“Worry about first how you can add value for people… Find a way where it’s not about you wanting to open a brewery, it’s about you wanting to improve the quality of the lives of your neighbors.”
-Greg Shuff, General Manager, Dryhop Bistro and Microbrewery
I like to think that I am pretty on top of the Chicago craft beer scene. I know when Half Acre is releasing a new, exclusive beer. I receive updates via Facebook whenever Pipeworks needs a few volunteers to help with bottling. And I try to stay abreast of the new breweries that will be joining the ranks among the Chicago brewery greats. So when The Eater had a little article on a new brewpub called Dryhop Bistro and Microbrewery that would be opening up in the East Lakeview neighborhood later this year I was shocked. How did this happen? How did they sneak this past me? Well, I could have sat around and sulked. But instead I decided to learn as much about this brewery as I could. After all, I had some catching up to do.
To my disappointment, there was not much information available about Dryhop; I scoured the internet but all I found was the Eater article. (Kudos to them for breaking the story.) I was able to track down the email of Head Brewer Brant Dubovick and contacted him. We set a time for me to meet up with both Dubovick and Greg Shuff, the founder of Last Bay Brewing and General Manager of Dryhop, at The Northdown in Lakeview.
“If we’re being honest about it, I would still be in hiding about it,” Shuff said when I told him how amazed I was that Dryhop seemed to come out of nowhere. “We wanted to generate some energy to showcase the neighborhood, that we are going to be in a really cool establishment, and you are going to like us, we are going to contribute to the neighborhood positively, in an effort to promote our licensing.” That is why they suddenly broke their silence.
Dubovick and Shuff were generous enough to bring a growler of what will be one of their year-round offerings, a wheat IPA, to The Northdown. Dubovick has been making the rounds to the various Chicago area breweries to introduce himself and they have welcomed him with open arms. And have allowed him to utilize some of their brewing equipment; this wheat IPA was brewed at Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville. I took a small whiff and my nose was immediately bombarded with yummy aromas of orange and passion fruit. Dubovick explained that he used Chinook and Warrior hops for bittering, and Galaxy and some Citra for dry hopping. “I’m usually hyper critical of my beers but I really like this one,” said Dubovick. And I did too. A lot. While this 6% ABV beer is easy-drinking enough for the craft beer novice, it is complex enough to keep us hop heads happy. “It is going to be a year-round beer so we didn’t want to alienate the [beer geek],” said Dubovick. Shuff continued by stating, “From a conceptual level we talk a lot about a beer geek session beer. And that is what we’ve targeted here.”
Since we were on the topic of beer and brewing beer in Chicago, I asked them what they thought of the Chicago craft beer scene. “I feel Chicago is on the verge of being the next Denver, the next Portland, next San Diego, next Seattle,” said Dubovick. “I really do…Philadelphia is the East Coast Portland, and Chicago is very much going to be the Midwest Portland.” He went on explaining that there are 26 breweries that are supposed to open over the next three years, from five gallons to 250 gallons and everything in between. “That’s awesome. Just awesome,” said Dubovick. Speaking from experience, though, he empathized with those that want to avoid starting a brewery in Chicago as the real estate is quite expensive. “The amount you are going to pay per month, and then making beer on top of that, it’s insane, and that’s why New York City and Chicago DON’T have a lot of breweries. Unless you own your building, you are just a slave to your landlord,” said Dubovick.
This conversation made me start thinking about the recent announcement that Lagunitas Brewing is planning on setting up shop on the southwest side of Chicago and I asked Dubovick and Shuff what they thought about this. “I think it’s great,” said Dubovick. “My philosophy is the more the merrier, it’s kind of a universal philosophy in the beer world. I read something on [Aleheads.com] where they asked other brewers what they thought [about Lagunitas coming to Chicago] and there weren’t any negative comments … I think that’s a great philosophy.” He continued by explaining that it is “going to revitalize a pretty downtrodden area of Chicago so that’s a plus. It’s also going to bring a ton of jobs to Chicago in a down economy, which is a plus. And they make great beer. Which is a huge plus,” said Dubovick. While Dryhop will be a relatively small operation compared to the 250 barrel brewhouse that Lagunitas plans on installing, they will have a 10 barrel brewhouse and that alone will create 30 jobs in Chicago.
