One of the newest venues in Chicago's craft beer scene, DryHop Brewers, has taken the Lakeview neighborhood by storm. Offering up a constantly rotating beer lineup, paired with some of the best pub food you can find, DryHop is the perfect 1-2 punch for any beer enthusiast. With one of the most beautiful bar backdrops we've seen, you can belly up and taste your way through their amazing beer lineup while chatting with one of the great bartenders. Once you've settled on a favorite, head over to the state of the art growler station where you can take any of their delicious offerings back home. These beers will stay just the way the brewer intended for up to six weeks but we guess you'll crack it open and drink it within 2 days of course.
We sat down with DryHop owner Greg Shuff and brewmaster Brant Dubovick to see what's been going on at arguably Chicago's trendiest new brewpub. They talked us through how DryHop came to be and what they have planned for the future. Located in Lakeview East, this beer hot spot has been slinging pints as fast as they can to keep up with Chicago's booming appetite for craft beer.
Thanks for having us! You guys are one of Chicago's newest breweries, can you give us a little background on yourselves and how you got involved in the Chicago beer scene?
Greg: Before this I spent some time at Schlafly down in St. Louis and prior to that I was at a nano brewery in Indianapolis. Before all of that I was homebrewing. I decided early on that I liked drinking beer and I was learning as much as I could, I just needed a crash course in everything. I figured, it would be much more efficient if I got a formal education so that's when I hooked up with Siebel. It's a great program that's partly here in Chicago, partly in Munich. I went to brew school knowing full well I did not intend to be a professional brewer per se, I just wanted to be able to work with people like Brant very effectively.
Brant: Before this, I was brewing in Pittsburgh at Church Brew Works for about ten years. They were going more from a brewpub to the packaging direction and I wanted to stay more involved in the brewpub direction so I decided I was either going to move back to New York, stay in Pittsburgh or move to Chicago. I put a resume in to DryHop, which was Last Bay Beer Company at the time (and is still our LLC naming). Greg called me, flew out to Pittsburgh, and two weeks later he offered me the job. And I accepted.
Greg, was this location (at Broadway & Belmont) your initial intention, or was it a big hunt all over the city?
Greg: I'd say it just so happened to be here in many ways. When I moved to the city, I moved to this neighborhood and I thought it was great and that a brewery would do very well here. This space was actually vacant. When Brant and I started to work together I walked by with him and was like, I really want to put the brewery right there but the landlord won't talk to me. So, we kept looking all over the city. Eventually we got a broker who was able to connect with the landlord and we finally picked up this space.
We'd walk past while construction was going on and we felt like we were getting teased with the "In Progress" sign. It seemed like it was up forever. Was there a hangup?
Greg: Once we had agreed on the space and the landlord was amiable to the situation, we had a lot of legal work to do. Even more than what would be standard. It's all city stuff. At the end of the day, legally speaking, we are a bar & liquor store and then a restaurant also. Those licenses are very taboo and there is no distinction between us and the dive bar down the street. There's no legal difference. So to get a new license to allow such establishments to come into the area, the neighborhood and residents get very anxious about that. They don't like it. So we spent a lot of time giving neighborhood presentations and all that jazz. Even though they went very well from the beginning, you'd go do a presentation and they go "ok, thank you, give us one month to deliberate and we'll vote." So we come back and they do the vote, but that vote is just a recommendation to the alderman's office. They recommend us to the alderman and then he takes us to the city council and gives our pitch there and then they vote on it again. Then they deliberate for a month and vote. Now, great, it's been agreed upon but now we need another month to write everything into law. They had to change the zoning to pull off the licensing – so that's a quick six months. We couldn't start the build-out until we had those licenses as it's really all hinged on the neighbors. If the neighbors were going to be amiable then we were going to succeed.
Brant: Greg literally got a standing ovation after the presentation and they still said let's take a month and deliberate. A standing ovation!
Well we're glad everything got sorted out! Was this concept always what you had envisioned when you wanted to open up a place?
Brant: Greg's original vision was growler fills only. So you get off the CTA, come to DryHop, get a growler fill and have a few samples. Sort of like Sun King down in Indianapolis. That was the original concept. I sort of beat it into Greg's head that we need to sell these [pointing to a pint]. The only way we could pull off selling pints in Lakeview was if we had a kitchen. It sort of evolved and then after a month or two of floating ideas, Greg just came in one day and said 'if we are going to do it let's do it right and go with a full kitchen.'
Greg: It originally started with what was the bare minimum we could get away with to sell pints. Then it was eventually like forget it, fuck it, let's do the best food.
Brant: The one rule we had as far as the food was concerned was: no pizza. You can go to any brewpub and get that. We didn't want that but anything else was up for grabs.
So you knew you wanted to do growlers and pints right out of the gate. How does that play into the brewpub concept and the beers you create?
Brant: That's what I love about the brewpub concept, it's all about different styles, it's about doing fun stuff and experimenting. We are transferring about twice a week, so that's two new beers a week. We are printing a lot of menus every week and that's exactly what we are going for!
Can you walk us through the DryHop beer lineup?
