Destihl: Interview with Matt Potts

Years back, I had stumbled upon Destihl® through a Google search for brewpubs in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. On my first visit, I remember thinking how impressed I was with their beer. I ordered an IPA and a Russian Imperial Stout that day…they both had great character, body and flavor. Years later, while traveling between Peoria and Chicago for work, I had multiple opportunities to visit both to eat (they do have good, quality food) and drink, and I took advantage. Since starting The Barrel Cellar and beginning to interview craft brewmasters, Destihl has been on my list of places that I’ve wanted to highlight. In my most recent visit, Destihl has impressed me again, though for reasons you might not expect. It’s growth has been impressive: they have a huge new beer hall and production facility, a large distribution network in over 30 states (and even internationally), and they have managed to maintain high quality and disciplined execution through their period of intense growth. Destihl is now more than a brewpub with quality food & beer; It’s a large, well run company with both a diversified product portfolio and an ever-expanding business plan.

I met Matt Potts, co-founder, brewmaster and CEO of Destihl, at their production facility and beer hall on the northern edge of Normal, Illinois, at 1200 Greenbriar Drive. It’s a location I hadn’t previously known existed. I wish I had. It’s a beautiful and impressively large facility in a country-like setting. The atmosphere is relaxing; there is an adjacent pond where people fish; and, when the sunset shines off the huge windows just right and you have a beer in your hand, it’s easy to forget you are in central Illinois. I can immediately tell how proud Matt is of what he and his team have built and how much he loves Destihl. In fact, Matt describes his perfect beer day as “hanging out on the beer hall patio facing the lake and listening to a band. It’s peaceful here,” Matt explains. It feels like we’re outside of town since we’re essentially in the middle of a field with beautiful scenery and a wide open space. Our guests seem to agree as people often tell us they come to the beer hall and feel like they are on vacation and can relax. It’s just a great getaway whether coming here from afar or even if you live in town.” Like Destihl’s customers, I was impressed enough by my first visit that I went back the next day just to relax, watch the locals fish in the lake and take a few more pictures.

Matt started homebrewing in 1995 after receiving a homebrew kit from his wife, Lyn, for Christmas. “It’s pretty typical for people in this industry to start out by homebrewing. The less typical part is that I gave up practicing law to do what I’m doing now. After I started homebrewing, I became really passionate about the craft beer industry and the business side of brewing. My passion for the business of brewing was growing at the same speed as my passion for brewing itself. By October of 1997, a building came up for auction about a block from where I practiced law in Elmwood, Illinois – a small farming community of about 2000 people. We didn’t think we’d win the auction, but we did.” It all happened pretty fast. “The night before the auction, I talked to Lyn about bidding on the building. Suddenly, the next day, we owned this old 1896 dilapidated building in the middle of a small town. It really was the most unlikely place- especially in that period of brewing history in Illinois, to find a craft brewery.”

“From a business standpoint, things really started for us in reverse order,” Matt explains. “Usually, you want to draft a business plan and then find a location that fits within the requirements of your plan. I had no business plan yet, so I had to work on it after already, surprisingly acquiring the building. The initial location was fortunately just a block down from the law office, so by continuing to practice law, I didn’t have to put all my eggs in one basket (yet). I was able to keep practicing law while working on the project and business plan and eventually even when that first brewpub was operating. I would do legal work for 3-4 days per week and work at the brewery on the other days.” That first brewpub, founded by Matt and Lyn (and eventually joined by other partners) was Elmwood Brewing Company, which opened in December of 2001, shortly after 9/11. “It took some time to do restoration and rehab on the building. We ran it for a few years and then eventually got approached by a developer of a project in Normal. The developer loved what we were doing in Elmwood and asked us if we wanted to open up a brewery in a larger town with more people in it! Well, needless to say, we were excited about the opportunity, so we sold our interest in EBC and agreed to purchase the property at the Shoppes at College Hills in Normal for our future brewpub location at 318 S. Towanda Ave. that would ultimately become DESTIHL Restaurant & Brew Works. We moved to town in December of 2005. I spent all of 2006 drafting a business plan and starting to raise funds. We then teamed up with the rest of our founding group and ultimately ‘corporate’ team, Troy Nelson (Managing Partner), Laurie Nelson (now our CFO) and Jason Bratcher (now our COO). I then went to brewing school at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago in early 2007 to raise the bar several notches for my own brewing abilities and to bring the science of brewing to the top of mind after focusing so much on the business side for a while. We then broke ground in April of 2007 and opened on November 23rd.”

