ROUND LAKE BEACH – Joshua Grubbs believes every beer should come with a story.
His story is rooted in Appalachia. His grandfather, Big Bill, worked in the mines of Kentucky until he narrowly escaped a cave-in.
Because of the near-death experience, his grandfather left the mines, moved to Waukegan, met his wife, had eight children and 14 grandchildren and inspired a dream.
“He inspired me to do what I love and to do it well,” said Joshua Grubbs of Grayslake. “For many years that has been civil construction and elevators. But more recently it’s been brewing beer for people to enjoy.”
That’s the story behind Black Lung Brewing Co., newly opened in Round Lake Beach.
“It’s a name that kind of catches people off guard a little bit for obvious reasons,” Grubbs said.
But it’s a name with history.
Upon picking a name for the brewery, Grubbs’ wife, Sarah, mentioned a song she’d heard, “Black Lung Heartache” by Joe Bonamassa. The song reminded her of the mine story told to her by her husband years before.
She thought it was fitting.
“We could name the brewery in a way that honors our Appalachian roots and the memory of a man we loved very much, letting us tell his story over and over again,” Joshua Grubbs said.
Featuring rotating food trucks and theme nights for trivia and other entertainment, Black Lung Brewery (www.blacklungbrewing.com) includes a taproom with about a dozen beers on tap at a time.
On May 21, the brewery will release its award-winning Galaxie:503 Maltshake, a specialty IPA, or Indian Pale Ale. The beer placed 16th out of 44 beers named 2020 Top Hazy IPAs in The Beer Connoisseur magazine.
Grubbs rotates his offerings from more than 100 beer recipes, all with names based on family stories – Lakeside Blonde Ale, Thin Mint Scout Stout, Hopservation, Grandma’s Key Lime Pie Gose.
“We’re a story-based industry. Drinking beer and talking and telling stories,” Grubbs said. “It all kind of made sense to use family stories for the names.”
Pulling from those stories, his friend, Matt Mayes of Kenosha, Wisconsin, created unique, colorful artwork for the labels of each of the beers.
The eye-catching branding helped draw attention to the brews even before the brewery opened.
Before moving into his own location, Grubbs brewed and packaged his beer at ZümBier Brewery in Waukegan for about a year and a half. He would drive his pickup truck throughout the Chicago area, dropping off his beer at stores.
“We take a lot of pride that first year in being able to get out and get in the stores,” Grubbs said. “We really wanted people to see our cans and pick them out and wonder what’s this all about.”
Even before that, Grubbs had a fan base.
He started small, brewing random batches at his home.
“People liked it and drank it. That was 2016, so I kept going at it,” he said. “It sort of grew into a crazy passion. Once I brewed quite a few batches and had people over, everybody seemed to like it. I kind of started getting the itch. … I really just kind of fell in love with the idea of owning a brewery.”
Grubbs still works his day job as an elevator superintendent, commuting to Milwaukee, but he spends much of his free time at the brewery, brewing about 155 gallons of beer at a time.
Along with the food trucks, the neighboring Ron’s Italian Ovens delivers food to customers.
“There’s always food available at Black Lung Brewery,” Grubbs said.
Opening the side business, especially during a pandemic, hasn’t been easy. But his customers have remained steady and follow COVID-19 restrictions, including wearing masks. Bar stools and tables remain spaced out, and an outside tent is available.
“We’ve had good feedback and awesome patrons,” Grubbs said.
His family, including his wife, Sarah, and their children, 11-year-old Charlie, 9-year-old Cheyenne, 6-year-old Jackson and 2-year-old Savannah, has supported him through it all, he said.
They often have their weekend dinners at the brewery.
“They’ve been real troupers,” Grubbs said. “They’ve all been the coal in my fire.”