Illinois Craft Beer Week: The Land of Drinkin’
After years of being called “Chicago Beer Week”, the ILLINOIS Craft Brewers Guild has finally changed the name of its week long event to Illinois Craft Beer Week. And its kicking off TODAY. This name change might not seem significant to some, but this feels like a big win for the craft beer fanatics outside the Chicagoland area. Oh, did you forget that there is more to Illinois craft beer than Chicago? Because there TOTALLY is! 😉
Photo Credit: Illinois Craft Beer Week
There are some truly amazing breweries and beers being produced outside the Windy City. Being in the the Heart of Illinois, we have a first hand experience of the liquid libations that come out of an area that Chicagoans seem to think is “The South”. Central Illinois, by our estimate has quadrupled the number of breweries that call it home since 2015, and we often hear rumors of even more that might sprout up amid the endless fields of soybeans and corn.
It seems fair to start the Land of Drinkin’ tour in Bloomington-Normal, a city at the heart of, well, the Heart of Illinois. Normal, more specifically, is the home of of Destihl, the only regional brewery in the area and distributes to an impressive 22 states and 3 countries. With a tagline of “Boycott Bland”, they get all-too-quickly dismissed by many. But their Dosvidanya Barrel-aged stouts and St. Dekkera wild ales still pull in large crowds at their multi-million dollar brewing facility & long lines at their Great American Beer Fest table (which definitely surprised us when we went to GABF). Blo-No, as we call it, also hosts White Oak Brewing, a favorite of ours. If you watched our Top 5 Beers of 2017 (below), you might recognize the name. White Oak doesn’t necessarily have a signature style, but their Bro, Do you even IPA? Hazy IPA & Casual Jesus roggenbier-inspired farmhouse ale are among the hometown favorites. Their artwork has always been killer & Dan routinely gets asked where to purchase their apparel. New to the scene, Lil Beaver Brewing has carved out a niche by experimenting with different spices, flavors, and other combinations by building off a solid set of base beers. Their taplist changes at such a rapid rate, its hard to pinpoint what their base beers actually are sometimes. Finally, Keg Grove Brewing will be opening up following IL Craft Beer Week on June 1st. We’ll be doing a sit-down interview with them in the future, so keep your eyes on the lookout for that.
Moving onto Champaign-Urbana, a college town through-and-through, the craft beer scene here has also progressed a lot like the rest of the country. Each of its 3 breweries have their own style and following. The Blind Pig, right in the middle of downtown, calls to mind the styling of a English pub, but with its signature ale anything but English. Hattori Hanzo is a pale ale made completely with Sorachi Ace Hops. This Japanese hop imparts an aromatic experience replete with lemongrass and dill.
On the outskirts of Urbana, Riggs Brewing focuses on traditional German brewing. Three of their flagship beers feature homegrown corn & barley malt. Unfortunately for you hop heads, you won’t find any IPAs here, but you will find that their India Pale Lager satisfies your addiction. Dry-hopped with Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, and Columbus, a lagered ale creates a blank canvas that really let these hop varieties shine; something a traditional IPA wouldn’t. That leaves us with the last brewery in the area: Triptych. In Central Illinois, they are the ringleaders of the current “Haze Craze”. Either one of us could go on for hours about the plethora of hazy Pale Ales, APAs, IPAs, DIPAs, NEIPAs, or ‘x’-PAs that they produce. Their breadwinners are most certainly Dank Meme (also Really Dank Meme) & A Wizard is Never Late, but every trip to our local bottle shop results in a new (mostly) hazy ale from Triptych. They even brewed a special batch for Illinois Craft Beer Week & the North Peoria craft beer fest called “Who Wants the Fox Haze?”, an homage to a popular, local taproom, The Fox.
Photo Credit: Untappd. See? They are Ringleaders!
In the sake of being expeditious, we’re going to skip over some of the other towns in Central Illinois. We just haven’t spent enough time in Springfield, Decatur, the Quad Cities or the smaller farming communities to give them a fair shake, but we’ll write an update as we cross them off of our ever growing list.
That leaves us with our hometown of Peoria. It doesn’t have a brewery with the size of Destihl, or the cult-like following like that of Triptych, but it has the longevity. John S. Rhodell Brewery has been a staple of the Central Illinois craft beer scene since 1998. They grew from 3 taps at their opening to 13 taps + 1 english hand pump at present. In addition to their taproom sales, they’ve promoted craft beer through education by offering brewing sessions to the general public, which were unsurprisingly full all year round. Within the last year, 2 new breweries have opened: Bearded Owl Brewing & Industry Brewing. Like most new breweries, it take some time to settle in and develop a niche, but Bearded Owl started with one: “Prairie Inspired”. Craft beer fans have embraced the notion of #DrinkLocal, and Bearded Owl dives deeper on that premise by focusing on local ingredients. One of their first releases was Kramm Vossaol, a norwegian farmhouse ale brewed with juniper tips from a tree harvested less 25 miles from the brewsite (We reviewed that beer on our YouTube Channel as well!). Finally, as part of Illinois Craft Beer Week, we will be sitting down with Brian Buss, the head brewer of Industry Brewing. We don’t want to spoil Industry’s story here. Check out our Youtube channel for that video. It’ll be posted on 5/21.
There are way too many official events, tap takeovers, special releases, beer dinners and the like to list as part of Illinois Craft Beer Week. BUT, none of them are south of the I-80 corridor. What gives? Illinois is a huge state, and some of the best brewers in the state aren’t even represented by a festival that’s supposed to encompass the entire state. We only wrote about part of what’s going on in Central Illinois, and there still half of the state to the south of us. Understanding this is is the first year after a the name change, we should be hopeful that ILCBW works towards making this a truly state wide event. We will continue to promote our local breweries, but maybe we’ll make our own craft beer festival: “Not-Chicago Craft Beer Week”. With Blackjack. And Hookers.