Monday, December 10, 2012

How to get more involved with your local beer community

For as long as I have been sharing news and opinions about the beer industry, I have noticed an increase in the number of beer fans around the midwest. Which is great! Amongst those fans are a few that want to get more involved in their local beer community but are not sure how to go about doing so. If you consider yourself in that group of people, then this post is for you.

With this post, my goal is to convey advice that may prove helpful to those people that want to take the next step with their involvement in their local beer community. What I share below is what worked for me. I hope it works for you.

While reading what follows below, please keep in mind the following:
  • The advice I give does not guarantee, and it should not be assumed it will lead to a paying job
  • This advice will not lead to immediate 'results'

Everything beer related that I have been able to be a part of at this time is a result of my establishment, and maintaining of a beer blog and the related twitter (@midwestbeerblog) and facebook feeds. I've been led to believe that they show that I am a guy that is passionate and appreciative of beer. So, my first bit of advice is to consider creating a blog (at the very least) to share your thoughts on beer. If you already maintain a twitter/facebook feed, consider adding in links to articles/posts about beer and what is going on in the beer industry.

I would advise against doing a beer review blog because those are a dime a dozen. In addition, it would be difficult to make your beer review site stand out amongst other, more established beer review sites. 

If starting a beer blog, twitter feed, facebook page, etc are not things you want to do, consider approaching your local brewery/brewpub directly. What I mean by that is to visit them face-to-face. Do not call or email your local brewery/brewpub to notify them that you would like to help them out on a voluntary basis. Instead, put in the time and effort to try and meet with a brewery employee and convey your desire to help out if needed. For me, my local is Half Acre Beer Company. The moment I knew about them, and confirmed that they setup shop a few blocks from my home, I walked down during the day and approached the owner/founder. I introduced myself and asked him to let me know that he could contact me if he ever needed additional (i.e. free) help around his brewery. I figured my visit would not be in vain because they were a young/new brewery that could probably use additional help doing things  such as labeling bottles and kegs. In this case I was right.

Do not fret if your local does not get back to you immediately. If they are a young brewery/brewpub they could be working to keep up with a rapidly changing environment that they may not be that familiar with. In other words - they may have a lot on their plate at the moment, but fear not - it is rare that anyone forgets offers of free help. 

If approaching your local brewery(s) does not bear any fruit, consider getting in touch with the your state's brewers guild (at this time I believe that North & South Dakota, and Wyoming do not have brewers guilds so consider being the person that tries to organize such a group). I got in touch with the Illinois Brewers Guild in an odd way. Specifically, I was the 500th follower of the Illinois Brewers Guild twitter feed (@illinoisbeer) and I was awarded a prize. In order to claim my prize I had to meet with a guild representative at a brewpub in downtown Chicago. During our rendezvous, I mentioned to the rep that I ran a beer blog and that I would love to help the guild in anyway possible. I gave him a business card and I was contacted by him within a week. Ever since that day, I have been helping to create material for the Illinois Brewers Guild website (

If none of the aforementioned ideas work for you, consider perusing facebook and twitter for established beer blogs and beer focused communities. They may be looking for additional help with providing news, opinion pieces, etc. An affiliation with an established beer community/blog may help you network with people that are already actively involved in your local beer community. At the very least, it is a great way to connect with fellow beer fans.

Perhaps most importantly, do not give up. Persistance and dedication to your goal will (hopefully) pay off in time. It may not pay off in the way you had originally wanted, but putting in any effort will bear fruit of some kind.

A beer community comprised of active, passionate, and involved beer fans is a good one, and being a part of one is a great connection to have!

Have a great week!!

Friday, October 26, 2012


I had been a practicing engineer since I graduated from college in 2005. I've designed exercise equipment, insulation systems for nuclear reactors, and hydraulic and pneumatic power units/systems for customers from around the world. All of that change this past Monday when I started working at a local brewery.

This career change came about for a few reasons - the owner of this brewery has known me for some time, (I can still recall volunteering there the first year they were open and I was their store's 1st customer), he knew I was looking for a job in the brewing industry, something came up at his brewery that he thought I'd be a good fit for, and I lept at the opportunity.

I have been looking for something new for awhile. At my most recent job I had become bored with the day-to-day routine and the fact that people who had been working there longer than I've been alive still only had 2 weeks of vacation for the calendar year. Couple that with my belief that how and with whom you spend your time is more important than money, and you have a person who will not hesitate to try something new and appealing.

It is a pay cut, with longer hours, but I am happier now than I have been at any job I have held prior to this one. My better half is quite happy as well. The combination of me coming home tired but happy w/ her appreciation of her newfound title of '(soon-to-be) wife of a brewery employee' makes her smile every time she says it or thinks about it.

Do I recommend such a job change to people? That is to say, a job change from what you're doing to something you'd prefer doing? Absolutely. You do not know how much time you have and who knows how many go-rounds we will have on this earth. So the best bet is to assume this is your one 'shot' at life and to make the most of it. I have chosen to do so, in part, by taking advantage of an opportunity to work at a brewery. And I know I am a happier person for having done so.

