Greg Shuff (owner) and Brant Dubovick (head brewer), DryHop Chicago brewpub, July 16, 2012:
Have you ever joked about beer being better than sex? That proposition will get a new twist in a few months when DryHop — a gastro-pub with an all-star lineup in the brewhouse and kitchen — opens in a Chicago storefront last occupied by a shop selling sex toys and other adult novelties.
DryHop is the brainchild of Greg Shuff, a 2010 Purdue University graduate. Shuff cut his teeth while still in college by starting Last Bay Brewing, a “nanobrewery” in Indianapolis.
Brant Dubovick, the head brewer, has roots in the craft brewing movement that date to the late 1990s. He came to Chicago last year after a nearly seven-year stint as head brewer at Pittsburgh’s Church Brew Works.
With plans to complement their beer with a dining experience a big step above “bar food,” Shuff has also hired chef Pete Repak. He previously worked for the renowned Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter, and most recently was a Midwest regional prepared food coordinator for the Whole Foods supermarket chain.
DryHop will join a community of Chicago brewpubs that includes the longstanding Goose Island outposts, Revolution Brewing, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, Haymarket Pub and Brewery, and a branch of the national Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery chain.
But DryHop, which will be located at 3155 N. Broadway in Chicago’s Lakeview East community, will bring a new wrinkle to an area that not long ago was decidedly downscale and has been undergoing a gradual if spotty revival. The Laugh Factory, a comedy club, recently opened in a renovated theater up the block. But DryHop’s neighbor directly to the north is, yes, a sex shop.
“The chamber of commerce is like, anything we can do, we want you in there,” Dubovick said during an interview in which he and Shuff participated with veteran journalist Bob Benenson on July 16.
It will be a few months before the DryHop brewpub is built out. But in the meantime, if you are around Chicago and would like to meet — and have a beer with — the DryHop guys, they have a couple of events coming up over the next week:
* They will be tapping a collaboration Biere de Garde at Haymarket Pub and Brewery (737 W. Randolph Street, at Halsted, in the West Loop) at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 2.
* They will be at The Fountainhead (1970 W. Montrose, at Damen, in North Center) at 5 p.m. on Monday, August 6, pouring that Biere de Garde along with a Solar Powered Summer Ale brewed in collaboration with Lunar Brewing Company.
Excerpts from the interview are below.
Q: How did the idea for DryHop come about?
Shuff: It originated in a growler-focused concept… The concept was to open growler bars all around, you walk in, they are small venues and there are only growlers filled there that would be filled only by our brewery. The concept was great. Legally, in Illinois, it’s very hard to do. It was virtually impossible… In Illinois, you have to make beer on-site to fill a growler…
So we tried to adapt that model and that grew into what is now DryHop. It’s a full brewery on-site, so we decided to have a full restaurant on-site. The really exciting idea is to open a gastro-brewery. A really high-quality food experience to complement our high-quality beer.
Q: Is that a new niche with this kind of brewpub?
Shuff: We think so. There are a lot of people who do well with their food, but for most people, that’s a secondary attention for them. We really want to elevate both so that the pairings live together, experiencing how great food can pair with great beer.
Dubovick: We’re going with a food concept that’s really European with an American twist. A European bistro with an Americanized flair, Midwestern specifically.
Q: What were your first experiences with craft beer, and did you know immediately that this was such a cut above?
Dubovick: I still remember my first craft beer was Pete’s Wicked Ale. I still remember the day I drank it, I remember where I drank it. It did have a lasting effect on me, without a doubt. And Sam Adams from there… I went to school out near Pittsburgh and started working in brewpubs in Pittsburgh… I was always a bartender, never really involved in the brewing aspect, and then I started brewing in 1998 and that got me to fall in love in brewing as well as the brewpub concept.
Shuff: I definitely drank all through college, but I never really had a very strong brand association, I was never a Bud guy or a Miller guy. For me, the craft beer scene wasn’t even a concept, there were other beers on the shelves, and I just started drinking them and found my taste evolving into more complex flavors, and I found pleasure there.
Q: A lot of the earlier craft beers were kind of on the lighter side trying to adapt to existing tastes. How did we get to this point, give me as many hops as you can?
Dubovick: My standard answer to that question is Americans took traditional beer styles and, as Americans like to do, it had to be bigger, it had to be bolder, it had to have more hops that a traditional English IPA… I really think it’s the American brewers’ stamp on the traditional styles. They wanted to make it their own and that was their way for making it their own.
Q: You couldn’t get anyone to drink a sour beer or a barrel-aged beer, say, 20 years ago.
Shuff: I think craft beer as a whole has reached a certain critical mass. When you say craft beer, that word has meaning…. Breweries can be farmhouse breweries and they can be supported, because there are enough people who are educated enough and experienced enough, that they can run a business out of that and pursue unusual flavors, and a lot of great stuff comes out of it.
