Wob Wanhatalo set aside a recent Saturday evening to watch a newly-released documentary about one of his favorite baseball moments, which also lends its name to his favorite brew.
The documentary on Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis’ 1970 no-hitter thrown on LSD was a must watch for the Mitten’s head pub brewer. But the infamous no-no was purely a high in a drug-fueled career of mostly lows.
“I’ve known the story for decades,” Wob said. “When we first got Galaxy hops, I wanted to design a beer to showcase them and give them space and the idea of space led to LSD and it being a trip and spacey, so we called it Dock’s No-No.”
Dock’s No-No, however nearly lost its name that Saturday night, as Wob learned how much drugs actually plagued Ellis’ career. Wob knew recreational, not performance-enhancing, drugs were all the rage in the 1970s professional sports world, but little did he know how much it affected Ellis.
Ellis rarely, if ever, pitched sober, once going so far to take amphetamines in the clubhouse in the middle of the games because his mechanics were so messed up while sober.
His drug riddled career wasn’t without success though. Following his 1970 no-hitter and a 13-10 season, Ellis finished fourth in Cy Young balloting for his 19-9 1971 season when the Pirates won the World Series.
Following a few turbulent seasons with the Pirates, Ellis joined the Yankees in 1976 and pitched his way to a 17-8 season with a 3.15 ERA, winning the American League Comeback Player of Year award.
He retired from baseball in the spring of 1980, following a few relief appearances in 1979 with the Pirates. Upon retiring, Ellis realized he needed to clean up his life and entered rehab.
He went on to counsel other addicts and prisoners for the rest of his life, inspiring many to also go on to become counselors. Ellis’ ultimate resurrection is what saved the Mitten’s Double IPAs name, Wob said.
“We didn’t know about the man himself, just that day,” Wob said. “There was this unfortunate feeling inside me after I watched the documentary and I wondered if I was doing him a disservice for naming a beer after the no-hitter, which he may or may not have been proud of.”
Wob said he’s seen some parallels in Dock’s baseball career and his brewing career, but that he and the rest of the Mitten brewers are well on their way to brewing hit after hit. Wob’s career started at The Hideout, and attracted Mitten owners Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus to recruit him as the first brewer when it opened in November 2012.
Since then Wob has worked with fellow brewers Jason Warnes, Alex Atkin, Scott Vant Hul and Aaron Ross to make good beers even better every day they step into the company’s brewhouses.
“It’s never been about individual growth here,” Wob said. “It’s a group growth between all of us, striving to make the best beers we can and we’ve come a long way since the beginning.”
He pointed to the first Dock’s No-No, brewed in a poorly sealed plastic fermenter with no temperature control. Now, every beer brewed at The Mitten is a controlled stainless steel environment with tight temperature control.
Although every beer has seen an improvement, he said Dock’s No-No was one that really showed him how much flavor could come out. He designed it to be simple, an accessible Double IPA reminiscent of Bell’s Brewery’s Hopslam.
“I wanted something approachable from a double IPA standpoint, something even a novice IPA drinker can get down with,” he said. “It’s consistently good every time with a great fruity, honey, sweet, bitter mix. And it doesn’t drink like it’s 9 percent.”
The beer has become a staff and fan favorite, likely in part because of the story behind it. Wob said the service staff often asks him about the story, and is one of the beers they can rattle of the story behind its name with no problem because of its uniqueness.
“There’s a following behind it,” he said. “People get a good chuckle out of it and it’s a great story tied to a great beer.”
Wob’s favorite beer is Dock’s No-No, but he’s also been able to pride himself on some of the lighter beers he’s making, which also have been improved greatly since the brewery’s first entry into the Michigan brewing scene. He said he’s seen increased respect from other respected Michigan brewers as the Mitten’s brew team continues to take leaps and bounds forward.
“I love a good challenge, and now we’re helping transform this side of town, which isn’t the craft side of town,” he said. “I’m happy to make these beers, the creams, the blondes, that are rather difficult and keep them clean and drinkable and help new drinkers open their minds.”
Andrus said he’s proud of the job Wob has been able to do in his three years at The Mitten.
“Dock’s No-No doesn’t define Wob,” Andrus said. “He brews excellent beers on either side of the spectrum and has become a great mentor to our young pub brewers.
“He’s more than just one beer.”