**NOTE** As a result of the hours of my new job the beer news relayed via twitter and facebook will be shared but (probably) at a later time because I do not utilize a computer during the day (and I do not have a smart phone). So, do not assume the absence of activity in the morning or afternoon is an indication that the 'feeds' are dead.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Mike Hoops from Town Hall Brewery

Earlier this month I wrote about a bar crawl that my family and I enjoyed (that post can be found here). The second stop on that crawl was the legendary Town Hall Brewery. I won't go into how much I enjoyed their beer and their space (I did enough of that in the bar crawl post). Rather, with this post, I want to share an email interview that Town Hall's brewmaster, Mike Hoops, graciously made the time to respond to.

Mike Hoops brewing career is intertwined with Minnesota - he was the first brewer at Fitger's  Brewhouse in Duluth, Minnesota (Mike's brother Dave is the current brewmaster there), and he has been brewing beer at Town Hall for approximately 10 years. Both places are legendary in Minnesota beer circles for brewing great beer for some time now. Should you ever be in Minneapolis or Duluth, Minnesota, take the time to visit either or both places. You will not be disappointed.

In this interview Mike talks about homebrewing, Town Hall, and Minnesota beer. Enjoy!

Midwest Beer and Brewing (MBB) - I read in an interview you did with that you homebrewed in San Francisco with your brother Dave. How long did you homebrew before you became a professional brewer?  
Mike Hoops (MH) - Probably 5-6 years

MBB - Did someone introduce you to homebrewing or did you come upon it on your own?  
MH - It was introduced to me on that trip to SF. Upon returning to MN I started homebrewing brewing with some college buddies

MBB - Did you and your brother Dave start homebrewing at the same time or did one of you introduce the other to it?  
MH - I believe that was the first batch for both of us. I started homebrewing from that point on, Dave started a few years later

MBB - Is there a beer style that you enjoy brewing more than others? 
MH - I really enjoy the challenges of brewing all beers. I have noticed as of late I really have gravitated to brewing lagers, brewing with honey, and of course playing with all kinds of new hop varieties.

A part of Town Hall's brewing system

MBB - Do you recall the first beer that you had that made you go ''wow that is good!!'?  
MH - I spent a year at University in the Midlands of the UK. I ran into a standard bitter there called Brew 11 and also Sara Hughes Ruby Mild, it was one of those times. This was the early 1990s

MBB - Before you considered becoming a brewer, what did you do for a living? 
MH - Line cook, restaurant manager, construction, Alaskan fisherman just to name a few. I finished my college education with training in GIS before landing in professional brewing. (GIS = Geographic Information Systems)

MBB - If brewing beer was not an option, what would you like to be doing? 
MH - Probably a GIS guy or a geography/history teacher

A few of the awards, in banner form, that Town Hall has won over the years

MBB - How long have you been brewing professionally? 
MH - 15 years

MBB - In the aforementioned interview with, you mentioned that you attended brewing school in the UK. What was it about the UK that made you want to study there as opposed to UC Davis or Siebel (for example)?  
MH - I had lived there for a year while in college and loved my time abroad. When formal brewing school became an option I jumped at the chance. Further travel and learning a different brewing tradition from the one I was brought up in grabbed my attention. If I had it to over I think I would have done schooling at Siebel/Davis first and then sought out further schooling in a different country

MBB - Where in the UK did you attend brewing school?
MH - University of Sunderland- Brewlab

MBB - How has 2012 been, thus far, for Town Hall? 
MH - Great! Further growth in beer production as we continue to seek/find ways to get our beer to the marketplace. Our sibling Tap house has been received very well and I would not hesitate to suggest you may see another soon. The brewery has seen some turnover which makes things challenging in a small brewery. Two of our keys guys have moved on to other brewery endeavors we are happy to say. This gave us the chance to bring in new brewers that brought a new set of talents

MBB - What are your thoughts on the Minneapolis/Minnesota beer community? By 'community' I mean other breweries, homebrewers, and beer fans. 
MH - Beer fans have become much more educated in ways of beer. New breweries dot the map, and homebrewing is exploding in popularity. This is all super great and the community grows with more people drinking MN made craft beer. I love it! At Town Hall we have embraced that change/growth with commitment to beer quality. We have invested in a small lab and education monies for our brewery staff to name a few things. We feel this larger beer community is here to stay and it our duty to provide the highest quality beer to it that we can.

MBB - How does Minneapolis/Minnesota compare to other beer loving cities that you have visited? 
MH - You know, I have found the growth in craft beer means great breweries and tap houses everywhere. When I travel I can always find new "beer centric" places to visit. The Metro as well as the state has turned into a place like most now that offer a great number of places to visit

MBB - What is your favorite part of your job? 
MH - The creativity that our customer base allows us

MBB - What do you enjoy the most about the craft beer industry and its fans? 
MH - Craft Beer is surrounded by a welcoming passion. Name another industry like it, I can't.