So, with all of the new up-and-coming breweries opening in Chicago, I was curious about how Dubovick and Shuff have been welcomed by the already established Chicago brewers. They explained that they have received overwhelming support from the brewing community, especially from Haymarket Pub and Brewery’s and Illinois Craft Brewers Guild President Pete Crowley. “He’s pretty much our go-to guy,” said Shuff. He further explained that they are using Haymarket’s build out team, architect, and general contractor. Apparently, they will even be using the exact same tiles in their brew house as Haymarket uses in theirs. In addition to working with the crew at Hamburger Mary’s to brew the wheat IPA, Dubovick and Shuff have made connections with the brewer at Lunar Brewing in Villa Park, IL. They are even planning a collaboration beer brewed with lavender and lemon balm that will be released during Chicago Craft Beer Week. That sounds interesting; I can’t wait to try that one! The brewery upstarts have also welcomed them. Dubovick attended the most recent meeting of the Square Kegs Homebrew Club where he met Gary Gulley from Panic Brewing and he had mussels at Hopleaf with the crew from Une Annee Brewery.
Dryhop Bistro & Microbrewery Concept
Greg Shuff’s original brewery plan is much different than its Dryhop incarnation. Shuff is from Indianapolis where the brewery tasting room scene is far beyond what it is in Chicago. “You know the Half Acre tasting room? There are, like, 10 of those within a five mile radius of downtown Indianapolis and I think that’s really great,” said Shuff. The concept of Last Bay started off as a way to duplicate that, where a customer could come into the tasting room and really experience the brewery, see it happening, and get a growler of the beer that is brewed less than 15 feet away from where the customer is currently standing. Shuff is trying to bring that feeling here to Chicago. The concept has evolved over the last year and the desire to bring more to the table in the form of a craft beer experience has been elevated. So, Shuff and Dubovick have segued away from the tasting room concept into creating an experience that really showcases craft beer to best avail. So that’s how it evolved into this brewpub; they want it to be a foodie destination, too.
That’s not to say that the original concept is completely out the window. Shuff still focuses on the growler concept at Dryhop where, in addition to a restaurant, they have a very large tasting bar and growler station. They actually sacrificed 12 feet of the normal bar so people can come in, have a tasting, learn about the beers, and purchase growlers to go. They will have counter-pressure growler fillers called craft taps that purge the growler of CO2 and then fill with beer from the bottom up. This greatly improves the shelf life of the growler, allowing the growler of beer to stay fresh for up to a month! Shuff and Dubovick have been conducting tests to see at what point you really start to notice the beer tastes different. They used Half Acre Daisy Cutter as a test subject and it still tasted fresh a little over three weeks after the growler fill. It was still drinkable after 8 weeks but you could tell it tasted different. “It wasn’t a drain pour but it was definitely picking up some staleness,” said Dubovick.
Shuff also moved towards the brewpub model because this new concept is more along the lines of what the neighborhood is looking for. “They may not want a growler-only kind of destination. It may be a little weird for some people,” said Shuff. “We can still embrace that, it’s an awesome tradition and culture that’s a craft beer only type of thing. But we can do all of these other great things that surround craft beer too.” Dubovick continued by saying the “Dryhop concept is great for Chicago. The brewpub concept is still relatively new here. It is ripe for the picking. I think many, many brewpubs could coexist very happily here.”
It seemed to me that while the execution of the concept is different, the underlying principles remain the same. Shuff agreed with me, explaining that the whole concept “started with fellowship for everyone through awesome beer.” So the overall mission of community stayed the same with the transition from Last Bay to Dryhop. “We wanted to make a neighborhood bar feel but with a little more upscale flair to it,” said Dubovick. He is looking forward to greeting customers, knowing their name, pouring them a pint and talking about the day’s events.
