Dovetail Brewery: Chicago’s New Classical Beermaker

In Brewery Review by Karl

A new…and old…kind of brewery is coming to Chicago.

Dovetail Brewery

Having been to Dovetail Brewery once, and having drank their beers a few times, I can say this — I am reminded of the fact that the phrase “true to style” is ridiculously underrated.

In fact, “true to style” is nigh on blasphemy in today’s craft beer scene. If your imperial stout doesn’t have 17 adjuncts and doesn’t rest for three years in a succession of bourbon, port and tequila barrels, did you even try? If you’re not counting your IBUs with a graphing calculator, do you even raise an eyebrow? And bro…do you even IPA?

And yet, Dovetail owners/brewers Hagen Dost and Bill Wesselink aren’t going to market with an enamel-ripping sour, a triple IPA, an imperial stout, or even a session pale or fruited IPA. No, they’re rolling out with a lager. A hefeweizen. And a rauchbier. The beer world equivalent of smooth jazz or big band music, compared to the thrash metal and gutterpunk of most modern breweries.

And basically no breweries come out of the box with a lambic waiting in the wings, aging for years on wood and waiting for the day when they’ll be blended together with something nice and fresh and wild.

And basically no breweries run all their beers through a koelschip.

And basically no breweries have a century-old piece of copper that they scavenged from an ancient brewery halfway across the world and pieced together there in their Ravenswood space.

But then, there’s Dovetail.

Dovetail Koelschip

One doesn’t often get a chance to be alone in a room with a man and his koelschip. Also, Bill has a rad beard.

I will admit, when I heard that there was yet another new Chicago brewery inbound, and they were gonna make a lambic, I scoffed. I heard others talk a little shit, too. As in, “Yeah, right. They’re gonna have a beer that they wild ferment. In a koelschip. With native Chicago yeasts. And age. And blend. And all the other stuff that goes into making lambic.”

But there they are, the rows and rows of barreled beer, fermenting in wood (sourced from Revolution, as I understand) and just waiting for the day — two, three, four years down the road though it may be — that they get to make their way into the world and show everyone that yes, there can be a Chicago lambic.

Everything old is new again, I guess.

Dovetail Barrel Room

Hello, future lambic. Or, at least, part of a future lambic.

“Yeast are a lot like people. They like sugar, they like to reproduce and they don’t like stress.”

That’s the only quote I wrote down during my visit, because I am obviously an extremely professional journalist. It was delivered by Bill while we were busy standing in another room, full of open fermenters. Those open fermenters are yet another thing that I’ve only encountered in maybe one or two other Chicago area breweries, and those operations would only have them in use for select beers — whereas all of Dovetail’s primary fermenters are entirely open.

All of this is to say that yes, you can find a “new” way to run a brewery and make beer in Chicago in 2016. You just need to look to Germany and Belgium in the 1800’s for inspiration. The brewery’s taproom will have 18 lines on hand, and when I ask Hagen if they’re planning to stretch their legs into the American styles that most consumers like, he makes a face like I just suggested he brew a pork & brussels sprouts beer sometime soon.

But when I ask if they’ll get into traditional Belgian style beers any time soon, I get a pause, a nod, and a “yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised by that.”

(Okay, two quotes.)

Dovetail Open Fermenters

All of Dovetail’s beers pass through these open fermenters, which were reclaimed and retrofitted with temperature-controlling coils along the sides.

The whole place is in a 22,000 sq. ft. building along Ravenswood Avenue that was once an old machine shop used for industrial product testing and, as they explain it, an old Gatorade facility, so Dovetail is keeping its  industrial/beverage heritage intact. Their system is built for both steam and direct fire brewing, and they’re also able to decoction mash their beers. Did I mention that in the above part where they do stuff like almost no one else in the city? Yeah, they do that too.

It’s pretty rad, and they’re going to have a hell of a brewery tour (which, yes, I asked, they will of course be offering).

But what about the beer, man?

I sampled two from a 2×4 tap spout that more breweries should emulate for the sheer MacGuyver-y “fuck it”-ness of it, and one straight from the tank. The lager? Smooth, rich, clean, spot on. The hefeweizen? Nailed it. Perfect for an afternoon in front of the open windows at the Huettenbar or in the beer garden at Resi’s (and if those places don’t find a place for a Dovetail handle, I’ll be deeply disappointed).

The rauchbier? I’ve never been a massive fan of the style, but most American breweries smoke the living bejesus out of them and generally talk about how much bacon they made it taste like — the Dovetail rauchbier is subtle, understated, light but still rich with actual brown, malty, rye bread beer flavor and just enough smoke to let you know it’s there.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, Dost and Wesselink met in Germany during their training at Doemens Academy as part of the Siebel program to become master brewers.)

Dovetail Single Tap

I kinda want to build a kegerator like that.

It’s good stuff. I look forward to what they do next.

It’s not beer that beats the shit out of your palate and leaves a ransom note for the next one — it’s light, subtle, drinkable, and it tastes like actual honest-to-god beer. Some of my favorite beer experiences involve long afternoons and evenings of German lagers and the conversations that a light-ABV, easily-poundable beer can facilitate. Having a lager and a hefe that travels a few blocks, not a few thousand miles, makes me happy.

Their immediate focus, as a self-distributing operation, is the bars and restaurants immediately surrounding the brewery — if they could sell every drop of beer they make within two miles, they’d be perfectly happy. So therefore, you need to come to it. Dovetail has been selling beer on a limited basis around town before today, but the brewery opens to the public on Saturday, June 11th. They are at 1800 Belle Plaine Ave., one block north of Begyle. You should go.

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, comes out in late 2017, and if you’re buying, he’s likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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