Opening wasn’t without bumps in the road; we had project delays, budget overruns, and if that wasn’t enough, the Great Recession started about a week after opening, but through it, the Destihl team focused on staying true to their original concept, standards, quality and guest service. They didn’t cut corners or cheapen what they were doing, even considering the depth of the recession. “I think that when people did decide to go out to eat and have a beer back then, they wanted value in return for their dollar, and we delivered value instead of trying to find ways to cut costs. I think people appreciated it,” Matt says. Destihl also lost their key restaurant operator and Managing Partner, Troy Nelson, to cancer in 2008, just a few months after opening. The loss of Troy was devastating to the Destihl team on so many levels, both personally and professionally, but they pulled together as a team to cope with the loss as much as possible and to overcome the unimaginable hurdle which would have doomed many other young companies. On top of that, the recession really went on for years, so it was no small miracle that they were able to persevere and in fact, open another brewpub location in Champaign in April 2011. In addition to the ongoing recession, getting the Champaign location up and running presented additional challenges. “Prior to opening, there was a massive fire in downtown Champaign. While our brewpub and brewery locations in Normal are standalone buildings, the location in Champaign is in a 9-story, mixed-use building. During the construction phase of the building, the fire in the building across the street was so intense that it seriously damaged the side of the building where we were going to put our restaurant and brewpub. The building had already been delayed a year by the Great Recession, and the fire delayed the project by an additional year.” Matt thinks, in hindsight, that the delays were beneficial in some ways as it allowed their team to mature, streamline, and improve their operation at the initial location. “When the Champaign location opened, we were a bit more ready for it. The challenge then became to have both operations run as identically as possible. For instance, if we had a Poblano Pepper or a Blonde Ale in one location, we would want it to be an identical product at the second location.”

Pivotal moment: Destihl’s first Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival® (GABF®) is an annual beer festival and beer competition in Denver, Colorado, and the largest in the country. Brewers from around the U.S. come together to show off their beers and make connections in the craft brewing industry. Destihl attended GABF for the first time in the fall of 2011. “In the beginning, Destihl consisted of just a couple of brewpub locations in central Illinois – so I think we would have been easy to overlook at GABF,” Matt recalls. “What got us noticed at GABF though was that six out of the ten beers that we took that first year were barrel-aged sours from our Saint Dekkera® Reserve Sour program. Back then, there weren’t many sour beers on the GABF floor…just a handful made by some of the pioneers in the sour beer world. Russian River and Lost Abbey were there as I recall and a few others, and then there we were with all these sours from central Illinois. The coolest thing with that year’s festival and those that followed was that many beer bloggers and other on-line publications named Destihl as one of their top 5 or 10 new breweries of the year or must-try beers at the fest…it was kind of a Cinderella story for us. One blogger even compared our beers to Belgium’s Cantillion, which as a brewer kind of made me want to tear up a little bit since those are some of the best sour beers in the entire world. It was an awesome moment for me personally and professionally and for our company. Within about 30 minutes after the start of the festival, the ‘beer geeks’ and other beer lovers really found out what we had at our booth. We went from not having much of a line at the start of the fest to having a line that consistently stretched across the hall for the rest of the multi-session/multi-day fest. That brought a lot of attention from retailers and distributers who began asking for our beers. It was cool, but we just had two brewpubs. So, in some ways, it became a situation where we had ‘hype’ before it was time because we didn’t even have any packaged product yet. If people wanted to try our beers again, they would have to come to our pubs in central Illinois or wait till the next GABF. That festival did create a fanbase and some relationships for us that we were able to build upon later. It also gave us the confidence to open up a production brewery. Adding to the confidence was Draft Magazine naming Destihl in the top 5 breweries to watch in 2013.” And, in 2013, Destihl’s production brewery indeed opened.