A glass of Masala Mama IPA

MBB - Do you have any advice for homebrewers looking to improve their skills/beer? 
MH - Never over estimate your abilities or under estimate the value of education

MBB - Do you have any advice for the homebrewer that is considering becoming a professional brewer? 
MH - Commit the time and money for brewing school. If you can make it belong in the professional brewing community

Many thanks to Mike Hoops for taking the time to answer my questions!! I greatly appreciate it!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Day dreaming

Image found at

Fridays where I work are slow. Often, it's the day where I share beer related news articles that I have been amassing from the previous week on twitter (@MidwestBeerBlog) and facebook. It's also the one work day of the week where my mind has the time to roam. Today, I got to thinking about a fellow from Canada and the love a person can have for their job. 

The Canadian fellow I was thinking about is named John Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell came up in a conversation I had last week with Keith Lemcke while enjoying a few beers at Goose Island-Clybourn. Mr. Lemcke shared with me the (partial) story of Mr. John Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is a 'captain of industry', according to Mr. Lemcke, who opened the first modern craft brewery in Canada, which was called the Horseshoe Bay Brewing Company, in the spring of 1982. From there, Mr. Mitchell left to co-found Spinnakers (Canada's first in-house brewpub) in 1983.

Mr. Lemcke also told me that the last time he saw Mr. Mitchell, he (Mr. Mitchell) was in his 70s and still hauling kegs and malt sacks around on his own. I heard this and thought a few things: 1) Mr. Mitchell must be strong and in good shape to be able to carry kegs and sacks of grain around in his 70s. 2) How much must Mr. Mitchell love his job, and how lucky is he to have such a job, to be able to keep working during the later years of his life?

I am sure that there are other jobs that are very enjoyable (roller coaster designer/tester, photographer for National Geographic, I think what Josh Noel does is really cool), but the craft beer industry is one of a kind in its own way.

Through all of the discussions I've had with people in the craft beer industry, I've come to learn that folks in the craft beer industry are a supportive, friendly, overly helpful bunch of folks whose common aim is to turn more people onto better, locally made beer and to have a good time doing it. Once you learn and hear that for yourself from people who work in the craft beer industry, it is extremely hard to not become smitten with it. It is even tougher to keep oneself from inquiring about volunteering opportunities more than once a week, but a nice consolation prize is the opportunity to purchase a locally made craft beer.

So, to those of you who have a roll in the making, sharing, availability of, or a different hand in the craft beer industry - thank you for doing what you're doing. It is greatly appreciated!

**It should be noted that folks in the homebrewing community are also quick to offer advice, materials (if available), and help should it be requested (and if the person(s) asked are available to help). So, if you are hesitant to start homebrewing due to fears of harsh judgement of your homebrew by people who have been homebrewing for decades, don't be. More experienced homebrewers want to help you learn to make better beer so that you can do the same for the new homebrewers that start after you do.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oktoberfest Bier Tasting and Dinner at St. Paul's on the Hill

Last week, Brian Lonberg (the head brewer at Barley John's brew pub) asked me to share some info about an evening / fundraiser dedicated to Barley John's beer and food. The proceeds from which will benefit St. Paul's on the Hill. The info that Brian sent me follows below.

Join Brian Lonberg, a chef, and the head brewer at Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton (MN), for an evening of beer and food.

There will be a beer tasting and lecture covering most major styles of beer, and at least a dozen samples, followed by a Q and A with the brewer. Learn about how to best pair beer with meals, cheeses, desserts, and how to use beer in your own cooking. Find out how the major beer styles developed and what to expect to find in your glass, what it takes to get from the field to the Stein, and what you need to know when you go to a bottle shop. After the tasting enjoy appetizers, a short performance of German music by St. Paul's Organ Master and select choir members, followed by a German themed dinner, silent auction, and of course, more beer.

Tickets are $30, and all proceeds benefit the the church.

The event will be held Saturday October 20th at St. Paul's on the Hill
1524 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105
Doors open at 5:45, class starts at 6.
Enter through the office doors on Saratoga St.

This event is 21+, IDs required for entry.
Drink Responsibly. Plan a ride, save a life.

To purchase tickets click the following link:
-- Donate in increments of $30 per ticket. In the second box type your name, and the number of tickets you're ordering.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Interview with DryHop - part 2

In this, the second part of my interview with Greg Shuff (GS) and Brent Dubovick (BD), we talk about Chef Pete, brewing collaborations, Galaxy hops, Dry Hop's brewing system, and how great Midwesterners are. Enjoy!