Q: So, Brant, let’s turn the clock back to the late 1990s, when you started working at brewpubs in Pittsburgh. What was the learning curve with your customers?
Dubovick: At that point, no one knew what craft beer was. Everyone was coming in asking for Rolling Rock, and you’d have to explain to eight out of 10 people that we’re a brewpub, we brew our own beer, we don’t have it, and then you’d get, well, what do you have that’s like Rolling Rock. I think in the 15 years since, education has tremendously improved…. Now there’s a waiting list for Siebel [Institute of Technology in Chicago], a waiting list for UC [University of California] Davis, the Craft Brewers Guild has a two-year waiting list for an online course. I think there’s a lot more care about what’s going into the product. A lot of people are into the whole sustainable thing, the whole farm-to-table restaurants, and I think that’s trickled down to brewers, brewers are proud of that…
Q: Has the demand for beers that have a stronger flavor profile caused any supply issues for brewers?
Dubovick: I think it has… During the last hop crisis in 2008, I panicked and signed four-year contracts. So pretty much the first time I implemented, I started on Halloween of 2011, I said, we need to get hops, there’s going to be a shortage. Within two weeks, we had a contract signed with Hopunion [in Yakima, Wash.] for a lot of the more exotic varieties, we signed for Citra, we signed for Galaxy, we signed for Falconer’s Flight. We pounced and they had some Zythos left toward the end of 2011, and we actually have 300 pounds sitting in cold storage on the South Side…
[Dubovick and Shuff then discussed their relationship with Hop Head Farms, a hop farm in Hickory Corners, Michigan, that is in its first year of production; Nunzino Pizza, its CEO; and Jeff and Bonnie Steinman, its chief growers.]
We also met with Hop Head Farms and Nunzino’s fantastic, we’ve got some Centennial, which will be a pretty hard to find hop when we’re opening in 2012. One of our seasonals will be a dedicated hoppy beer. Greg and I have been toying with the idea of doing a single-hop series. We want to try to use as many cool, I think all hops are cool, but some of the more exotic ones in the single-hop series… We also are going to have a Wheat IPA, it’s going to be one of our flagships, and that’s going to feature Galaxy, Citra and Chinook.
Shuff: If I were going to give guidance to anyone trying to start up with the nano-brewery type, especially people who come out of a home brewing background, it’s going to be surprising that hops are not as easy to source as a loaf of bread is. You can’t go to the store and pick up Simcoe or whatever. It’s an agricultural product, it’s available one time a year, there’s a super-finite amount of it.
Dubovick: And I have every reason to believe it’s going to be a quality product. It also goes back to what we were saying about the farm-to-table. We’d like to be a farm-to-table brewery, buying Wisconsin hops and Michigan hops… Maybe buy some malt from a Michigan maltster. Why does the kitchen only have to be farm-to-table? Why can’t the beer be farm-to-table?
Q: Are there any concerns in the industry about whether the hops will be up to snuff?
Shuff: I would expect it to be very similar to how the guys who are down the street from our brewpub feel. I like craft beer, these guys seem to talk a good game, I suspect their beer will be good. I will reserve judgment on that until I try their beer though. Positive optimism. Our hypothesis says that they probably know what they’re doing. But as with any foodstuff, the proof is in the pudding as they say. I’m not really worried. I’m trusting enough to buy it sight unseen, but I also don’t have 100 percent of my hops with one grower.
Q: How did you decide to adopt DryHop as the name?
Shuff: We had an epic battle naming the brewery. We had like thousands of name ideas, it was ridiculous. We actually starting out saying we didn’t want anything beer-related to be in the title…. But we were brainstorming, riffing, we had a bunch of magazines in front of us and Brant was, why don’t we call it DryHop? It just resonated with me really nicely. It pays a certain amount of respect to the art of it…
The dryhop just means at the end. Fifty weeks out of the year, hops are dry. Two weeks out of the year, when Nunzino picks them for us and can get them to us within 24 hours, we will definitely put them in wet.
Dubovick: We’ll be doing two or three brews whenever we can get fresh hops.
Shuff: The nature of an agriculture product is that there is a very finite window when we can handle wet hops. If you leave wet hops around, they’re going to get so bad so fast.
Dubovick: We’ve already talked to Nunzino and he told us that he’d meet us halfway between Chicago and Michigan. Drop them off at a rest stop.
Shuff: Yeah, we’ll do a deal. (Laughs)
Q: Do you have the flexibility so that if they call you and say, these things are going to be ready in August, can you adjust?
Shuff: It’s a three-hour drive. I’ll be in the car.
Dubovick: Nunzino also did tell us that he’d give us a heads-up, plenty of notice. Like two weeks out, he’ll tell us, they are going to be picked on this date, have a tank empty…. We’re not going to have the tank on a cycle where they all finish at the same time and need to be racked…
Shuff: Part of their model is collaborating with a lot of other growers. With that in mind, they can provide all this back of the house infrastructure that a normal grower, who wants to plant a couple of acres to diversify his agricultural mix, I can’t afford even a $50,000 picker. You partner with these guys, they’ll show up and take care of it. It removes a lot of barriers to entry for new growers. Maybe we’ll end up with fantastic hops that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m excited about it.
