Young Blood’s taproom combines inventive street food with ‘easy drinking’ brews

The brewery opened in mid-May for to-go beer, then the taproom in mid-June.

Kyle Gregorash, head brewer and co-founder of recently opened Young Blood Beer Co., wrote his first recipe for beer when he was in the eighth grade. “That was a strong beer!” Gregorash says. Gregorash grew up in Port Washington where his father introduced him to home brewing at a young age. His first beer — a double-fermented honey weiss inspired by Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss — was an attempt to prove to his dad that he could “make a really good beer.”

After college Gregorash worked as a brewer in Whitefish, Montana, and at Door County Brewing Co. — where he helped launch Hacienda Beer Co. — before he was introduced to the other Young Blood co-founders Tom Dufek and Billy DuPlanty. “[Dufek and DuPlanty] knew how to run a brewery but didn’t have anyone to brew,” Gregorash says. “Kyle makes beer, Billy sells beer and I manage the operations,” Dufek says. “It’s a nice conglomeration of overlapping skills.”

Opening in mid-May for to-go beer sales, Young Blood’s taproom, located at 112 King St., opened June 12 with limited capacity and physical distancing protocols in place. Young Blood features 12 beers on tap, an ever-rotating list of beers dreamed up by Gregorash and given names like “It’s Pronounced Oregon Not Oregon,” a farmhouse ale, and “Next Time We Do This… Rollerskates,” a hazy pale ale. Gregorash enjoys experimenting and making “easy drinking” beer while focusing on flavor and aroma. “Our approach has been off the wall but people seem to dig what we are doing,” Gregorash says. “You don’t have to play into the market as it lies, you can blaze your own trail and people can appreciate you doing your own thing and providing them a new perspective on what beer can be.”

Dufek, who has a background in mixology and worked at Merchant and Lucille, enjoys collaborating with Gregorash on some beers. Together they came up with a recipe for the Black is Beautiful project created by Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas. Young Blood’s version, currently available on tap, is an imperial stout made with Kin-Kin coffee, orange, mint and strawberry. All proceeds go to the Urban League of Greater Madison.

In addition to beer, Young Blood serves food from the kitchen led by Chef Nathan Grajeda who focuses on street food inspired by the travels of the Young Blood crew. “[Grajeda] comes from a family of 12 and grew up cooking for his family,” says Dufek. “He cares deeply about the act of feeding people.” Grajeda’s versions of favorite snacks and roadside food on Young Blood’s menu include fish and chips, hot dogs, elote (grilled corn with cheese and lime) and poutine, combination of french fries with cheese curds and gravy.

While Young Blood never intended to can their beer, they adapted to conditions caused by the pandemic. But while beer is available to-go and now at local liquor stores, Young Blood’s taproom is the heart of the business. “A lot of places have distribution as their focus and want to be in 50 states in two years but we really want to focus on the taproom as the place where we keep everything whole,” Dufek says.

“It’s our epicenter,” says Gregorash. “We wanted to make this more of a neighborhood bar, hyper-local… an experience for the people that we were directly connected with or saw every day. We want it to be as tight and centered in downtown Madison as we possibly could from the very beginning.”

Dufek says the idea of hospitality was an integral part of the design of Young Blood’s space. “A lot of places, especially breweries, look at their taproom as an extension of the manufacturing facilities,” Dufek says. “We get comments all the time were people walk in and say, ‘this is a brewery?’”

Young Blood’s interior was designed by Charles Barrows and includes a mural by local artist Dylan Waddell. “The goal was to reinvent the well-known downtown space with interior elements at abnormal scale — large limestone walls, an oversized hanging trellis and a floor to ceiling mural inspired by trendy, Eastern European ‘ruin bars’ which celebrate local art, craft and bohemian nightlife culture,” says Barrows.

Young Blood’s logo, a palm tree, is meant to invoke a feeling of leisure and escape. “We always thought of the taproom as this place where you could come in and feel better than you did before,” says Dufek. “We want to embrace this oasis characteristic … If you feel better than when you walked in then we have done our job.”