June 15, 2016
Tighthead Brewing’s Bruce Dir Expands Entrepreneurial Spirit
Chicago Tribune - Lake County News-Sun
June 15, 2016
Since first opening in 2011, Mundelein's Tighthead Brewing has continually exceeded expectations of what Mundelein's first Craft Brewery would offer. Quickly becoming Lake County's largest brewery, Tighthead recently doubled the footprint of their flagship Mundelein location. New additions to Tighthead include a canning line and a nearly 2,000 square foot "private event room."
Tighthead's vision started with one man's passion. Bruce Dir left a 20 year corporate career, to pursue a passion and a dream, which turned a hobby into Mundelein's first craft brewery.
Change can be a good thing. From a bank trainee with dreams of becoming a financial analyst and stockbroker, to creating one of the largest craft breweries in Lake County - Bruce Dir surely followed change's lead. And thank goodness he did.
The youngest son of a steelworker, Dir grew up playing sports with his two older brothers in the industrial town of Sterling, Illinois. He continued playing football at Luther College. Then made the switch to rugby, a sport that would play a significant role in branding his future entrepreneurial endeavor.
After graduating with a Business Management degree, Dir had his sights on becoming a stockbroker. He thought going the banking route might be a good start on his path. After a short stint in Evanston and Virginia Beach, Dir came back to the city of Chicago and took a job at Helene Curtis, where his girlfriend Molly was interning at the time. Dir began his next professional chapter in the Human Resources department. And in the backdrop of these professional changes, Dir kept one common thread - playing rugby.
As well, Dir's creative interests and passion for learning were not lost on Molly. Being his biggest supporter, Molly bought him a gift via the suggestion of his brother - a homebrew kit. This interest surely became more than a hobby. After a few years in the city, Dir and Molly decided to get married and move north to Lake County in 1996, where they found a great community in Mundelein. And this is where Dir founded BABBLE, a homebrewing organization that celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year.
Not ready to entertain his entrepreneurial spirit just yet, Dir said, "I kicked around doing something of my own, but we had just given birth to our child." He continued to pursue his corporate career at places like Grainger and Jim Beam, but Molly knew it was time for a change. She encouraged Dir to pursue his creative side and passion - crafting beer.
Dir headed to Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, which is the oldest and most prestigious brewing school in the world. Being a history buff and sponge for knowledge, Dir thought Siebel's global philosophy and partnerships that exposed its students to the differences in cultures, methods, styles and equipment was the perfect place to land and launch his future. After receiving his Associates Degree in an intense two-month brewing program, Dir received his apprenticeship experience working at a local brewery. "I was able to work hands-on with a friend of mine. His place was Flatlanders [Brewery], which is now Half-Day Brewing."
Having already written his business plan while in school, Dir also developed an idea for a name and was looking for space for his new venture. He knew he wanted to stay local and to also support the community he found in Mundelein. Mundelein saw this as an opportunity and catalyst for other businesses to come and open shop in Mundelein.
The village helped accommodate Dir and his vision in his current space on Archer Avenue - an industrial building located in the parking lot of Mundelein's busy Metra train station. With access to 145, 000 square feet of space and a projected eight to nine month build out to his specifications. Dir's dream was finally coming to fruition.
With only a production brewery's license, Bruce introduced the new Tighthead Brewery and its first batch to Lake County in September 2011. The name Tighthead was a nod to his rugby years and the position he played when on the Chicago Griffins. After much research on distributors across Lake County, Losch Beverage came the most highly recommended.
But due to licensing issues, Tighthead could not sell any product on premises nor approach the retail markets directly. So again, Dir looked to the village of Mundelein to see if they could work together in bringing something bigger and better to the community at large. With the ever-evolving web of craft beer laws at the state and village level, Dir and the village crafted a new law creating a liquor license option for microbreweries. Tighthead also became licensed to be a brewpub. And Dir's Tap Room was born.
"I underestimated how well this Tap Room would perform," Dir said. Being all about "community", Dir added, "We have such a diverse crowd. There are 20-somethings sitting next to 50- and 60-year old couples who are regulars and live in the neighborhood. We have craft beer lovers and home brewers who love to talk shop and appreciate what we have done here. We also have travelers. There's something about going to the actual brewery to see where the beer they enjoy is produced."
With a completely comfortable pub interior, the style is in the details. Individual multi-colored slats sourced overseas were put in place piece by piece from floor to ceiling. The mosaic table tops, which were created by Molly, will see a facelift to include tables built by Dir and will feature each craft beer label. Overhead are Edison bulbs hanging from repurposed wood in the lounge area. Having gone through a recent expansion (to accommodate a canning line and aging barrels), the Tap Room now houses space for live music, which means a packed house every weekend.
But what keeps people coming back is the quality of the product. "We have never ran a test batch. It's a matter of a well-balance recipe." And with sales exceeding fiscal targets, Dir looks back at what started as a hobby - and where this hobby has come in five short years since its inception. "If you ask any home brewer, I am living everybody's dream."
You can catch Dir and his brew crew every weekend at beer festivals, as Tighthead is booked from now through November. For more information on tastings, tours and the Tap Room, please check out www.tightheadbrewing.com.
Craftsman Media Contributor: Joy Bach