It’s easy being a craft beer drinker – just walk in to your favorite local, sit down, and order up a pint. But, what about the brewing side of things? We thought it would be interesting to get some insight from those on the other side of the equation – the brewer. This month, we get the chance to catch up with Joe and Robyn Pokropinski, the brewer/owners of Pokro Brewing in Griffith. Read on for some insight into Joe and Robyn and Pokro!
NWI: I assume you started out just homebrewing, but how long have you been brewing?
Joe: “I started homebrewing about 20 years ago when my mom gave me a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas. I've been brewing commercially at Pokro Brewing Company for about 2 and a half years.”
NWI: What was the first beer you brewed, and was it any good?
Joe: “I think it was supposed to be a Canadian lager brewed as an ale (this was a homebrew). It was alright...it was drinkable. Commercially, it was Dirty Blonde, our Belgian blonde ale. It turned out great!”
NWI: What was the gateway beer (or beers) that got you into craft beer?
Joe: “Back in the day, mainly imports were available. The only American craft beers were Sierra Nevada, and if you were lucky enough to find it, Anchor Steam. Then Sam Adams started to distribute in this area.”
NWI: Pokro has been right about two years now, congrats! What were some of the challenges you faced in opening the brewery?
Robyn: “With both Joe and I working, plus having a newborn at the time, our available time to focus on the renovations was limited. We did a good portion of the work ourselves, and used contractors when required (either by our limitations or that of the building code). Also, obtaining all the permits and meeting the requirements of different government agencies was a job all in itself. For these reasons, it took us nearly 18 months to renovate the building and open our doors to the public.”
NWI: You recently significantly expanded your brewing capacity. What were you brewing with when you opened vs what you have now?
Joe: “We started out with a 1 barrel system that we pieced together that used chugger pumps, with stands & mounts I built myself. We then upgraded the kettle to a 3 barrel with jacketed fermenters later that year (that we opened). At the end of 2016, we started the construction for our semi-automated 10 barrel brewhouse.”
NWI: What does the new system allow you to do that you couldn't do previously?
Joe: “It's semi-automated, so it gives us more control over the brew process. It also gives us the capability to do multiple brews in one day.”
NWI: Where do you see Pokro going in the future?
Joe: “Our business plan is centered around controlled (slow but steady) growth, but we have had to make adjustments to meet demand. We are looking forward to expanding our distribution, and eventually bottling and canning. With our expanded capacity, we would like to offer specialty Belgian beers from our cellar.”
NWI: You offer up some killer Polish food on the first Thursday of every month. What's the origins of that? Do you serve food all the time?
Robyn: “Joe's mom's heritage is 100% Polish, which meant growing up listening to his grandparents (bushia & dziadzia) speak Polish, and eating Polish food. The recipes we use for our Polish Night menu are close to those used by Joe's bushia & mom. We do serve food every day, but currently our menu has some rotating food items. We are working on creating a static menu and offering specials, but we do always have pierogi on the menu.”
NWI: Do you have any special events or brews on the horizon?
Robyn: “POKtoberfest, our unique Halloween-themed beer fest, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Griffith Police & Fire Departments, is on Saturday, October 28, 2017, 1-5pm, on Broad Street. We close down the 300 block of the street (between Lake St. & Miller St.) for the fest. Tickets are currently available online at http://poktoberfest2017.bpt.me/. We also have our Polish Night, featuring a traditional Polish food menu, on the first Thursday of each month, from 4pm until 11pm. Joe is currently brewing our Polish-themed beers for Pierogi Fest. Plum Krazy, a plum Belgian ale, and Grunwald, a Baltic porter, were both huge hits last year, so we are bringing them back. Monkey Assassin, our double IPA, will be re-released on June 29th at Region Ale, and then of course, in our taproom.”
NWI: Owning and operating a brewery is a challenge - how do you manage your time? What do you like to do to get away from it? (I generally go out for a beer - but you live it 24/7 - where do you go?)
Joe & Robyn: “We work a lot of long hours, and even do work from home. We have a 4-year old son, which makes time management even more challenging, but we are lucky to have friends & family who are willing to help. To get away, we like to visit other breweries and take our son on adventures. These adventures are short trips to somewhere fun, such as the beach, hiking in the woods, exploring a new town, whatever we decide on a whim.”
Thanks so much to Joe and Robyn for taking time to give us their thoughts and insight on Pokro Brewing – We wish them continued success and good brewing! Pokro is open 6 days a week – 2:00 pm open on Tu-F, and 12:00 pm on S-S. Find them here: http://www.pokrobrewing.com/