MBB = We have not talked about the food. The food that DryHop will have. Would you mind saying a little bit about what your thoughts are, your plans are in that realm of things?
GS = Absolutely. When we started going down the food route, once we segwayed from Last Bay which has a growler focus, we started to say that this would work much better for us if we segwayed into food. It took awhile, a lot of thinking, a lot of meetings between us and some other people, but then we decided, really for us the best thing would be to tackle food in as intensive way as possible. Try to elevate it to the same level, and with the same amount of energy to it, as we’re putting into our beers. So, we kind of think of ourselves as a gastro brewpub. It’s a small plates concept, about thirty dishes, all based around midwestern cuisine. But we start from the perspective that we are brewers first, we know beer first and foremost. What sort of dishes would pair best with the beers we are brewing for the season at this time?  At this time of year, pumpkin beers make a lot of sense. Oktoberfests make a lot of sense. So, the thinking becomes, what sorts of dishes can be paired to these beers as opposed to what beers pair well with what we’re cooking. it’s a slight paradigm shift in your mind from thinking ‘what can we brew to match our cheeseburger?’ I am not really interested in that. We have one of the best pumpkin stouts that Brant does that is very good. So what can Chef Pete do to really bring that out? We already have a chef by the way. Do you want some story on him?
MBB = Yeah, why not?
GS = So Pete is formerly of Charlie Trotters. He’s an old sous of him and also a sous at Turtle Creek. It’s another kind of foody place. (He’s) been in the Chicago culinary scene for a very long time. Very talented chef. (To Brant) I would say you’ve had his food.
BD = Yeah, it is excellent.
GS = Yeah, it is truly excellent.
BD = Yeah, really nice. He really brings the flavor out nicely, and it pairs very well with beer.
GS = We have recently been working on testing our menu ‘cause we have a proposed menu that is really just scratches on paper. So we’re going through and Chef Pete is extremely diligent. So we are going through each individual dish, preparing them as we would prepare them in the brewery, and plating them in the exact same (way). ‘Does this make sense for the beer concept? Is this working?’ So that’s one of the big projects we have right now. So making sure our menu is lined up and taking pictures and putting it on facebook.

Photo taken by Michael Kiser,

MBB = So how did you all cross paths with Chef Pete?
GS = Chef Pete. Yeah
BD = Originally we were only going to do one thing. We were going to be a taco place or a sausage place. Just something that would get us licensing basically. Something real simple.
GS = This was when we were still like ‘Growlers!’. We were really focused on beer and growlers only, and we just wanted the food to pass licensing. That’s all we wanted. But as you can see, our food concept has grown tremendously since then.
BD = Greg was like ‘How are we going to go about hiring a chef?’ I said ‘Why don’t we throw something on Craigslist? It can’t hurt and all we can do is say no if we don’t get any people that we like.’ We put an ad on Craigslist and Pete was one of the first people to send us a resume. We had some really good prospects. We had maybe ten prospects that were really gastropub-centric chefs, and I was surprised. I think we had something like 350 resumes sent to us through Craigslist. So, we met with maybe four people I think?
GS = Yeah.
BD = Four people. Greg and I talked it over and decided Pete was the best way to go. Greg made him an offer. Fortunately he accepted and there we went. So, he worked on a consulting basis for maybe four months?
GS = Yeah.
BD = And he came on full time in September 3rd I think was his first day.
MBB = Okay.
GS = Pete’s culinary philosophy, and kitchen philosophy, is you design the menu first and then you design your kitchen around your menu. So it was important to have him on pretty early. because right now, already with building permits into the city our kitchen is designed. Because we had to submit it. So he came on, we talked about our menu, and we got it pretty close to what we were talking about. And then to do some of the things we are planning on doing you need some specialized equipment. Planning for that is really important. He’s been with us for a while now. He just started with the menu testing really recently. He’s been working with us for several months. He’s great. He’s a good guy.

MBB = If Chef Pete’s approach is menu first and then kitchen, did he have any issue with your bias towards the beer and then the menu and the food second?
BD = Everything he has said since he came on has been ‘you need to put the beer forefront’.
GS = It’s all about the beer.
BD = The food will play a secondary role.
MBB = That’s fantastic.

A photo of the DryHop + Atlas collaboration called High Voltage

MBB = May we move onto the beer that brought us here tonight?
BD = Absolutely.
MBB = This is probably silly but how did you get in touch with the brewers here and how did you decide on this style of beer for your collaboration?
BD = This is our fourth collaboration. The three other collaborations that we’ve done before this, one was the wheat IPA which is going to be a staple at DryHop. The other two were a little funky. We did an Americanized version of a Bier de Garde at Haymarket.
GS = Is that still on down there?
BD = I don’t know.
GS = If it is, have you (MBB) had it?
MBB = Yeah I have.
BD = He was at the (release). Greg could not make the release.
GS = I was there for an hour.
MBB = I think I arrived just as you were leaving.
GS = Yeah. Sorry I missed you.
MBB = Bah.
GS = (laughs).
BD = And we did a summer ale with Lunar with a...
MBB = Lemon balm.
BD = Lemon balm and lavender. It came about with Atlas that we wanted to do.. Lets not go crazy. Lets not do a beer that has 55 herbs in it. Lets just do a straightforward beer. I think a pretty straightforward beer is a single hop IPA. It obviously only has one hop. So we came down for the first night they were open, and I met with Ben. Started talking and I said we ought to do a collaboration. It sort of grew from there. Ben’s a great guy and John, his brother, is the GM here. He’s a great guy. They welcomed us into the brewhouse with open arms. I came down and brewed with him. It was a really nice, smooth brewery. Very very pleased with the result.
GS = I’d like to add some story to this. The goal is to brew a less eccentric beer, lets say. We were focusing on a single hop, or an IPA. Something like that. But it’s a galaxy IPA. Both of us, I think, are particularly partial to the galaxy hop. It was a fun opportunity, I think, for us to showcase what this hop is all about. It’s certainly known. It’s not like we just discovered galaxy or anything but it’s a less common hop variety in the American craft beer scene currently.  So it was fun to do something basic, sort-of, to showcase one element of a beer and really elevate it as much as possible. It was a fun exploration of the galaxy hop.