Brant Dubovick, Head Brewer
For the last six years, Dubovick was the Head Brewer at Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, Pa., He was disappointed that the brewery was going away from brewpub concept and turning into more of a production brewery. When Dubovick originally got into beer, it was through the love of brewpubs and he felt that the Church was going away from what he wanted to do with his career. Shuff had put a posting on probrewer.com and Dubovick went through a series of interviews, including one where Shuff flew out to Pittsburgh and met with both Dubovick and his wife, who needed a bit more convincing than Dubovick to make the move to Chicago.
Dubovick is From Long Island originally, and was either going to move back to New York, move to Chicago, or stay in Pittsburgh. He applied for two jobs and he was either going to work for one of those two breweries or stay in Pittsburgh and work at the Church. He really loved Shuff’s original Last Bay Brewing concept, with the communal vibe and focus on hanging out with customers or giving tours. Shuff was dead set against bottling, and Dubovick doesn’t want to do outside sales. “I want everything in house,” said Dubovick. Shuff apparently sold it really well when he visited because Dubovick took the job, and even his wife liked him.
As with any professional brewer, I am curious how Dubovick got into brewing. He received a homebrew kit in 1998 and always liked brewpubs and had experience working in them in other capacities, such as a bartender. He was hired by Southhampton Publick House in 1998 to be Assistant Brewer but ended up turning it down because the position wouldn’t offer medical benefits. So he just continued to homebrew. He was in construction at the time, working as a project manager for a union drywall company on Long Island, and hated going to work every day. He woke up one day, about two months after his wedding, and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” His wife was completely 100% supportive and encouraged him to pursue his interest in brewing. He ended up knowing the Head Chef at Lancaster Brewing Company in Lancaster, PA who was able to get Dubovick an interview with the Brewmaster there. Dubovick was hired and ended up moving about six months after his wife and he got married to take an $8 per hour job as Assistant Brewer at Lancaster Brewing Company. He worked there for a year, learned the ropes, and (literally) got his feet wet. His wife didn’t really like Lancaster and wanted to either return to New York or move to Pittsburgh. Dubovick looked on ProBrewer.com that night and the Church Brew Works was looking for an Assistant Brewer so he applied for that job. He spent a year and a half as Assistant Brewer there when the Head Brewer left to join a yeast propagation lab and recommended Dubovick to be promoted to Head Brewer. The owner of the Church gave him a shot and six years later, he was still their Head Brewer.
He never felt like the Church was his brewery, though. The previous Head Brewer had been there for 10 years and whenever Dubovick wanted to stray from the status quo, he was greeted with a phrase like, “Oh, Brian did it this way.” The owner and Dubovick never really gelled with regards to new ideas so when Shuff offered Dubovick the opportunity to get in on the ground floor, he leaped at the chance. According to Dubovick, Shuff has been more than open to his ideas and they already have a brew cycle for the first year mapped out. “It’s been a joy going to work every day,” said Dubovick. “And it’s going to just keep getting better once we start brewing. And I think we work really well together, we haven’t had any conflicts whatsoever. Calm in the storm/a little bit of heaven when compared to Pittsburgh.”
Greg Shuff, Founder and General Manager
Shuff, despite his young age, is quite articulate, driven, and innovative with a clear vision for the future of the brewery. He started homebrewing during college and his hobby immediately spiraled out of control. He enjoyed beer and the brewery industry much more than what he was currently on the path to do. He is a general contractor by training but beer and entrepreneurship are his real passion.
Last Bay started while Shuff was living in Indianapolis where he set up his homebrewing operating in the last bay of a garage. He would open the garage doors for tastings and filling growlers. In addition to beer, he knew he wanted to be involved with all of the other things surrounding running a business and while he thinks he is a good brewer, he believes Dubovick is a great brewer. “And I’m probably better at finding great people than I am at being a great artist myself. So that is where I kind of focus my energy. Letting other good people do what they do well and supporting them in those activities. That’s sort of my business philosophy,” said Shuff. He still homebrews although he hasn’t in a while. His apartment is also the Dryhop office so space is limited.
I am so excited for this brewery to open its doors; if the other brews are as good as that wheat IPA, then you are in for a treat. The lease on the building in East Lakeview was signed last week and they are hoping to have beer flowing before the end of the year. I can’t wait to have a reason to go to East Lakeview.