“The current state of Destihl is probably beyond a dream come true”, Matt admits. “In my original business plan for Destihl back in 2006, there is a paragraph- just a small one, about having a production brewery someday. Most of the plan was focused on the original brewpub of course, although there was some hope or plan to potentially open multiple restaurant/brewpub locations. What we didn’t see coming was how our beers would take off and the recognition that we would receive. It allowed us to pivot and diversify as a company and focus on the production side of things for a while. We are quite deliberate, careful, and analytical when we do anything new, so it did take us a couple of years after that first GABF to get our first production brewery going by May 2013 in Bloomington. We rented a 20,000 square foot warehouse space for that first location. We started smaller rather than investing too much up front in what could have been an insufficiently-sized or suitable space for the long-term. Our next and most pivotal moment as a brewery was when we put sour beers into a can in 2014. We already had a great reputation for barrel-aged sours, but canning kettle sours is what allowed us to set ourselves apart, by creating a unique, highly demanded niche product and being on the forefront of a movement of putting sour beers in a can, making sour beers accessible, affordable, consistent and in higher volumes. Our sour beers built the facility we have now. By the end of 2015, we had run out of capacity and space at the old brewery and started looking for a bigger space. We found our new location here after about a year of searching throughout 2015 knowing that space (and time) at the old brewery was running out. We announced the new project in January of 2016, broke ground in June, and opened in May of 2017. We are now distributing to over 30 states with a coast to coast presence (and beyond in countries like Sweden, The Netherlands, the UK, etc.). We’re brewing at about our fermentation capacity already (as of June 2019), but we have so much space and ceiling height at the new brewery to continue expanding, and our brewhouse is capable of brewing between 100,000-150,000 barrels/year. That being said, I’ve been trying to hold off buying new tanks until early 2020. Our plan for 2019 was to not have too much capital expenditure (for once!). Anyway, it’s great to drive up to the facility every day…it’s still a bit surreal honestly. We’re fortunate to have this facility and the community’s support. Destihl is proud to be a part of our community and to have this brewery located here in Normal.”

Government affairs

Growing a business is tough to do in a bubble (and even tougher to do in Illinois). Over time, growth requires positive change when it comes to government policy and regulation as well. Matt has been on the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild Board for about 9 years (since 2010), and he has been Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee since 2017 as well. “I just gave a speech on behalf of the Guild a couple of weeks ago in Springfield advocating against the recent proposal to raise the beer tax (again). I’ve been down there many times trying to negotiate and change laws to allow for self-distribution, to increase production caps, to allow beer transfers between locations, to make laws more fair to business and brewers in particular, and most recently to fight against raising the beer tax, which is already too high. Our beer excise tax is 23.1 cents per gallon (with the now-failed legislation proposing to increase it to 27 cents), and we’re competing with other surrounding Midwest states like Wisconsin where it’s just 6 cents a gallon. We’re higher than any state that’s around us – by far. So, if you live near a border, it’s smarter to just go across the border and buy there. Plus, the pressure that increased taxes imposes on business by reducing sales is a real concern when our State should be doing the opposite. Beer is one of the few growth industries in Illinois, so why mess with that? If anything, taxes should be reduced not increased; it’s doubling down on bad economic policy. We were able to double our production when the federal beer excise tax was cut in half, and so the federal government ended up getting as much (and now more) revenue from us after the tax cut…it’s basic economics. Our State wonders why people and businesses keep moving out of Illinois, and as people move away, there is less tax base, so the State’s solution is to raise the taxes more on the few that stay, just to maintain the coffers. It’s backwards, illogical thinking, and it is ruining the home State we otherwise love.”