Q: Did the fact that you have a track record of success brewing at brewpubs help you in obtaining your financing?
Shuff: Absolutely. The more evidence that I can show that I’m not insane, the better. Hare-brained ideas, once in a while, but all in all this works and there’s a market for this. It’s hard for me. The product category of craft beer and food and stuff, it’s very taboo to talk about these things. You can’t love beer if you can’t make a dollar selling it.
Q: How did you decide on the location in East Lakeview?
Shuff: I think location is very important, especially for us, a brewpub concept. If you’re a production brewery, you find the cheapest piece of dirt you can and start making beer…
I don’t know what you’d call the neighborhood vibe, but it’s definitely had kind of a resurgence. There’s a lot less Pleasure Chest-type shops, there’s still one…
Shuff: Craft breweries have a strong potential to create a wake. Other businesses do well as kind of a co-tenant to a brewer. If we come in and we get established, it creates value for everyone who is next to us. We’re the good guys.
Dubovick: We want to have conversations. We’re not going to have TVs on purpose, because we want to talk to people. We want to give tours… We want the local neighbors to come in and have good quality beer, get some food and share it with people, talk to Greg, talk to myself, talk to chef Pete…
Q: If you succeed at what you’re doing at DryHop, you can provide a template.
Shuff: If anyone is doing the most introducing craft beer to the world as a concept, it’s the brewpub. Nowhere else can a customer come in, see the beer being made, meet the brewer, talk about it, experience beer in a much more in-your-face community kind of way. These are my brewers, I know these people.
Q: I’ve heard from distillers that bartenders are their best ambassadors.
Dubovick: That’s an excellent point, because we’re big believers in that theory as well. Our staff at the restaurant is going to have knowledge about beer. We’re not going to hire the blonde with the great rack and the great legs because that’s what she looks like. If she knows what a sour ale is, then yeah. We want knowledgeable bartenders, we want knowledgeable servers who can interact with the customer… But they’re not going to have an attitude.
Q: Is there any kind of equivalent to terroir with hops grown in different places? Do they have a regional character?
Dubovick: I’m not too familiar with Michigan hops. I’m really looking forward to trying them and seeing how they compare… I find the New York hops and the Pacific Northwest hops very similar, except for those proprietary hops you can only get in the Northwest which everyone seems to be going crazy for….
Shuff: Michigan can absolutely grow as good hops as the Pacific Northwest. Terroir? I think you could put a panel together and have an extremely intense argument about that. You could argue, perhaps effectively, that you’re getting all of your nutrients out of the ground, so what is there obviously plays into it.
Q: How about local grain?
Dubovick: I would like to pick up some from Michigan Malting. Our major supplier is going to be Breiss, a local Wisconsin company, and I brewed at Lancaster Brewing Company and I like it a lot…I’m looking forward to trying North American grain.
Shuff: I think it will take something along the lines of the Hop Head guys to come in and make it economical for everyone involved. When you say you’re now malting your own stuff and it’s $15 a pound. I like local. I don’t love it that much… We’d love to incorporate them, especially into special beers.
Dubovick: Do an all-Michigan beer, using Hop Head Farms hops and Michigan-malted grain.
Shuff: There are a lot of brewers, just like us, who would be on board for that. Now if you’re talking about, are we trying to replace our primary supplier? There’s a lot of things that have to happen for that to come about. I think everybody would be ready to do it if the quality and price were there.
Dubovick: I really like that theory of Nunzino’s and Jeff’s that all hops are going to be $12 a pound. We’re not going to nickel and dime you over varieties. We’re going to have the same base rate. We’re not going to gouge you.
Q: Is avoiding the distribution cycle one of the big advantages of the brewpub?
Shuff: I have a very specific response to that. I look at the craft beer market and I love that it’s blowing up, I love all the opportunities that creates for me as a consumer. But I put on my hat as a beer consumer and I go to Binny’s and I look at rows and rows of beer. I struggle to see an obvious opportunity with all the great brews that these great brewers are doing. I cannot compete with you on your bottle art. You have a great IPA, it’s cool-looking. What do you want me to do differently? What I can do differently is change the human interaction you have with your beer.
I can’t give you a face-to-face experience at Binny’s or any outlet. I want to be my own ambassador, and I want to hand-sell every single one of them. That’s what the whole thing is about. It’s about local, and knowing the people and really having a human relationship with the stuff. So I really love that I can introduce you to a better product and be the one to sell you into not buying something that is not as good. Don’t buy bad beer. And I can’t say that to you on a shelf or on a tap handle. You come into my place, you’re stuck for at least 30 seconds. They’re a captive audience, and you’re going to hear my elevator pitch whether you want to or not.