There are those individuals that sit around and wait for things to happen. And then there are those that take a more active role. A perfect example of the latter is Brant Dubovick, the former Head Brewer of Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, PA and the current Head Brewer of Dryhop Brewers. Dryhop is a brewery-in-planning that will be opening in the Lakeview East neighborhood of Chicago early next year but Dubovick is not sitting around, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the construction to complete so he can finally get to work. No. Dubovick has embraced the Chicago craft beer scene and has spent his time connecting with other brewers in the community and collaborating on craft brews. To date, Dubovick has released four collaboration beers with four separate breweries, and there is talk of even more beer releases before Dryhop even opens its doors.
Dubovick has also acted as an ambassador for welcoming the “third wave” of Chicago brewers to the city’s craft beer scene. This summer, Dubovick organized a sensory analysis class that taught brewers and brewery owners about off flavors and their causes. He wants Chicago to be thought of in the same category as renowned beer towns such as Portland, San Diego, and Denver, and he wants to ensure that all beer produced here is of the utmost quality.
Illinois Craft Brewers Guild President Pete Crowley (who also brewed a collaboration brew with Dubovick) noticed something special about Dubovick and suggested that he seek a position on the Board of Directors of the Guild. Dubovick was recently voted in as Secretary and will be an active presence with all things Guild-related this year. I caught up with Dubovick on September 18th at the release party of High Voltage, a single hop IPA released in conjunction with Atlas Brewing.
Illinois Craft Brewers Guild: You were recently appointed Secretary of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. Congratulations! How did that come about?
Brant Dubovick: I had some experience with the Pennsylvania Brewers Guild. The owner of the Church Brew Works, Sean Casey, was the Secretary of that Guild and he went to all of the meetings and, as his Head Brewer, I went to all of the meetings, too. Pete Crowley [the President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild] liked that I had some experience so he asked if I would be interested in running for the Board of Directors and I said ‘sure.’ Greg Shuff, the owner of Dryhop, thought it would be a great idea and it would be a good way to get Dryhop’s name out there. At the Board of Directors meeting I got voted into the Board of Directors and at our first meeting they asked for nominations for Secretary. Everybody else on the Board of Directors has an operational brewery and, since we’re not open yet, I figured I would have the most time to commit to it. So I said, “I’ll do it, if you want.” And I got a second nomination for it and that’s how it came about.
ICBG: What is your role as Secretary for the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild?
BD: Right now, I attend all of the board meetings and take the minutes. I’m going to assist Justin Maynard [the Executive Director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild] and a couple other people to help and promote ImBIBE a little better. I am in charge, with Justin, of the door at [the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers], I’ll be volunteering there. And also helping Justin get pamphlets and mailings out to all members, letting them know what is going on with the Guild. So, I’ll pretty much be working with Justin Maynard and getting everything organized and keeping track of Guild meetings and Board of Directors meetings.
ICBG: You mentioned that you were involved with the Guild back in Pennsylvania. Why did you want to be involved with the Illinois Guild?
BD: I knew I wanted to be involved with the Guild. When I met with Greg [Shuff], he said that we were going to be heavily involved with the Guild. The Pennsylvania Brewers Guild is a bit of a disorganized mess; there have been some split-offs with Yuengling and some of the bigger breweries wanting to start their own Guild and some of the smaller breweries were against that. It was a pretty fractured environment and it was like pulling teeth to get anything done. I didn’t want to have a similar experience with the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild so I knew that I wanted to get involved so that it didn’t become a fractured mess like the Pennsylvania Guild. And then I met Pete [Crowley], who’s President of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, and [Dryhop] did a collaboration brew with those guys. The meetings of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild are 120% more organized, more committed to craft beer than the Pennsylvania Brewers Guild ever was or will be. It’s refreshing coming into this environment where everyone is looking out for each other as opposed to fighting over little issues.
BD: I think it’s making sure that craft beer doesn’t go off the tracks. I think it’s making sure that we stay the course, that we are looking out for everyone, from Lagunitas who’s going to be doing hundreds of thousands of barrels (to maybe millions of barrels) of beer per year, as well as looking out for someone like Hamburger Mary’s, someone who’s doing, like, 200 barrels a year. It’s just the philosophy that ‘no one gets left behind.’ Everyone is equal in the eyes of the Guild. Just because Lagunitas is pumping out a ton of beer doesn’t make them any more effective in the craft beer world than Hamburger Mary’s who’s doing 200 barrels. I think my role in the Guild might be to help these new breweries get assimilated. I want to help form good relationships with everyone that will be opening up in the next one to three years and make sure that they know what is going on. Maybe I can be the coach of the Guild and welcome in the newbies.
ICBG: You are releasing your collaboration brew with Atlas Brewing tonight. How many collaborations have you done since moving to Chicago? What are they? How did you make the connections to get these beers made?
