Craft beer is a big deal — and it’s getting bigger all the time.
But while bars in Chicago may teem with young people seeking the latest and greatest brews, that’s not always the case in Lake County.
That didn’t stop Bruce Dir from opening up Tighthead Brewing in Mundelein in 2011.
“Traditionally and historically, every town had a brewery,” he said. “I believe every town should have a brewery. It’s a place to gather and you should drink local beer.”
His brewery started in 2011, when the craft beer scene was accelerating. New breweries were being announced all over the country every week. But in Lake County’s watering holes, there wasn’t always much room for newcomers.
“You walk into a small bar and they have four draft lines? Well, the Miller Lite and Coors Light probably aren’t going off tap,” he said. “There’s a lot of beers, a lot of people, a lot of breweries trying to fight for those other two handles.”
In the first episode of Sun-Times Media Local’s beer podcast “Over the Barrel,” Dir shared his experiences starting up Tighthead with cohosts Ben Meyerson and Charles Berman. Below is an excerpt of our talk, but the entire conversation can be downloaded via SoundCloud or streamed via YouTube.
Q: How did you get started out here with Tighthead?
Bruce Dir: My wife gave me a home brew kit 20 years ago when we got married, so I started home brewing. Everything I did outside of my little world was beer history, beer culture, reading about it, home brewing, judging home brew competitions.
So when I decided I no longer wanted to be in corporate America, after 20 years, I decided that it was time to be my own boss and do what I love, which was beer. So enrolled at the Siebel Institute and got my associate’s in brewing technology, and wrote my business plan, decided to start the brewery.
Q: Why did you decided to start your brewery in Mundelein, when so much of the craft beer scene is focused in the city of Chicago proper?
Dir: I live in Mundelein, I’ve lived here for almost 18 years now. I decided that if I’m going to start a business, I have three children. At the time, they were a little younger. But they’re 16, 13 and 9. I wanted to be close to home. …
Mundelein was really, really favorable to bringing me in. They really worked hard and bent over backwards to keep me here. They knew I was looking for space. I wanted to stay here. They were trying to develop the downtown and get new business in. So it really worked out well to just stay put.
Q: Are there any disadvantages to being out here?
Dir: It is a little slower. People don’t know about us. Being in Mundelein, it seems like a million miles away, even though it is only about 40 minutes. So far it’s been really good. We’ve got a good quality product. If we can get it into people’s hands, and get them to taste it, a lot of people will jump on it. That’s been really positive.
Our tap room gets quite busy. You can be in here on a Friday night and it’s such a diverse crowd. You have your groups of couples, and four couples that might be in their mid to late 50s, who come in for a few beers before dinner, because we don’t offer food. Or hang out for a few beers after dinner. And then you have your groups of 20-somethings that just really like craft beer. …
We’re not serving a Miller Lite or a Bud Light here. We’re not getting that type of crowd in, who just want to come in and maybe watch a sporting event, or do something like that. So it is really based on people coming in and talking about beer. Wanting to ask questions about beer. They want to understand more about craft beer. It’s fun because Mundelein, again, being up here in Lake County, it wasn’t a huge craft market.
Q: You’re only sending your beer out in kegs right now, but you’re planning to start canning and bottling soon. How will that affect your business?
Dir: Once we start packaging, which we hope to do by the end of this year, that will just expand, it’ll practically double overnight, I would assume. You’re not going to sell it all, but there are a lot more outlets available to you. … Hopefully look to see us get on the shelves in liquor stores here by the end of the year.
This excerpt was edited for length and context.