MBB =  I was not aware that you two were fans of galaxy hops. Is that a hop that you can say whether or not we will be seeing it in your products when the time comes around?
BD = Absolutely. Our wheat IPA is dry hopped with it.
MBB = Oh, that’s what it uses?
BD = Yeah. It’s the dry hop outfit. The wheat IPA is galaxy.

MBB = I neglected to mention/ask, (to GS) what are the chances that you will find your way into the brewhouse when things are up and running?
GS = I try not to step on Brant’s toes. So, maybe if he’s sick.
(everyone laughs)
BD = I think I am going to need him in there when we get going because we are going to be brewing twelve days in a row. Maybe not twelve days in a row but we are going to do six brews in a row. When those beers are moved over to the serving tanks we’re going to go another six beers in a row. I am probably going to need him. We are probably going to hire an assistant who is probably going to start around February 1st. We’re ready to go. We’ve hop contracts for two years. That was one of the first things I did when I got into town was get what hops I needed. We have them sitting in Yakima right now. We also have 300 lbs of zythos sitting on the south side in cold storage, and Greg’s refrigerator/freezer in the apartment has been turned into a holding vessel for simcoe and centennial. And we have 200 lbs of galaxy that are sitting in Begyle’s freezer at their brewery. So, we’ve got hops all over the place and in Yakima, Washington as well. We’re ready to roll. We just need the malt and we’ll be ready to go.

MBB = Would you mind saying a little bit about your system? Barrel size, number of fermenters, etc.
GS = It is a ten barrel brewhouse. We have six 10 barrel uni-tanks. Jacketed fermenters. We have six 10 barrel, jacketed serving tanks. The serving tanks are stacked. One on top of the other.  They are our back bar. So you come up, you’re sitting at the bar, you’re looking at the serving tanks. There is nothing separating you from them. The lines go straight from there into our taps. So, it’s as direct from the brewery as you can possibly get.
BD = If you turn around you see the brewhouse. If you look to your right you see the fermenters.
GS = Our bar runs straight down the middle of our brewery. So the fermenters and the bright takes are in front of you and the brewhouse is behind you. So, as I said, space is really optimized in our brewery. That’s why when we put the equipment in it is not going anywhere.
MBB = You might want to invest in a few boxes of tissues because being a beer fan I am sure that folks are going to look one way, shed a tear. Turn around, another one (another tear) and be like ‘I am so happy’.
BD = The double stacked serving tanks are pretty cool looking. Pete has some at Haymarket but they are kind of hard to see. He’s got knee wall in front of it but these are going to be open to the public to see. We’re also going to grind our malt. So we’re not buying pre-ground malt. That’s a big component. We actually have our grist case stacked on top of our lauter tun. So that’s going to look pretty crazy to.
GS = (making hand gestures in the air to aide his description) That’s going to go back right here and here is one of our tables. It’s just like ‘There it is’.

MBB = I am not familiar with some of the brewing systems of the brewpubs around town, but the only other place that I know of that has a serving tank connected directly to the taplines is Upland in Bloomington (Indiana).
GS = Oh yeah. I know them.
BD = These guys do (Atlas).
MBB = They do?
BD = So does Pete. Haymarket does to.
MBB = Now I am curious about what else I don’t know.
BD = Does Piece?
GS = Piece? I don’t know.
MBB = They (the tanks) are close enough that I would be surprised if they didn’t.
BD = Does Revolution?
GS = I have no idea. I would assume that all of the brewpubs have serving tanks but I actually don’t know.
BD = Ask Ben (of Atlas) for a tour. He’s really accommodating.
GS = I know Flossmoor has serving tanks. Bright tanks.

MBB = Those are all the questions I have at this time. Do you guys have anything you want to say about DryHop, the future, Chicago beer, whatever is on your mind.
GS = I don’t know. I guess to expand - it’s a fun time to be a brewer in Chicago. Very much. The collaborative scene is great. At the brewers guild meeting, a couple of months ago now, the owner of Lagunitas () commented that Chicago scene looks a lot like what the California scene did twenty years ago. And it’s just fun to be a part of that. That they (Chicago) are seeing the scene blow up. in craft beer. It’s a great time to be collaborating and making great beer here.
MBB = Yeah, it is an exciting time.
BD = It’s exciting to walk into your corner or grandfather’s bar and see an Old Style tap and right next to that you see a Half Acre or a Revolution tap. It’s nice to see craft beer in pretty much every bar you walk into, or at least one craft beer in their selection on draft. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully we’ll get that up to everything is a craft beer selection one of these days, but we’ll take tiny steps to get that. Coming from Pennsylvania it’s refreshing to see the love affair the city has with craft beer.
MBB = Midwesterners are pretty great. Not going to lie to you.
BD and GS = Yeah!
GS = Midwesterners rock! I love Midwesterners.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Interview with DryHop - part 1

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Greg Shuff and Brant Dubovick of DryHop Brewers at the release of the DryHop + Atlas Brewing Company collaboration (called High Voltage) to talk beer and DryHop. It was a fun and informative interview that ended up being so long that we decided to split it up into two parts. In the first half of our interview (the second half will be posted this Friday) we talk about the origins of DryHop, how DryHop has evolved over time, and where things are at for them now. Enjoy!