“When I first joined the Guild, it was around the time that the State had stripped a lot of rights of brewers away. For example, at one point, brewers could own a distributorship. In its attempt to stop one of the larger domestic brewers from buying a large distributor, the State of Illinois changed the laws and in the process ended up stripping distribution rights way from all brewers, hurting small brewers the most. Self-distribution is key for small brewers to get started as it’s tough for an unknown operation to get attention or sales from distributors- especially the larger ones. Through the work of the Guild, we’ve had quite a bit of success (albeit slow) in raising production caps and loosening up some other archaic, business stifling laws. The result has been an explosion in growth of the craft brewing industry in Illinois. We went from less than 50 breweries in 2008 or 2009, and now I believe we are approaching or above 250 or so.”

The science of beermaking

Destihl’s growth has afforded it additional benefits beyond product reach and being able to stay true to itself. It has instituted quality control measures in process, lab and technology that result in a consistently great product both in the taproom and on store shelves thousands of miles away. In regard to making a good beer, “It’s important to have quality, consistency, and to be true to the style of beer you are making in many/most cases (assuming that’s the goal for the particular beer) while also taking risks, pushing style boundaries, being inventive and experimental, too. Destihl’s motto is “support flavor, boycott bland,”…that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a pilsner, it just means we want character, bolder flavor and quality ingredients in our beer. Also, consistency in releases, quality ingredients, healthy yeast, sanitation, cleaning, sensory, QA/QC, and process is very important. Brewing isn’t just about brewing either…90% of brewing is really cleaning. That includes inside and outside of tanks and every part of the brewery…we try to make the brewery look as clean as a hospital at the end of the day. We also have a lab and a full-time lab technician; we run tests for yeast viability, dissolved oxygen, and beer spoiling bacteria & wild yeasts; we test wort in various stages, and we test beer quality before and after packaging. We have sensory/quality control (QC) panels every day where we do blind taste tests of beer. We might not tell the panel how old the beer is or we might introduce an off flavor to make sure we are training everyone’s senses. The purpose of the taste test is to dial in our shelf life and make sure we aren’t picking up any off flavors in our beers. We also have cold and warm QC; we keep some beer in our coolers which is the optimal condition and we keep other beer in the hot brewery which can get very warm-especially in the summertime, so we can see what the shelf life is in different conditions. Utilizing our panel, we catalogue tasting notes, identify issues, and determine shelf life and product stability. Shelf lives of beers typically range from 3-4 months for IPA’s, other beers may be 6-8 months, while sours can be over 12 months+.”

Product Portfolio

Destihl has a large product portfolio. They have many seasonal releases, a large variety of beer styles, and they take pride in their various beer series. Their Deadhead® IPA Series is a series of mostly (but not all) hazy IPAs with a new offering released quarterly. The first quarter release this year was Haze of the Dead®, a juicy, hazy double IPA. The current release (quarter 2) is called “Extended Jam”; it’s a hazy IPA with a bit of a lighter body for summer. I find it to be fantastic; it’s easy drinking with lots of character; it’s dry, juicy, and balanced with the right amount of hop bitterness. Looking forward to the 3rd quarter when Funkengruven® will be released…it’s a tart New England style IPA- hazy and tart with grapefruit. The fall release will be Touch of Haze®, which is a hazy IPA with a bit more body. It was Destihl’s first big hazy IPA release last fall. “Destihl has been and will continue to be known for our sour beers, but it’s been fun to really show what we can do on the IPA front; the Deadhead IPA Series has been remarkable for us,” Matt explains. “Extended Jam has almost the same volume as our Wild Sour seasonal release right now- which is amazing for us as a brewery as it allows us to diversify a bit. Sour beer is the fastest growing category but it’s still a very small market share. IPAs are a developed category, but it’s a category that is still growing well. It’s not growing at the pace sours are but IPA’s will continue to grow at a great pace, especially since the style keeps evolving as a category, particularly the hazy IPAs as of late.”