Brant: We have a Wheat IPA called Shark Meets Hipster. That beer comes out of our love for Little Sumpin' Sumpin' by Lagunitas. We wanted to somewhat recreate that beer but with some Gumballhead in there too. The cream ale, Batch 001, I think came out of Greg's love for Sun King. That's one of their year-round beers. He also did some research on Chicago beer and found some interesting stuff on that style too.
Greg: Yeah, the pre-prohibition style cream ale. If you were to look up really historical brewing books in the area, Chicago Commons are cream ales so we took that as some inspiration for our beer.
Brant: We took that a little further and pitched it on a California Common ale yeast.
What's in the pipeline as far as new beers go and your upcoming production schedule?
Brant: We're actually doing a collaboration here tomorrow. We're doing Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts, a black IPA we do with the guys from Begyle. This time we are going to brew it at our place.
We have an interesting collaboration coming up too! There's a small nano starting up called IBW. We are doing an Apple Malt Saison with them. It's going to be 50% apple juice and 50% malt and we are going to spice it with cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. That'll be coming out around Halloween. I'm pretty excited to brew that one. We'll also do a pumpkin beer, maybe a stout that will be ready in October as well.
Right now we are one of the lucky ones who got into GABF in October so the next couple of weeks are all dedicated to that. We are sending a few beers for judging. We are going to have a few recurring characters, The Angry Samoan which is a coconut stout and The Executioner which is our APA with Simcoe and Citra hops. I have a smoked porter and we are sending our cream ale as well. I think we are slated to do 85 different beers by the end of May 2014.
You've mentioned collaborating with other breweries. It seems like that's a big part of the Chicago scene. Is that a brewing thing in general or is that Chicago-specific?
Brant: I think it is, to a degree, brewing in general, but i just think it's that we want each other to succeed. We want everyone to do well. I love seeing all the guys at festivals or at bars. There's definitely not an elitist standard in Illinois craft beer. It's very welcoming. We were welcomed with open arms and we didn't even have a brewery yet.
Have you seen that elsewhere?
Brant: Not really the collaboration aspect of things, but the camaraderie and the hanging out, yeah. This is the first city that was like, 'hey come on over and brew.' That didn't really happen in Pittsburgh. Maybe it's a Midwest thing, like 'hey come over, brew a beer with us!'
Who have you collaborated with so far?
We can't help but notice the growler station. It's pretty much the first thing you see when you walk in. What makes it different than elsewhere?
Greg: About 20% of our beer is going out in growlers, so we move a lot through that. That was the original concept. With the exception of Half Acre, we probably have the most prominent one in the city. It's right there when you walk in and we have those fancy fillers.
Yea, how do those work exactly?
Greg: You put the growler in there and it removes all the air and flushes it with CO2, then pressurizes to 12 psi or so. Then we bring in the beer on top of the pressurized CO2 and let it bleed off. We put a blanket of CO2 on it, then cap it so there's no oxygen in it. It'll last 6 weeks if you don't open it. It's the only one like it in Chicago.
We are all aspiring homebrewers ourselves. Do you have any tips to take a homebrew to the next level?
Brant: Sanitation is key.
Greg: If you can stop bottle-conditioning and start kegging that will go a long way into making your life easier. You won't have to worry about each crown and oxygenation of your beer.
Also on the oxygen front, if you can get a oxygenating stone and actually oxygenate your wort as opposed to shaking it, that'll go a long way too. If you were to shake your wort for 12 hours you'd only get 4 parts per million oxygen, but you really need 8 to get optimum yeast activity at those early stages. You can only get that by force oxygenating through a stone.
If you aren't drinking DryHop beer, what are you drinking?
Greg: Probably one of the best beers I've had this summer is Navaja from Half Acre. That beer rocks. I try to get it as much as I can.
Brant: Pete Crowley's Czech Pilsner down at Haymarket. That's usually one of my go-to beers. A perfect Pilsner in my opinion.
And lastly, where do you see DryHop headed in the next few years?
Greg: If I live my life right, I'll never distribute a beer, except for the occasional cool bar that wants a keg and I send it, and that's it. There will be no bars or distribution involved. Ideally I'd like another brewpub in a different neighborhood.
Brant: Ideally I'd like DryHop to be like the Boka Group or Lettuce Entertain You where we have other brewpubs across the city but each concept is completely different. I think that would be really fun to do. Open up like Next or Alinea but in a brewpub setting. I also agree with Greg 100%, no packaging. That's boring. That's why I'm in Chicago! I don't want to only brew 4 beers year-round.
Well we wouldn't be disappointed if you opened another brewpub...or two.
A big thanks to Greg and Brant for giving us their small window of free time on a busy Tuesday to talk shop. And thanks to Eileen Garrity for her help arranging everything. You might not meet a more genuine and passionate 'team' on the Chicago scene. Stop in to DryHop Brewers at 3155 N. Broadway in Lakeview East. And be sure to check for updates on brews, collabs and other tasty specials on Facebook and Twitter.
Photography by the talented and beer-loving Melinda Myers.