Midwest Beer Blog (MBB) = If we could just start off with you guys identifying yourselves and saying your roll at DryHop
Greg Shuff (GS) = I am Greg Shuff, spelled S-H-U-F-F and I am the proprietor of DryHop Brewers.
Brent Dubovick (BD) = Brant Dubovick, D-U-B-O-V-I-C-K. I am the head brewer of DryHop brewers

MBB = Before we get to the collaboration that brought us all here this evening, do you mind if we start at the beginning? Day 1, square 1 - how did you guys cross paths? How did you get to where you are now?
GS = I started the ball rolling on this project. There came a time where I needed a higher level of brewing expertise than what I was able to bring to the table. A lot of the moving parts came together to where I needed an experienced head brewer’s perspective on everything. So I started putting feelers out looking for people, and Brant and I connected on Probrewer. I went out to Pittsburgh and had beers with him one evening, and we kind of hit it off pretty well. The next thing you know he was flying out here.

Greg Shuff (L) and Brent Dubovick (R)

MBB - I know you (Brant) are coming from PA, and tell me if I am wrong but I think you (Greg) have your roots in Indiana. So, was it always going to be a Chicago for the base of operations for whatever came about as a result of your teaming up?
GS = Yeah. Absolutely. By the time Brant and I had come together I was already living in Chicago. moved up here about six months beforehand to start working on this project. And yes, I absolutely wanted to be in Chicago. I think this is a great city. Especially for food and beverage and all of the cultural relevancy that is around that. Its got a dense enough population that can allow breweries to really thrive. So, now we are here.
BD = I was in Pittsburgh and the brewery I was at, which was the Church Brew Works, started out as a brewpub and started to get more into a packaging brewery. I wanted to concentrate more on the growler, brewpub side of things. Greg’s concept originally was to do a lot of little growler bars around town. Specifically near L stops and mass transit hubs. So people coming off the mass transit hub could stop in and get a growler for the evening or the weekend. Due to licensing restrictions it made more sense to go with a brewpub type concept. When I was looking to move from Pittsburgh, I was either going to stay in Pittsburgh, move back to New York where I am originally from, or come to Chicago. So, I put two applications out, literally two applications - one to Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn and one to Greg for Last Bay Beer Company which is what it (Dryhop) was called at the time. Sixpoint never called me back and Greg called be back, so I obviously went with Greg.

MBB = I could not help but hear you mention that the original idea was a growler stop for beer, so to speak, and multiple branches. Do you have any aspirations for multiple DryHop locations around the city or Illinois in general?
GS = Sure, we would absolutely love to do well and grow as a company. We are both more enthusiastic about the brewpub concepts or growler-type concepts than any sort of packaging facility. So if we live our lives right you will never be able to buy our beer at a liquor store. But if people are excited enough about what we’re doing that we will be able to open another location somewhere else down the road, then yes. Absolutely.

MBB = Before we started recording you mentioned that you are expecting your equipment in December. Would you need a month or two to get it all setup, established, licensed, etc.?
GS = Most of our licensing process, especially the really time consuming ones, are already in the pipeline. So, that’s good. Once the equipment lands, it is scheduled to land December 17th, all of the process piping will need to be tied in. Beyond that, all of the things we have, like finishes, need to be put in around it. Because we organized our space very diligently so we do not have a lot of excess space for anything. So the brewhouse will have to go in and then we are building our bar around the brewhouse. Once the bar is in there the brewhouse isn’t going anywhere. So, it will take another couple of months to finish that. So, we are hoping in early February if everything goes right. But when that is wrong do not string me up by my toes (laughs).

MBB - So there is a chance we could be able to go in and enjoy some DryHop beer by say late spring?
GS = Oh yeah. I would love to be open this winter.
BD = I hope to be brewing by the end of January - February 1st I would like to be brewing. That would put us on a, maybe, three week cycle ‘til we get the beers on. Once we get rolling it is going to be a two week cycle from brewhouse to glass. Also, if you go back to the growler thing we are also dedicating eighteen feet of our bar space to just growlers.
MBB = Really?
BD = Three growler fillers from Russia that counter pressurize and purge the oxygen, filling the growler. So, if you come up you will have eighteen feet where you can just put in your growler order and we’ll have three of them running constantly with all of the DryHop beers that we offer to take home. So I think DryHop and Begyle are the only ones in Chicago that are doing counter pressure growler filling.
MBB = Or Illinois because until you mentioned it, and Begyle mentioned it, I was not familiar with that (counter pressure growler filling). So, fantastic!
GS = We’ve actually done quite a bit of testing. We have one in our research lab right now attached to a kegerator. We fill up growlers all of the time, and we have tortured the heck out of those growlers. We are pretty confident that up to about six weeks, six to eight weeks, for the shelf life of a growler before I’d tell you to throw it away.
MBB = Wow!
BD = We did one where we filled it, let it warm up on the window sill for eight weeks, and the sunset comes down and over into Greg’s kitchen. So we had the sun beating it up for eight weeks and put it back in the refrigerator and cooled it down again, and we got a little oxidation out of it. You could tell the difference but it was not a drain pour by any means.