“There are many ways to make a sour beer, and there are subcategories of subcategories of sour beer, too. With our Saint Dekkera, the beer is aged in barrels for an extended period; it could be 18-24 months or more. We’ll often blend several barrels together for balance. They are very complex in flavor and very beautiful – there are lots of oak tannins and a lot more funkiness from the Brett (wild yeast) that has time to work. With kettle sours, like our Wild Sour Series, those have a more of a tart acidity to them without the funky Brett character. We do have Brett in our Wild Sour culture, but it doesn’t have much/any time to work; although sometimes people still pick up a little funky note in it. What makes our cultures unique is that we’ve never purchased a sour culture from a lab. All of our Wild Sour beers are made from our own culture that’s been developed naturally from the air and in the wood and what’s in our environment in central Illinois. We’ve had our current Wild Sour culture going for about 4 years. Our Saint Dekkera sours have a wild, secondary fermentation in barrels after a standard primary fermentation in fermenters. If you think about the best Belgian breweries, they are not buying cultures either. They are often farmhouse breweries naturally inoculating their beers in cool ships, utilizing spontaneous fermentation (i.e., no brewers yeast or other culture is added to the wort). We too have some spontaneous ferment projects going on that we have not released to the public yet, utilizing our 2 cool ships. The wort is cooled and inoculated overnight naturally in shallow, open cool ships and then racked into oak barrels. Additionally, we have our Metallurgy® series that we don’t release very often- maybe once a year at most. With those, we start the brew and primary fermentation normally like with Saint Dekkera, but then we put the beer on fruit in stainless steel tanks (instead of oak barrels…hence the metallurgy aspect), relying on the wild culture that’s naturally on the fruit skins to make the beer sour and funky. Metallurgy beers are beautiful…they almost have more wine-like characteristics, especially if we are using grapes. We’ve used grapes, apples and pears so far.”

“We are very proud of our Wild Sour line. They are probably one of the highest volume sours on the market, and they are very approachable. We were probably one of the first 3 breweries in the country to put sour beer in a can, which is what has allowed us to grow to what we are now. It’s opened many doors for our company with distributors and new markets and it continues to do so. With as much competition as there is these days, our Wild Sours are still generating new growth opportunities. I really think the key for us was to be one of the first at something (sours in cans), but you also want to be the best at something.” Destihl’s sours have grown to a point where they have become one of the biggest sour beer producers as well. “We’ve got a really unique brewhouse here that’s specifically designed to crank out wild sour beers. We have one of the largest dedicated sour kettle systems that there is. This includes a 120 barrel dedicated sour kettle; technically if we aren’t boiling in there it could hold up to 180 barrels. Additionally, we have another 60 barrel kettle dedicated to sours, and another 58 barrel kettle (named ‘Daisy’, the brewery’s original, dedicated sour kettle) and our main 66 barrel brew kettle also produces sours.”

Some customers to Destihl’s beer hall come to eat but are new to the world of craft beer. With such a large portfolio of brews, it can be difficult to pinpoint one beer to introduce to a new customer to Destihl’s craft brews. “It depends on what beers or even flavors in general that they like or don’t like,” Matt says. “Everyone is a bit different. Do they like balance, bitter, sweet, hoppy, sour, or malty? We try to ask questions to find out what suits the guest; even if it’s not beer-related. For example, do they like sour candy? Younger generations grew up on intensely sour candy, so in general, I know their pallets will be better trained to like sour beers. If it’s a wine drinker, I often recommend a sour (either kettle or often barrel-aged sours) because it’s a similar experience given of the acidity and often some fruitiness (and tannins if barrel-aged). Additionally, it’s fun to challenge someone who doesn’t like an IPA to try a hazy IPA because the hops in a hazy add more of a fruity/juicy type of character to it. Often when people don’t like IPAs it’s because they don’t like bitterness, but when they try the more fruity, less bitter hazy style, often times they find they do in fact like IPAs…at least hazies, which could then lead to them liking other IPA’s as well. It really does depend though…I’ve converted some domestic beer drinkers to our blonde ale, hefe, IPA’s and others even with our sours.”

