Who We Are

And how it all started

As we were growing up on our family’s 5th generation Champaign County farm, farming was going through some tough times. Small farms like ours weren’t generating enough income to support a family.

We loved farming, but from a young age our parents advised us to find primary careers off the farm.

After high school, we didn’t have to look far for a quality education. The University of Illinois was just a few miles down the road.

On Navy ROTC scholarships, Darin earned a B.S. in Computer Science & Matt got his in Technical Systems Management.

Although we both gained a thirst for beer during our college years, we were still years away from starting our own brewery.

After graduation, we both went on active duty to fulfill the commitment from our scholarships. 

Darin became a Nuclear Submarine Officer in the Navy and Matt was a Combat Engineer Officer in the Marines.

During our combined 15 years on active duty, we were able to sample plenty of beers from around the world. And for a while, we were both stationed in the home of many great craft breweries: San Diego, California.

In high school, Matt befriended a German foreign exchange student. Years later, during a semester studying abroad, he decided to call up his old buddy Joe from Germany.

They arranged a visit and it didn’t take long until Matt became interested in Joe’s little sister, Caroline. Years went by and many airline tickets were purchased until they decided to take the plunge. Caroline moved to America and joined Matt wherever his military career took him.

Meanwhile, Darin was stationed in Italy where he met another Navy Officer named Gail while attempting to organize a group of Americans going to a soccer game. Though they never did get into that soccer game, many more trips and adventures around Europe would follow.

When Darin was relocated to California, Gail wanted to find a way to get there too as soon as her tour was up, but was only able to get as close as a 7 hour drive! They both realized that the Navy wasn’t the place to settle down and start a family.

Whenever we got some leave, we would come back home and help dad on the farm. 

But we also kept talking about the idea of a brewery. We knew beer was mostly made from grain and water and that Central Illinois grows some of the best grain in the world. We dreamed of the thought of somehow growing our own brewing grains on our family’s farm.

While stationed in California, Matt convinced the owner of the San Marcos Brewery, Dave Nutley, into trading brewery labor for free beers and dinner. He immediately fell in love with brewing. 

For Matt’s 27th birthday, his mom bought him a Mr. Beer homebrew kit. Matt started making home brews in his kitchen. His obsession with brewing grew, so he quickly upgraded to a larger homebrew setup. The Mr. Beer kit got boxed up and mailed to his brother Darin.

The earliest batches of Riggs Beers were pretty rough. They realized that they needed to put in the effort and time to learn how to brew quality beer before they would be able to open a brewery.

It didn’t take long until Matt decided that brewing is what he wanted to do for a living. And remember his German wife? After living in the US for several years, she convinced him that Germany was the best place to learn brewing.

Needless to say, moving to beautiful southern Germany to make beer sounded pretty cool. And soon after, Matt started his brewing career at Brauhaus Faust, in Miltenberg.

“Starting a career” sounds glamorous, but with very limited brewing skills and speaking almost no German, he started at the very bottom of the totem pole. 

Thanks to his helpful co-workers, his German language and his brewing skills both improved quickly.

While Matt was learning the trade in Germany, Darin was also getting more and more interested in brewing.

Once he got off active duty, he attended the University of California at Davis Extension’s Master Brewers Program, where he learned from some of the most respected professors in the brewing industry. He passed the Institute of Brewing and Distilling’s rigorous international certification exam at the conclusion of the course.

 

This photo shows the very first time that Riggs grown grain was used to make a beer. We only used a small amount of Riggs grown, unmalted barley in this batch… but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere!

 

And what about Darin’s Lederhosen? Well, the brew took place at Darin and Gail’s house in Fairfield, CA on Halloween. Matt and Caroline were visiting and Darin decided the outfit might help the beer. 

Darin completed his studies at UC Davis and was hired on at Anheuser Busch. While working and learning there, he upgraded his home-brew setup and joined the brewery’s home-brew club.

By 2014, Matt had learned enough German to go to German Brewmaster School. While studying at Doemens Academy, he helped launch a startup brewery in Munich. Hopfenhacker Brewery is still brewing innovative beers in Munich today.

In mid-2015, we presented our business plan to several local banks and successfully secured a loan from Busey Bank.

Matt and Caroline packed their suitcases in Germany. Darin and Gail loaded up their household in California. Both families headed back to the farm in Champaign County to give the dream of starting a brewery a shot.

We decided to purchase to old T.K. Wendel’s, located on the Southeast edge of Urbana. We liked the location for several reasons: its potential for a large beer garden, its proximity to the farm, and that because it had sat empty for several years it was within our budget.

In June of 2016, Riggs Beer Company opened its doors to the public. 

From day one, we’ve focused on brewing German and American beer styles and incorporating large amounts of Riggs farm grain into our beers.

Today, Riggs Beer Company distributes beer throughout Central Illinois. The brewery sits on 20 acres of land that includes a tap room, a huge beer garden, and several acres of wheat and clover fields.

And remember how the idea originally started? We proudly use thousands of pounds of our locally grown and malted grain each month to brew our beers.

Riggs Beer Company leads the regional brewing industry in vertical integration of local grains and in environmentally sustainable brewing.

 

While Matt and Darin focus on the brewing operations, Caroline takes care of the taproom and office. Darin and Gail are raising the 6th generation farmers, Anna and Lilly, on the farmstead that was purchased by our ancestors back in 1874.

 

We’d like to invite you to our family-friendly taproom and beergarden. In addition to seeing where the beer is made, you can also see the fields where it is grown. You’ll be greeted by our talented staff and our super cute beer garden cats.

On our farm, we grow beer.

 

Darin, Gail, Matt and Caroline Riggs