Photo by Michael Kiser,

MBB = The six to eight week shelf life - is that across a range of styles or did you use one style as a control?
BD = We used Half Acre Daisy Cutter as our control subject because it is hoppy. One of our main beers is going to be a hoppy wheat IPA. So we wanted to see how a hoppy beer did.
GS = We figured that if one beer was going to show distress quickly it was going to be an  American pale ale with a really high hop profile. So if that beer can survive it, we feel extremely confident that your high gravity whatever stouts will too.
MBB = Test the weak ones and you can probably assume, perhaps, a longer shelf life for the higher ABV ones.
GS = Yeah.
BD = Yeah. I don’t see why not if you did an imperial stout or a barleywine why it can’t be longer.

MBB = You mentioned briefly that one of the first beers you are going to have is going to be a wheat IPA. Have you talked about, confirmed or decided on the other beers you are going to be leading with?
GS = (To Brant) Do you want to answer that one?
BD = Sure. We are going to have two year round beers - one is the wheat IPA which we’ve  brewed once already in collaboration with Hamburger Mary’s and I think you (MBB) already tried at a brewclub (i.e. Squarekegs) meeting.
MBB = There is a good chance. Yeah.
BD = That’s  (wheat IPA) going to be one. And the other year round beer we are calling it a Chicago common, is a hybrid between a cream ale and a steam beer. So we are going to use a steam yeast to ferment a cream ale. Those are going to be our two year round beers that we have on constantly. Right now, if we open in February we are going to have a Winter Warmer on which is a traditional English Winter Warmer. We are going to have a tbd hoppy beer. When we started this, Greg and I were like ‘Well, what are we going to do?’. Right now we are going to have six year round beers on and two seasonals.
GS = Well not six year rounds.
BD = Sorry, two year rounds and six total DryHop beers. So, we are going to have, what we are calling, an ‘International Beer’ which will either be a German, English or a Belgian. And we are going to have a hoppy beer on, another hoppy beer besides the wheat IPA. We’re going to have a high gravity beer. So, like an imperial stout or a barleywine. And the final one is we’re going to have a dark. So we’re going have a brown ale, a stout or a porter. Something in that vein. And we’re also talking about doing four guest taps and one of those guest taps being dedicated to a collaboration beer. Maybe I go and brew with, hopefully/maybe, Mikkeller, and it will be a Mikkeller - DryHop collaboration. Or if we brew with Half Acre. Or if we brew with Atlas. We will have one of those collaboration beers on. So, I guess, technically, we will have seven DryHop beers on at all times. And Greg through his investigation and his diligence with the space that we are leasing that even though our landlord said there is no basement, Greg found a basement.
GS = That’s the weirdest story I promise you.
BD = So the basement is being demo’d and we are going to run stainless down to the basement and we are going to do a barrel aging program in the basement. So, we’ll have some 750 mL bottles available for sale in the brewhouse as well.
MBB = It does sound like you guys have a lot of the beer spectrum covered. Wheat, hoppy, dark, high gravity, collaborative. That’s fantastic!
GS = (laughs) Yeah, we think so.

MBB = With your equipment on order and your space determined, what is left on the to-do list?
GS = Get it built right?
MBB = Yeah yeah, okay. Yeah. That’s fair.
GS = The big thing we are waiting on now is we’re waiting for the city of Chicago to get back with us with complete building permits. So they have all of our materials. We have gotten approvals on a number of sections. We have to come back with new comments or revisions to part of our architectural plan. Fire protection and then our electrical. As soon as we get that taken care of, hopefully they are going to issue our building permits and then build out. That’s our big focus at the moment.

MBB = Do you have any other collaborations on the docket before February?
BD = We are actually talking with Begyle about doing something. We were originally slated to do something with them in late August. We were going to do an Oktoberfest marzen. They sort of, not ran into problems but they wanted to get their glycol system professionally done. They could not get it installed professionally for a certain amount of time. So, we lost that window on doing an Oktoberfest, but we are talking with them about either doing a harvest ale which is going to pretty much be an Oktoberfest but on an ale yeast so we can turn it around a little quicker than eight weeks. So we’re talking about doing that or maybe doing a pumpkin porter or a pumpkin stout. Which we’ll hopefully release around Halloween. So, we’re talking about maybe doing something with them in October. I really like what Solemn Oath is doing. I’ll brew with anyone. I’m just hungry to brew. So, anybody that wants to brew, get in contact with me. We’ll make it happen. (

Friday, September 28, 2012

The 1st (partial) family bar crawl

There is something incredibly cool about being able to hang out with your parents and family while enjoying a beer and many laughs. Until late last month, at least for my family, that typically happened at my folks place in Minnesota. 

