House proud: Mr. Dunderbak's is now brewing its own beer

Dunderbräu Brewery launched inside the Tampa landmark about three months ago.

click to enlarge Mr. Dunderbak's recently added a microbrewery, Dunderbräu, to its beer bar and restaurant. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Mr. Dunderbak's recently added a microbrewery, Dunderbräu, to its beer bar and restaurant.

A longtime epicenter for the craft beer community — and for homebrewers in particular has started brewing on-site.

Inside Mr. Dunderbak’s, Dunderbräu Brewery launched about three months ago. According to JB Ellis, who has owned the Tampa landmark for nearly 20 years and used to homebrew in the back of Dunderbaks University Mall location, the microbrewery was established for his own enjoyment.

“This has nothing to do with customers. This is, I don’t have any children, and if I did, I just spent their college education on a giant toy for me,” Ellis said. “This is for me and my friends.”

With the busy German-American restaurant and Tampa’s oldest craft beer bar bringing in what he calls “more money than I’ve ever made in my life,” Ellis had his landlord build out space for Dunderbräu’s hallway-size operation, which features a two-and-a-half-barrel system.

“It’s a small little brewery, but to me, this is homebrewing. When professional brewers come back here and they look at what we’re doing, they’re going, 'this is homebrewing,' because the recipes look like homebrew,” he said.

As the owner tells it, construction on the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening project out front led Dunderbräu to experience some trouble in the beginning. But he brews in-house once a week alongside Dunderbak’s manager Jason Lyons and Ray Eales, one of the original homebrewers of Tampa Bay BEERS.

click to enlarge The two-and-a-half-barrel operation has been producing beer for about three months. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
The two-and-a-half-barrel operation has been producing beer for about three months.

The trio, among those who’d gather at the old Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Ybor City for BEERS meetings (before the homebrew club made Dunderbak’s its monthly meeting place), has done 11 suds so far, including two wheat beers, a rye porter, Eales’s Klaus alt-style beer and Ellis’s blonde Kölsch-style beer with Hallertau Blanc, a new German hop variety.

Those “style” designations are important. Similar to how sparkling wine isn’t Champagne unless it’s made from grapes grown in France’s Champagne region, Ellis sees Kölsch (a beer style native to Cologne) and altbier (which originated in Düsseldorf) as appellations that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“It might not be illegal here, but it should at least be respected,” he said. “Kölsch beer should be, if you can’t see the Cathedral when you’re making the beer, it’s not a Kölsch. And the same with Düsseldorf... I’m sort of the beer historian, so when I make something it says style at the end of it.”

One of Dunderbräu’s more esoteric offerings is a smoked beer created with an old Prussian recipe that Ellis found. He put the recipe (although it read more like a description) into Google Translate, and the result came out wonky.

“I mean, it was like, 'malt makes you happy,'” Ellis said.

The translation did give him an idea of which ingredients to use, though. To make his beer comparable to what somebody would’ve drank 300 years ago, he made it a little smoky (back then, grains were kilned over a smoke fire), plus added flaked oats, Melanoidin malt for sweetness, German Heidelberg malt and a number of other ingredients.

Because the operation is just a couple steps above homebrewing, the owner gets to play. If patrons like it, they buy it; if they don’t, they don’t. Dunderbak’s has 65 additional drafts and 500-plus bottles to choose from. But the brewery’s beer seems to be a hit. While the intention isn’t to sell house brews off-property, Ellis says he has trouble keeping a beer on tap for more than six days.

“I thought, originally, that I might make some to sell outside, but [theres] no reason for that. I can’t make it fast enough.”