Pittsburg will soon have not only the Jolly Fox, but a second downtown brewpub.
PITTSBURG — Mark McClain is a self-described “military brat” who “grew up all over the world.” An Air Force veteran, most recently McClain has been living in Wichita while working out of New York as a commercial pilot. When he decided to open a brewpub, though, he set his sights on Pittsburg.
“Every time I’ve been to Pittsburg it’s just been a really neat city,” McClain said in a recent interview. “I’ve enjoyed it, and this was the time and place to pursue a dream, which was to open a brewpub.”
The name of the brewpub that McClain and wife Cathy are opening — Drop the H — is also a reference to Pittsburg. In 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names was created to come up with conventions for standardizing (though not legally regulating) names of places.
“They wanted to have a standard that people could comply with so that it was not totally foreign everywhere you went,” McClain said, “and one of them, one of their findings was that if the word had a ‘burg’ in it, you could spell it B-E-R-G or B-U-R-G, or the Scottish version, B-U-R-G-H. And so they decided it should not be spelled with an E, it should have a U, and you should drop the H.”
Pittsburg was originally founded as New Pittsburgh, before changing to Pittsburgh, and finally “dropping the H” to become Pittsburg in 1894, according to the Kansas Historical Society.
When Drop the H opens —which McClain is hoping will happen in September— the brewpub will feature eight beers made in-house. These will include a pilsner, a Vienna stout, two different India pale ales, a pale ale, a brown ale, a stout, and probably a nitrogenated Irish red, though that lineup may change over time. McClain said he hopes to find 4 or 5 beers that local customers respond well to, and a few others on tap that will rotate or be available seasonally.
While the brewpub will also sell the few other food items, aside from beer, the main focus of Drop the H will be pizza, which will be made in an oven from Marra Forni, a Maryland-based company which is “the fastest growing manufacturer of handcrafted brick ovens for commercial and residential use” according to its website.
After deciding to establish their brewpub in Pittsburg in 2017, the McClains bought a building on East Rose Street just off of Broadway that they’ve gutted and are in the process of completely renovating, including replacing the plumbing, floors and windows.
McClain will be buying the hops for his pale ale from Kansas Hop Company in Ottawa. After seeing a photo of the future home of Drop the H, a Kansas Hop Company representative told McClain his father-in-law would love the building.
“I said, ‘Is he into old architecture, what is it?’” McClain said. “And he goes, ‘No, he’s into old cars.’”
As it turns out, the future Drop the H building was once a car dealership, showroom and garage. The words “Durant Star” can still be faintly seen from when they were painted on the brick face of the building, a reference to an early 20th century automobile make and model.
“It’s a lot of fun for us to have an old historic building like this and repurpose it and bring it back to life,” McClain said.
In making plans for Drop the H, McClain was certified in the University of Vermont's Business of Craft Beer Program, which has since been following the project and published a blog article on it in May. McClain also pursued other forms of professional training for his new business.
“I was a homebrewer for decades,” McClain said. “When I decided to take this up a notch if you will and go professional with it, I studied through the Siebel Institute in Chicago. They have an online version, so I took the concise course in brewing technology through them.
“For the pizza side of the business I went to New York. I’m based there anyhow, it made it kind of easy,” McClain said. McClain studied at the Goodfellas Pizza School of New York, which is not only run by award-winning pizza makers but has also trained other award-winning pizza makers.
“These guys know what they’re doing when they teach you how to do pizza,” McClain said. “So I plan on doing pizza right here.”
The Pittsburg community, including city officials and the chamber of commerce, have been very supportive of McClain’s efforts, he said. Phil Minton, owner of Jock’s Nitch, in particular, “has been phenomenal,” McClain said, allowing McClain to temporarily store his brewing tanks at the warehouse Minton also owns next door to Drop the H.
McClain has his brewer’s license and has hired a general manager and is in the process of hiring more employees. The last major step in preparing to open Drop the H is completing the building renovations.
At first, McClain said, his plan is to only sell his beer at the brewpub itself. Customers will be able to fill up growlers at Drop the H, but the beer will not be for sale in stores or at other establishments, though that could change if McClain finds his beer to be in high demand.
When he started the process of planning the business, McClain said, he didn’t know of Joel Stewart’s plans to open the Jolly Fox Brewery less than two blocks away at the corner of Broadway and Euclid. He is not too concerned, however, that the two establishments will cause problems for one another.
“There’s room in craft beer for multiple venues with multiple beers and styles and atmospheres,” McClain said. “I think it will make this a better draw for people out of town. If they were going to stay one place or another, they might go ‘You know, let’s go check out the craft beer scene in Pittsburg.’”
He noted the examples of Green Bay, Wisconsin and Houston, Texas, as cities where craft breweries coexist in close proximity to each other.
“Craft beer, the type of people that generally get into the business are very mutually supportive,” he said. “If you have questions or need help, I’d say 95 percent of them are like ‘Hey, how can I help you.’ It’s a friendly competition, it’s not a cut throat business per se.”