Given the extent of Destihl’s distribution business, I shifted the focus of the conversation to how Matt is able to gain interest of new customers that are potentially thousands of miles away from Destihl’s taproom. “We don’t do a lot of marketing outside of social media, our Brewsletters or our website, so we also depend on our retailers to have a certain degree of education or on the buyer to have some familiarity with either us or the style of beer. Our package designs also help market us…the Wild Sour Series and DeadHead IPA Series cans are both intriguing, fun and eye-catching, so I think that helps some as well. Seasonal beers and rotations help maintain interest, too. We know we have to keep up with the times and innovate…as new beer styles or trends arise or old ones evolve, we often need to pivot and adjust as well. Planning ahead is key for us; we are already planning into the next year. There is some art & science (and multiple challenges) to distribution and freight and sales logistics. You need to make sure that specific markets are bringing in the right beers in the right quantities and have the right product mix. Having a solid plan helps to keep fresh beer on the shelf, and is a vital aspect of distribution. Honestly, one of the biggest challenges has been having accounts that want our beer but who cannot get it distributed to them even though we’ve created the demand and sale right there. Over time, we have gained a better feel for the distribution world, but it is still a learning process. Fortunately, a sour has a shelf life that is about a year long, but hazy IPAs are on the opposite extreme, having more like a 90-120 day shelf life, which presents additional challenges.

The hometown beauty – a destination brewery

Driving up to Destihl’s production facility and beer hall brings upon a bit of instant excitement. The place is big, it’s beautiful, and it’s well-designed. It seems a natural part of the landscape that surrounds it. The building has a profile that evokes an appreciation and perhaps a nostalgia for the generational farming community central Illinois is built upon. Blue sky and puffy clouds reflect off the huge windows and the green hue of the paint blends perfectly with the green fields that surround it. “I used a sketch up program to complete a basic design of the general shape I wanted for the building” says Matt, who then gave it to their contractor for the design-build project. “For the interior space, we had an architectural company with a team of engineers come in to draw things up, but we provided a storyboard if you will for what we were wanting, like exposed brick, a rusted wall, a concrete bar, large fireplace, and the reclaimed wood features. The goal inside the beer hall was to make it look like an industrial age brewery even though it’s in a new building. On the exposed brick wall, the Destihl namesake is intentionally faded like an old factory, and the rusty metal feature wall was left outside during construction to rust naturally…it adds a more industrial look.” There is a massive fireplace in the middle of the room designed to look like an old furnace or boiler. It’s eye catching and provides a logical centerpiece to pair with the scale and style of the room. “We wanted the fireplace in the middle to be massive given the scope of the brewery and the beer hall…we knew to compete against the sizeable space that it had to be something large, and so we designed it to look like it had been in a big factory. All of the wood inside is reclaimed from a World War II era warehouse out east, and the reclaimed wood outside under the windows is reclaimed from an oats bin in Fairbury, IL. The large old factory windows are designed to ensure everyone is able to see our production facility and brewing operations as we have nothing to hide. It’s a beautiful brewery, we are proud of it, and everyone can see it through those big windows.”

Rising tide raises all ships

Given Matt’s experience with the brew scene in the state and nationally, I asked him what is unique about the local scene in Bloomington-Normal. “The Bloomington-Normal brew scene has changed a lot in the last few years. It was just us for a long time, and now we have four- soon to be five. Chicago has become a beer mecca of sorts, and Illinois is probably in the top 8 or so states for craft breweries. Illinois can be proud of the beers that we are cranking out right now, and I think that Bloomington-Normal is a microcosm of the larger picture of Illinois brewing. It’s been different for us (Destihl) to have other breweries in town, but as they say, a rising tide raises all ships. Our industry, generally speaking, is very fraternal, so we all try to support each other in the larger cause for craft beer. We are learning together what the market really is because it is changing every day. I think the laws that we worked on as a Guild have created a lot of these opportunities, and it’s created some competition, which is good though as it creates more interest and knowledge of craft beer in general.”

