The name may be dubious, the beer and the business aren’t.
Neil Wilkerson’s passion for brewing beer matches the huge range of flavors his cold ones offer.
And while his “suds” come in distinct varieties, Wilkerson is like many entrepreneurs who have translated dreams into brick and mortar. Founder and owner of Dubious Claims Brewing Company in downtown Excelsior Springs, Wilkerson first began brewing beer in small batches in five-gallon buckets in 1990. He transitioned his to a complete commercial brewery, which opened earlier this year. The journey included a lot of hard won, self-education.
“I was an IT professional and traveled a lot,” he recalled. “I would skip lunch to research brewers in cities I visited. It definitely was a learning process.”
After 20-plus years of homebrewing, he had learned a lot and started planning a business where he could share his love for beers and pursue his passion fulltime. As he scouted possible locations, Downtown Excelsior Springs came up.
“I’ve been watching Excelsior Springs for a long time, and there’s real energy here,” he said, noting trolley rides, museums, wineries and the increasingly vibrant downtown. “But I heard there was a need for a brewery.”
Wilkerson was also fascinated by the community’s history, which included nearly 50 mineral water springs during the early-to-mid 1900s. During this heyday, “medicinal” springs drew everyone from Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman and Al Capone. As Wilkerson started to develop his business in a brick building downtown, he named his brews after some of those early springs and their claims, like Therapy Kölsch, Relief IPA and Elixir Stout. To top it all off, the name of his business came from some later 1900 newspaper articles which began pouring doubt on the mineral water promises: Dubious Claims.
Wilkerson’s business efforts parallel those of other entrepreneurs in many ways – including the need for capital. He used a revolving fund loan from Midwest Small Business Finance that offers low-interest, fixed-rate terms for startups. Although the paperwork was occasionally daunting, he found the MSBF staff a big help. “They were wonderful,” he said. “They really helped.”
The results speak for themselves. His original business plan called for a staff of nine people. He already employs 24, including head brewer Taran Winnie.
Wilkerson continues to look for new ventures and is already investigating outside distribution of his products. Inside Dubious Claims, he’s added events like a celebrity bartender night to raise funds for area charities and build excitement that’s quickly becoming well known.
Wilkerson lives between Excelsior Springs and Liberty, with his wife and high school sweetheart, Christy, who is a veterinarian at Crossroads Animal Hospital in Liberty. The couple have two children.
Wilkerson’s respect for Excelsior Springs continues to grow. “This town really looks after its people,” he said. “When I needed some paperwork for a federal permit, the chief of police came in during his vacation to expedite it. Otherwise, I would have had to wait a month and a half. You just don’t hear of that everywhere.”