DryHop: Lakeview East's neighborhood brewery

DryHop: Lakeview East's neighborhood brewery

Two of Chicago's most famous local breweries are Revolution and Half Acre. But if you lived in Lakeview East back in 2013, these weren't easy to get to. Revolution was three and a half miles away. Half Acre about three. Plus, back then, Uber was still pretty futuristic. So getting to Revolution involved taking a bus, followed by the blue line, followed by Virgil guiding you across the Chicago River. It wasn't easy.

This was the environment DryHop owner Greg Shuff picked back in the spring of 2013. Greg and Brewmaster Brant Dubovick opened their first brewery (DryHop) on 3155 North Broadway, about a block away from Belmont (north of Stella's Diner, south of Chicken Hut). Greg went to brewing school, Brant had a ton of brewing experience and they joined forces. They hosted a few events in early 2013, building up some hype before their grand opening. When they finally did open their doors, the neighborhood swarmed what would become our new favorite brewery.

Here's how the two described those early days in Daniel Gerzina's Chicago Eater article from 2014:

Dubovick: It was chaos. It was overwhelming. We definitely were, in my opinion, not ready for the types of numbers we did, especially from the beer side of things. It was really difficult until we got into our brewing groove to keep six beers on. We were constantly running out of beer, but now we're in that groove and we're just as busy as we were at opening.

Shuff: Yeah, a week after opening, we had to close our kitchen for three days because we completely wiped out of inventory.

From the beginning, most of their original beer ideas came from Brant's brain. Marketing Director Jesse Valenciana describes it this way:

"Beers are as much a formula as they are a recipe; if you're familiar with the ingredients you're using and their expected flavor profiles, you can predict how a beer might turn out. Obviously there are exceptions to this and sometimes tweaks, changes have to be made, but being as how we're not a huge production facility, we have the ability to be nimble and adjust things on the fly as we have to."

The creativity spills over into the names themselves. This isn't your granddad's Bud and Bud Light. Here's a look at the beer menu:

  • Fork of NeptuneThe aroma explodes with the scent of orange, papaya, grapefruit and sweet-tart candies. Next come flavors of lime, peach and grapefruit with dry, resiny finish. A powerfully hoppy beer in a small 5% package.
  • Shark Meets HipsterBoasting notes of peach, passion fruit, and citrus peel, our flagship IPA warrants your attention. Finishing with a dry bitterness and tropical fruit notes.
  • Pimped Out Ugg BootsA blend of Saigon cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, clove, nutmeg and Mexican cocoa creates the perfect fall drink but its fly in any weather

"The names come from our head brewer, Steve Adams," Jesse said. "If you like them, credit the brewery. If you don't, it's all Steve's fault."

DryHop opened a patio in 2014 and there's rarely been a Saturday--especially in the summer--when the restaurant isn't packed. They don't sell their beers in bottles, but you can come in and fill up a 32 oz crowler or 64 oz growler. And even if you didn't like beer, it's also just a great restaurant. You can't go wrong with their Original Burger (ancho chile tomato jam, brunkow raw milk cheddar, pickled onions, and arugula) or turn up the heat with the Demon Burger (ghost pepper cheese, cayenne aioli, pickled fresno peppers, fried egg). They've got great fries. Great regular chicken and Nashville chicken sandwiches. 

As Taylor Laabs pointed out in his article on CraftBeer.com, Greg's overall goal is to be like the Lettuce Entertain You of brewpubs. To be "every neighborhood's neighborhood brewery." So he didn't want to open "DryHop Lincoln Park," "DryHop Old Town." No, each brewery should have its own personality and be linked to it's own neighborhood. So in October of 2015, Greg and Brant opened a brand new concept called Corridor Brewery & Provisions over in West Lakeview right in the center of the Southport Corridor. Just last year, they opened Roebuck right next door to DryHop, a place focused more on cocktails and wood-fired pizza. Their newest creation is Crushed by Giants right in the heart of downtown.

"Greg's always on the lookout for new opportunities," Jesse said.

Even though each of their four spots are different, it's kind of like meeting different cousins in the same family; you go to all four and can sense that they're all related. As a fan of DryHop and seeing the boost it's given our neighborhood, it's exciting to think of a future in Chicago where there's 10, 15 more of these creations. Where the list of their brewpubs reads like one of their beer menus. An "empire" that all started in Lakeview East.

But like any brewery or restaurant with a bunch of momentum heading into 2020, things of course have changed since the pandemic. DryHop is adjusting, though, and making the most of a difficult situation.

"There have been many challenges, as to be expected with a global pandemic that was so unexpected," Jesse said. "The biggest challenge of COVID has to be the unpredictability of it all; consumer habits, employee concerns, the city's response to the COVID cases with the restrictions that have been placed then taken away and repeated. Beyond that, the general unpredictability of the virus itself, it's not like [COVID] sent us an out-of-office reminder letting businesses know when it was going to go away."

Where it's hard to picture the leadership teams at, let's say, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken coming together to compare notes on how to survive 2020, the local craft brewery scene in Chicago is a whole different thing.

"Thankfully, the Chicago brewing community is very supportive; we're always there to help lift each other up and be as much of a resource as we can for one another," Jesse said. "We have had our fair share of collaborations with our local breweries and that doesn't seem like it will ever cease to continue any time soon."

When COVID is over, and who knows when that will be, this week the outlook felt frustratingly similar to how it did back in April, but when that day finally happens and social distancing is a thing of the past, friends in Logan Square will confidently return to Revolution. North Center will head back to Half Acre. People strolling down Southport, on their way to the Music Box or dinner at Tango Sur, will check into Corridor Brewery for a flight of beers.

And here in Lakeview East, right where the story first began, we'll pack into our favorite local brewery for a burger and a pint of Shark Meets Hipster.

Over the last several months, I've been using the Medium Rare blog in a different format, featuring local restaurants and businesses around Chicago. These can also drift into a little bit of philosophy and stories from my own life + a historical deep dive like this one a couple weeks ago on the history of milk. To catch up on some of the previous posts and read about great local spots, here they are below:

The Local Baker: Douglas Callegario's Nourish Foods

Inkling in Lakeview East and why we need the little shops

Chilam Balam: What it takes to keep a restaurant open during the pandemic

Taste of New York Bagels & Deli

Tango Sur

Black & Caspian

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