“If someone is coming down to visit us as a destination brewery, which is what we’ve built here, I like to think that the other breweries in town benefit from that as well, and vice versa of course. There is a synergy that develops. Yes, there is more competition now, but that competition and synergy is attracting more people in general to craft beer in central Illinois and to Bloomington-Normal in particular because they can come here to visit all of us. I feel that Destihl has put Bloomington-Normal on the map in craft beer (and perhaps beyond) due to sour beers, our distribution footprint, our destination brewery and our size in general now, and that’s a good thing. To think ten years ago that Bloomington-Normal would be a destination for craft beer would have been unheard of when there was barely anything beyond domestics. It is a destination now though, and we are proud of the change.”

 New Horizons

Recently, Illinois legalized cannabis. While the law doesn’t take effect until January of 2020, I asked Matt what effect he thinks it may have on the beer industry in general and Destihl specifically. “We wonder how legal pot will affect us. I don’t know if anyone really knows the answer yet or if there have been enough or really any significant studies on it,” Matt expands. “There have been some articles on it that do seem to show a decrease in beer sales as a result. I just don’t know, but I do worry about it and have to from many fronts. Will beer consumption be effected? We do run a manufacturing facility, so we also worry about employee safety and having policies that protect worker safety. No matter what, the State is pushing forward in its infinite wisdom, so we’re going to have to adapt to it and figure out how to do business in the new environment. The changes I’ve seen in Colorado in the many years I’ve gone to GABF don’t seem good though from just my mere observation. The bottom line is that the result is a huge mystery. I do like to think (naively) that it will at least take some of the pressure away from the State to raise our beer taxes yet again, but obviously the State still wants to raise those taxes despite the recent failure to do so.”

After spending nearly two hours talking with Matt, I realize that while some of the growth was due to luck (winning an auction unexpectedly and receiving unexpected attention at GABF), much of it was due to both careful planning and execution of his and his team’s strategy and having an ability to adjust to change. So, what’s in the future for Destihl? “Growth, new products and new markets,” he confidently states. “New opportunities are still out there. I’m most excited about the next phase of growth. When we moved into the new facility, the main thing was starting up, stabilizing and then ramping up, and now we are brewing at nearly capacity. In our next expansion, I think adding more fermenters will be the first step, but perhaps even before that, we need to expand our parking lot for our guests. I’m also excited about product innovation. We’re never going to rest on what we have today, either with our food or our beer. We are already planning next year now; new products will be a big part of that. The potential of distilling here someday is exciting as well. To date, the Illinois laws haven’t been friendly enough to make that worthwhile without jeopardizing almost everything else that we do, but I’m pretty confident that the law that just passed the house and senate of Illinois will finally enable us to do that. I’ve got my corner saved in the production brewery for a still. We already have all the major equipment to do it…all we are missing is the still. This will introduce some fun, new things for us. I can’t guarantee when it will happen or what scope it’s going to have, but it’s always been part of the plan; we made it a little obvious with our name. We have so many ideas of what we want to do on the distilled spirits side, and eventually we can use our own whiskey barrels for Dosvidanya® (Destihl’s award-winning Russian Imperial Stout series)- conversely we will age whiskey in the former Dosvidanya barrels. Also, I’m excited about the growth of events at the brewery. We also have live music on the patio most summer Thursday nights as part of our SoundBoard® Concert Series. We are really into music, and for us to get more in-tune with that (no pun intended) has been really fun. The whole DeadHead IPA series speaks to that, and our relationship with music has taken a whole new track recently with the Hanson Brothers as well. I met them while playing drums with them at GABF and have become friends with them over the years. They have their own brewery in Tulsa, and we just did a collaboration beer with them – Pink Moonlight (available now in the taproom June 07 2019). It is a peach milkshake IPA, which has been a great seller. The great thing is that you don’t always know what the future will bring.” Considering Destihl’s past, it’s the unknown aspects of its future that have the Barrel Cellar Team most excited.

Check out the Barrel Cellar’s other Micro-brewer interviews here.

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