JBS. 

We focus on low-alcohol beers, too. Out of about 75 batches a year, only a handful are above 7%. Most brews are in the 4 to 5% range. Partially because people often drive a little ways as we are a destination for some. But also, it just isn’t a “get trashed” type of place. We joke that our biggest bar fight was over a game of Scrabble and the only person who has ever gotten sick was a two-year-old. 

Shout out to our beers, too. They set us apart! I have been brewing professionally for 10+ years at some pretty cool breweries across the country. But figuring out the brewhouse and the palette at each place is a task that takes time, craftsmanship, and humility. Two years in this brewhouse, I am so happy with our beer list. Eighteen taps give us room to have solid offerings in the areas people expect from craft breweries. Stouts are heavy in the winter. Our hazy IPAs fly faster than we can make them. Our fruited sour ales, especially Rhubarb Crisp Pastry Sour, are our most widely distributed beers in off-premise accounts. We recently made a corn lager with our local seed company for farmer appreciation week. It’s an easy-drinking, light beer that has been crushing on the golf courses and in our taproom.

Eighteen taps also leaves room for us to try new things. Some of our riskier brews include Orange Chicken sour, Belgium Table beer, Chili Cinnamon Roll stout, Hot Takis Sour, Strawberry Pretzel Fluff, Aronia Berry Wheat, Saison with Rosemary, Raspberry, & Black tea, Cucumber Basil Gose, Spicy Red Pickle Beer, a Ginger Mint Lime Mule Ale… I could go on. 

Every beer features a Siouxland story, flavor, or ingredient. That helps bring people in. Food is a universal language. Many of our beers are food-inspired or food adjacent. We aim to make beers that are relatable, not too niche or serious. We see the beers themselves as a celebration of who we are and where we live. We have an awesome crew making the beers too, not just me! So, cheers to them for killing it and nailing every detail.

What are you most proud of?

Our employees. So many have come far and accomplished huge things since we’ve been here. Learning new job skills, moving their families into better living situations, growing their careers, finishing degrees, overcoming personal obstacles, and just blossoming in all types of ways. I am so proud that our business could be even a little part of those strides. I am also pretty proud that they are all a bunch of craft beer nerds now, seeking out new brews when they are on vacations, picking apart different beer styles, and very passionate about what we are doing. 

Mission/Vision Statement?

Mission: To make the culture we want to be a part of our lives. To use beer as a tool to build a happy community for our employees and the city of Jefferson. 

Guiding Principle: Make the beer we want to drink at a place we want to drink it.

Core Values: People First, Fun, Equity, Inclusion & Quality.

What have been the most valuable lessons you have learned in running your own business?

To constantly reset my focus to what is really important. Be mindful not to overwork, to not get caught up with what other businesses are up to, to treat my employees with care. There is always more work, more opportunity, more growth, more people to capture. But we can’t do any of it well if we aren’t prioritizing ourselves and our staff’s happiness and health first. We are learning that a slow and steady path is for us. 

Advice for others starting out in business?

Really and truly know what you are getting into. Go shadow an owner or someone in the industry you want to get into. Don’t put more on the line than you’re willing to lose.

Have you ever had to change course? What are your thoughts on business evolutions?

If you haven’t had to adjust or change course, you’re missing something somewhere. Nothing is ever perfect and everything can be honed, dialed in, or completely overhauled. I hope to never claim to be on a perfect trajectory. The only caveat is the change(s) must align with our mission, statement, and values.

Who have been your mentors along the way? 

Dave Winslow at Jackson Street Brewing is a good friend and confidant, always willing to share his expertise. My mother-in-law, Michaeleen, has greatly helped me understand the needs, values, and culture in Jefferson and surrounding areas. The Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, Iowa West Coast Initiative, Dakota Valley Business Council, and Elk Point Chamber of Commerce networks have all helped immensely. I am very grateful.

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