As a beer writer and general beer-obsessed person, I’m sometimes asked about my favorite beer. I don’t really have one, but when it comes to our local breweries, there is one standout for me—a producer of consistently high-quality beer across a range of styles, one that I will always recommend to visitors, brag about when I travel and share when I want to impress another beer nerd.
That brewery is IMBĪB. Full disclosure: I’ve known co-founder Matt Johnson since before the brewery existed, but I truly don’t believe that biases me, and I gain nothing, fiscally or otherwise, from my praise.
Pronounced “imbibe,” and semi-officially standing for Independent Master Brewers of Innumerable Beverages, IMBĪB brings forth everything I want in a brewery. While many craft breweries, intentionally or simply due to market forces, tend to focus on a narrow selection of brews—heavy imperial stouts, hazy IPAs or light lagers, perhaps—IMBĪB produces an impressive variety of high-quality beer. Although they’ve become well known for their sour beer, which is certainly excellent, I equally enjoy their IPAs, stouts and Belgian-influenced beers. It’s a testament to brewmaster Jason Green’s skill that their non-sour beers aren’t just perfunctory additions to round out the tap list; they are all made according to traditional style guidelines, while still considering modern trends and the always-changing palates of beer drinkers.
What seems like an eternity ago, IMBĪB was just a homebrew club that co-founder Matt Johnson started. He recruited Green and recognized his talent; soon the idea of turning the hobby into a business was born.
“The original idea was going to be a homebrew (supply) shop and brewery, and maybe some brew-on-premise,” a business where customers can brew small batches of their own creations, Green said. “It was going to be all three of those, but then we realized quickly that we needed double the space, and there was BrewChatter opening, so we scratched the homebrew shop completely and just went full nanobrewery.”
Additional features like a “collaborator club,” with members voting on special releases and custom-ordered brews, were also part of the plan.
The IMBĪB brewery opened in 2015 in an old brick building with little fanfare and much sweat equity. A small brewing system, a bar and decor largely influenced by their use and love of barrels greeted visitors. Within just a few years, Green and his masterful work—designing and brewing the beers, often aging and blending them using the many wine and spirit barrels stacked high throughout the facility—began to shine, with regular awards in some of the most prestigious beer competitions in the country. Visitors today will see the array of medals, often for their sour beers, proudly on display.
With time, the limitations of the little brewery on Second Street began to show. A lack of neighborhood foot traffic hindered discovery by new customers, and limited retail distribution kept sales largely reliant on brewery visitors. “When we opened in 2015, there were 4,500 breweries (in the country),” Johnson said. “There will be over 10,000 this year, so it’s more than doubled. It was competitive when we opened, so now it’s hypercompetitive.”
Eventually, with a leap of faith—and poor timing, just months before the pandemic—IMBĪB opened a second location, a cozy taproom at the Outlets at Legends in Sparks.
“We never thought we would open up a taproom in a mall, (but) we saw the potential of it,” Johnson said. “I think what we’re trying to do over here is … build a little bit of a sense of community. We want people, especially Sparks people, to have a place to go to have fun.”
Continuing that goal, they decided to start a beer festival, dubbed, appropriately, the Legends of Beer Festival. Local and regional breweries share their creations—and in a unique twist, there’s a “beer mile” relay, during which participants chug a beer before running their quarter-mile segment of the race. The Legends of Beer Festival will soon return for its third year, on Saturday, Sept. 23.
The story of IMBĪB is not done being written. The most recent chapter meant seizing the vacant restaurant space adjacent to the Sparks taproom earlier this year, and opening IMBĪB Eats & Drinks, a modern restaurant serving “elevated beer food” to pair with their comprehensive selection of taps, bottles and cans. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a few of their internationally inspired sausage meals and crispy shoestring fries since they opened.
What’s next for this bustling little homegrown beer empire? For now: stability: Maybe someday: Jason Green dreams of a true farmhouse brewery, where they grow their own ingredients, harvest local wild yeast and truly capture the local “terroir” in their beer.
If anyone can do it, it’s these guys.