Karen Iwicki's picture

Tighthead Brewery Tour

Tighthead Brewing Company, named for the rugby position played by owner and brewmaster Bruce Dir, ships its craft beers throughout Lake County, Illinois and the surrounding Chicagoland area.
Tighthead Brewing Company

It’s a classic example of how to start a small brewery, beginning with a passion for brewing and beer.

I first became aware that our friend Bruce was planning to open a brewery in late 2010. Once his beers debuted at local beer festivals I must admit to developing a fancy for Irie IPA and its blend of hops and piney aroma. Incorporated in 2010, the brewery opened its doors a little over a year later in Mundelein, Illinois, which is just about the average time it takes to jump through all the hoops of incorporation, construction, and set-up.  The 15-barrel brewhouse has the capacity to produce 3,500 barrels annually. Partner Billy Oaks is the head brewer.

Since receiving his first homebrew kit as a gift in 1993, Dir has learned from some well established veterans of the brewing business. A founding member of BABBLE Homebrew Club of Lake County, Dir added to his 16 years of brewing experience by attending the world-renowned Siebel Institute of Technology Brewing School in Chicago. “Siebel definitely provided me with the guidance and consultation on every aspect of the industry,” said Dir. “That proved really valuable while creating the business plan and building the brewery.”

Dir received further professional training as an assistant to brewmaster Art Steinhoff at Flatlander’s Brewing Co. in Lincolnshire, Illinois for a year. “My friendship with Art gave me the opportunity to work with a seasoned brewer ,” he said, “and to learn the use of large-scale brewing equipment.” 

When asked how his rugby experience influenced his interest in beer, Dir reflected back on playing for 13 years – and partying afterward. “Being a club sport, rugby is more of a way of life that consumes you,” he said. “The camaraderie of the game influenced me the most. You tend to socialize after games.” Since Tighthead Brewing Company now sponsors one of the local teams – Chicago Westside Condors – Dir still gets plenty of opportunities to party – only now with his own beer.

The beer flavors range from very good to awesome, including offerings such as Comfortably Blonde (blond ale), Scarlet Fire (red ale), Irie IPA (India pale ale), Upright (extra pale ale), Tube (English pale ale), May the Schwartz Be With You! (schwartzbier), Ein Bock Fruch (maibock), and Old Kaya Dog (an American barleywine). Tighthead also occasionally brews specialty beers available only in the tap room.

Currently, Tighthead is distributing to local bars and restaurants, but has plans of expanding to packaging in the near future. “We want to capture more of the local Chicagoland retail market, so we’re planning to expand packaging and distribution in 2013,” said Dir. “Whether that will be cans or bottles has yet to be determined.”

The brewery also includes a tap room, or pub, open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. The tap room offers plenty of seating—whether you’re comfortable at the long bar, or would rather sit more intimately at one of the bar-height tables with your friends. There are times when it gets crowded. For those in the vicinity, a list of where to find their beers on tap is available on the Tighthead web site, www.tightheadbrewing.com.

Growlers of your favorite brew are available on request. They also offer light snacks and a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. In keeping with the sense of community, patrons are allowed to order food for delivery or to bring in local food to enjoy with their beer. The day we were there, a cart from TonyDogs, featuring hot dogs or Polish sausage and all the trimmings, served customers just outside the premises.  A variety of menus are available for ordering in.

Found on Facebook and Twitter, the brewery offers weekend tours by reservation. Tours are held at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, but are limited to the first 20 to reserve a spot.

The first time I looked for the brewery, I was glad to be with someone who had already been there. It’s  located on one end of an industrial park, right next to the Mundelein Metra train station. Check the web site for easy-to-follow directions.

Tighthead Brewing Company
161 N. Archer Avenue
Mundelein, IL  60060
Phone: (847 )970-9174

Tours: Saturdays, Sundays 2 p.m. and 4 p.m