In late August, we (we = my parents + brother + fiance and I) decided it would be cool to go and visit a few bars and a brewpub around Minneapolis and St. Paul that we had read and heard good things about but had not visited (or at least not visited in some time). Our trip/'crawl' took the better part of the late afternoon and evening of the Saturday we were in Minnesota. We would have visited more places but the fatigue of our designated driver forced us to return home around midnight.

The night began with dinner at the Happy Gnome. It was my first visit to this true beer geek destination, and I was not disappointed. For an appetizer we shared duck confit bruschetta served with peaches, fig, goat cheese, and watercress. For the main course my Mom had the game hen, my Dad had scallops, my brother had the game burger and my fiance and I had the duck burger. For our first round of beer, my Mom had water (my Mom = self-appointed designated driver), my Dad had the Deschutes black butte porter, my brother had the Porterhouse oyster stout, my fiance had the Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison and I had the Brau Brothers Báncreagie . All were quite enjoyable and paired well with our meals. Before departing, because they had it on draft, I ordered a glass of the Black Butte XXIV. It was something I had never had before (I have had the XXIII but not the XXIV before that evening), and I thought my family would like it. We all enjoyed it... A lot. 

Next, we made our way to the Town Hall Brewery. It is a place that is dangerously close to the U of Minnesota, Minneapolis west bank campus. Town Hall Brewery is in a beautiful old bar that is made with dark wood, lit by gentle lighting, and an obvious dedication to the history of the space itself. While at Town Hall, we enjoyed the following:

  • Masala Mama IPA - Enjoyed by my brother and I
    • Great tropical fruit aroma. The contribution of the hops were not overpowering but very pleasant
  • Black H2O oatmeal - enjoyed by my Dad
    • A beer with a great roast and chocolate taste that came together very well in a beer that was very smooth in texture
  • Hefeweizen - my first beer
    • A great example of the style. If I lived closer, this would be my go-to-beer
  • Grand Cru - my second beer
    • I have not had many Grand Crus in my day but I did enjoy this one
  • 1800 IPA on cask - my brother
    • An IPA that I enjoyed as much as the Masala Mama. The hops were not the tropical sort. Rather they were of the piney sort
  • A beer infused with raspberries - my fiance. I forget the base beer for this one
    • Quite enjoyable. I hold it up there with Cerise (a fruit beer I really enjoy)

Town Hall's beer lived up to its reputation - it was great. Not a dud in the bunch. I am already looking forward to my next visit when I am in MN again. My lone regret is that I did not visit more often while I was an undergrad at the U of MN (GO GOPHERS!!). In a future post I will share an interview with Town Hall Brewery's head brewer Mike Hoops. Mike is a great guy whose brewing experience/history is intertwined with another one of Minnesota's brewing institutions - Fitgers Brewhouse. More on that in the interview that will be posted at a later date.

Once we finished our beer at Town Hall, we made our way across the bridge to the Acadia Cafe.

The Acadia Cafe is a place that I had not visited before the evening of the crawl. Their 4th anniversary was celebrated earlier this year (which is a relief 'cause I was fearful I had missed another great beer bar  that was open during my college days), and the place looked great. They had plenty of beer on tap (27 on at the time of our visit) and a cask as well. In addition to the great beer selection, Acadia also offers hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, and other appetizers. While we were there, we enjoyed a few beers (see the list below) and the music of a jazz (?) band that held residence the evening of our visit.

The Acadia Cafe is also where the evening really took off  - the laughs increased in number and frequency and we all shared a few of our talents (examples - I appreciate a woman than can burp well and my brother can go from friendly and approachable to 'demon eyed monster' faster than anyone I know)..In short, our time at Acadia was my favorite part of the evening. To take it a step further, and I apologize if this comes across as bragging but if Norman Rockwell was to paint a picture of the ideal family situation, our time at the Acadia would have provided that scene.

At the Acadia Cafe my family and I enjoyed the following beers:

After the Acadia Cafe, which had a very cocky (but true) statement above their door that I did not notice when we first went in (see photo below) we went to the Republic which had a great happy hour (every beer made in America that is normally priced at $6 were $3 from 10p to 12p. 

Here we enjoyed the following beer:
Much like the beer enjoyed at the prior stops, the beer we had at the Republic was great as well. I really enjoyed my beer for a few reasons - It was by a brewery that I had only read about prior to the evening of the crawl. In addition, the beer itself was sweet but firm and the hop presence was pleasantly piney.

The best thing about this crawl is that we did not scratch the surface of good bars and beer available in my home state (all the more reason to go on another crawl). There are breweries and brewpubs opening all the time (examples = Pour Decisions Brewing Company and Indeed Brewing Company). The great thing about this is that they are all making good beer. Granted I have not tried them all but I trust that the brewers are capable and that they will all find their audience/fan base. So, the next time you are traveling through Minnesota, be sure to pick up a Minnesota made beer. You will not be disappointed.

**NOTE** - A great deal of credit goes to @13Mikey for providing great advice and suggestions for what places to visit during this pub crawl. Thanks again Mike!