DeKALB – Steve and Megan Byers gathered in the hallway just outside the first level of 230 E. Lincoln Highway, surrounded by their three kids wearing shirts that said “Don’t Worry, Be Hoppy.”
The family – Steve, 31, a science teacher at Huntley Middle School; Megan, 30, a medical lab scientist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva; and Lily, 6, Kennedy, 4, and Amelia, 6 months – seemed jubilant and couldn’t wait to show off the 2,700-square-foot space that soon will be home to Byers Brewing Co.
“This brewery is our dream,” Steve Byers said. “My father also brews. And something we fell in love with is just making beer and talking to people about beer.”
Steve and Megan Byers are lifelong residents of DeKalb County, and met while attending Sycamore High School. They both attended Illinois State University, and while earning their bachelor degrees, had their first daughter, Lily, and decided to move back home.
They’ll celebrate their 10-year anniversary this year, and are hoping to do it in style if the brewery build-out goes as planned.
“It’s been a passion for a long time,” Megan Byers said. “It started as a what-if, and we talked about it more, and kind of decided to go for it.”
Byers Brewing will showcase small-batch homebrews in the space just below SunDog IT in downtown DeKalb. When patrons enter through the front door and head directly to the right, they’ll enter the brewery, which Steve Byers said will seat about 134 people. The bar will have six taps: one dark and one light lager, and four ales, including a seasonal rotation.
The brewery will offer snack items only, but the couple said they’ll encourage their patrons to bring in food or have it delivered from one of the many restaurants and business neighbors downtown.
With bathrooms in the back and more picnic table-style seating on the left side of the brewery, the Byerses expect the atmosphere to be a mix of college students, families and beer connoisseurs.
“We got our inspiration from an old German Bier Haus,” Steve Byers said. “So we’re building these picnic tables, the benches will be attached, and they’ll line up and down this exterior wall, and have outlets for people who want to plug their computers in and work.”
The Byerses already were both avid beer drinkers, and started home-brewing in 2010 after a favorite, a New Belgian beer called Mothership, disappeared from the shelves.
“It was an unfiltered witbier, and they stopped making it,” Steve Byers said. “It wasn’t even a seasonal, it was a one-and-done thing. And we really wanted more of that beer, and the only way to get more of it was to make it ourselves.”
In a process he likens to recipe testing while cooking, Steve Byers said home-brewing beer is about tasting a lot of beer, building a palate, Googling recipes, and learning what each ingredient can do to change the flavor.
A batch can take anywhere from four to five hours to create. Each batch will make about 750 beers.
“The first step is to mash,” Steve Byers said. “You put in all the barley and you kind of steep it like tea, and then after the mash, you pour it into a pot and boil it, and that is when you add your hops.”
Depending on the recipe, the mash boils for an hour to 90 minutes. Byers said part of the process just involves a lot of cleaning, and making sure the equipment is sanitary.
Steve Byers said he hopes to be able to collaborate with other local beer makers, like The Forge Brewhouse, 216 N. Sixth St.
“The whole alcohol industry is network economy,” Steve Byers said. “It’s not everybody gets a piece of the pie, it’s the pie gets bigger the more you have. People go to Napa Valley for all the wineries, not just one.”
The Byerses hope to have a soft opening for the brewery by the end of June.