BD: Our first collaboration was our Wheat IPA, which is going to be one of our year-round beers at Dryhop, and that was with Hamburger Mary’s. I sort of barged my way into Hamburger Mary’s and introduced myself to Brandon Wright, the Owner/Head Brewer there, and said, “Hey, what do you think about a collaboration.” And he welcomed us with open arms, so we did our first collaboration with Hamburger Mary’s. The second one was with Lunar Brewing. I met their Head Brewer, Brad Davis, out at The Lucky Monk when I was looking at Lucky Monk’s draft system because [Dryhop’s] draft system is going to be pretty similar to theirs. We made a connection and said that we should do a collaboration at some point. So that came about and we did a summer ale with Lunar that was made with lavender and lemon balm. The third one we did was with Haymarket. I’ve formed a great relationship with Pete Crowley. With them being a really established brewery I was, like, “this guy is never going to want to brew with us.” But Pete is by far the nicest, most committed guy to promoting craft beer in Chicago. And he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” without hesitation. And the fourth one is being released tonight at Atlas Brewing. I came into opening night at Atlas and said we should do a collaboration together and the Saller brothers were all for it. And now we have High Voltage, a single hop IPA made with Galaxy hops.
ICBG: What are you working on in anticipation of Dryhop opening?
BD: The big thing was the website. So we’ve got the new website launched, that was one of the big ones. Right now we are just hoping to get going with construction. We also added a basement to our lease, a basement that no one knew existed. Greg investigated and found out that there was a basement and we’ve added that to our lease and we are going to have a barrel aging program down there. So Dryhop will have a barrel aging program. We are discussing right now what we are going to serve it in; the consensus right now is that we are going to serve it in 750 ml bottles or Belgian 22’s. We’re also working on getting recipes finalized for when we are going to be open; we anticipated opening a lot sooner so I had a whole set of beers that I was going to do originally that aren’t going to play very well in the middle of February in Chicago. Our Chef just came on full time so we are working on getting the menu paired down; we have 50 items and we want to get it down to about 30.
ICBG: So Dryhop just went live with the new website. When can we expect Dryhop to open its doors?
BD: Right now we are waiting on the city of Chicago to issue building permits. They talked to Greg Shuff, the owner, on Friday and said that they had a couple questions that needed to be resolved but nothing major, so we should hopefully be breaking ground by October 1st. We take receipt of our equipment on December 17th and I’m anticipating a month to a month and a half to hook that up. So we should be brewing by the middle of January and hopefully serving our beer by the middle of February. Whether we are going to open up before with guest taps, we don’t know. Right now we would like to open with just our beers and a couple guest taps. We’re shooting for mid-February.
ICBG: You have done a lot since your arrival in Chicago to become involved in and promote the beer community past, present, and future. How will Dryhop fit into that community?
BD: I look at us as part of this third wave of brewers that are coming into Chicago. It’s anywhere from a five gallon system to 250 barrels that Lagunitas is doing. I think it’s a great time to be in Chicago. And I hope we are going to be in the middle of that, if not leading the charge of the new breweries that are coming to Chicago. You have Goose and Rock Bottom and Piece who have been around for a little bit, and then you have Revolution and Haymarket that are part of the second generation. And then you look at guys like us, Pipeworks, Begyle, and Atlas as sort of the third wave that’s going to take it to the next level, take Chicago to the level of Portland or Denver. I think we’re getting there but I think we have a few more steps to go. But I don’t see why Chicago can’t be thought of in the same breath as Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, any of those cities. There’s no reason why we can’t be up there, in the upper echelon. And I am hoping that is where Dryhop can take us.
BD: The next collaboration will be with Begyle Brewing in the next month or so; we’re talking about maybe doing a Pumpkin Porter or possibly a Harvest Ale. We were going to do an Oktoberfest but we ran out of time; they are still setting up their brewery and we are right on the cusp of the eight weeks you need to do a proper Oktoberfest. We might do an ale version of an Oktoberfest. But I’m hoping for the Pumpkin Porter. Right now I’m just in the office; I don’t have a brewery so I am willing to brew with anyone. Some of my dream guys I’d like to brew with? Solemn Oath, I think those guys are great; obviously I’d love to brew with Three Floyds, Half Acre, or Revolution. We’re going to have four dedicated guest taps and one of those guest taps is going to be a dedicated collaboration tap at all times. So I would love to brew with Mikkeller, I would love to go to Denmark and brew with those guys. Or go to Scotland and brew with BrewDog, something like that. Form a relationship. Collaboration is huge right now. I’d love to go back to Pittsburgh and brew with Church Brew Works. I think the sky’s the limit. I’ll brew anywhere, any time.
ICBG: What is the process of making a collaboration brew?
BD: I think the process, mostly, is to form a friendship. It’s really easy to do in the brewing community. No one’s looking to best anyone; everyone’s looking to help each other out. Just form a friendship with the breweries and from there just get together over beers and talk about doing something funky or doing something straightforward like a single hop IPA and just bounce ideas off each other. Then come in and have a fun day of brewing at whatever brewhouse you’re at and put out the best product you can. I think we have been fortunate and everything we’ve put out has been really solid. We’ve taken a couple risks, used some pretty funky ingredients. We’ve done two pretty straightforward beers and two funky brews. And I think it comes down to trust as well. You have to trust the brewery that you’re at that they are not going to brew something that is going to suck. And they don’t want it to suck as much as you don’t want it to suck.