In 2010, where are the city’s Best Suburban Microbreweries? I read a lot of food/beverage media around town, and for all the conversation about the new brewpubs and gastropubs (still hate that word) around the city, it struck me that there are a fair number of places in the suburbs doing their own brewing as well, without nearly as much fawning over it, likely due to their non-proximity to guys like me that were doing all the writing.
A little pleading, a few emails and a decent amount of luck later, the esteemed Powers That Be at Chicago Magazine allowed me to throw together a short list of microbreweries and brewpubs in the suburbs that you may or may not have heard about. For this audience, I’m assuming you all fall closer to “may have.” Just a hunch.
And, if you haven’t seen the piece, you can check it out here.
First, a small caveat. In my brain, I was hearing the cries from the Peanut Gallery of “What about 3 Floyds! What about Two Brothers!” In my focus on the smaller, less heralded brewpubs and microbreweries, I figured between Dark Lord Day being the insane event that it’s become and with 2 Brothers in stores all around the area, that I could kind of self-exclude them somewhat. Of course, that made the assignment that much more difficult for me. Not that researching beer is ever really a problem.
I’ve been aware of Lunar Brewing, America’s Brewing and Stockholm’s for a while now, Flossmoor of course and only Limestone was a late entry to the rundown. This is where I express my appreciation for the Chicago Beer Map, who was extremely helpful in taking a look at what was on the radar including other places I wasn’t too aware of (Onion Pub, Lucky Monk), places I knew I could exclude based on chain status (Ram, Gordon Biersch) and other various joints that could have been thrown into contention. While I wish we could have fit everyone else in, alas, I was given just a page and just about 500 words or so. That said, I believe in credit where credit is due, and many thanks and attribution to the Beermap folks.
Beyond that, there are just a few things I wanted to add that I couldn’t squeeze in.
(Oh, and by the way, did you see me on WGN-TV talking about all this? You can find that here, should you choose to subject yourself to it.)
Lunar: I spent my formative years and my early-drinking years in the western suburbs. I did most of my imbibing around Naperville, Lisle and West Chicago, even a little bit into Lombard from time to time. Had I known at that point that I could have gone just a few miles east and stumbled into some awesome microbrews I don’t know that I would have done so (my craft beer epiphany not coming til’ a few years later).
Knowing what I know now, I’m kicking myself for being in such proximity to an underrated, unsung microbrewery nestled right in the kind of old-man bar that I would have basically camped out in. Actually, I did camp out in those old-man bars, smoking cigarettes and drinking High Lifes. I could have been drinking cream ales and fruit beers and guest taps from other microbrewers. Whoops. Live and learn.
Stockholm’s: First, this place really plays on my Scandinavian roots and yanks my viking heritage strings around. And any town that has Swedish Days right on its main drag every year can’t be all bad. Geneva, being part of the trifecta of what’s known as the tri-cities on the Fox River (the other two being Batavia and St. Charles) is a very white-bread town. I mean, everything there is so freaking nice. Like, Minnesota nice. And it shouldn’t surprise, knowing that Minnesota is made up of a bunch of friendly Scandos. Anyways.
This is just to say that when I describe Stockholm’s raspberry ale as “tart raspberry air,” I mean that almost literally. It had the lightest body I can remember ever trying. I would love to do a chemical and density breakdown, just to prove that water is more dense than this beer. If you freeze it, it would very likely not just float but hover.
Also, I just love the fact that they offer classes through the freaking park district on how to be a beer dork. Fantastic.
Limestone: I checked out a bunch of places for this and talked to a bunch of people and the one thing I keep coming back to when I think about putting together this piece is “damn, I’d like to get back to Limestone.” Not to take away from any of the other places on the list, but this was some very good beer in a place you’d never expect to see it show up. (The word I originally used was “soulless” to describe the stretch of Rt. 59 that it’s camped out on.)
Maybe it’s because it was a hell of a long dry drive down I-55 to get there, maybe it was because it’s so inconspicuous from the outside, maybe because the service was just great, maybe it’s because their beer was really flipping good. You gotta love any place that’ll throw together a Russian Imperial in the middle of July, and then make a small stout out of the runnings, and that’s not even the oddest thing on the menu, and then have the balls to do it right in the middle of a chain-restaurant-populated desert. If the brewers there ever don’t feel appreciated by their Plainfield bretheren, please come downtown.
Barring that, I’d like to direct Ryan and Andrew’s attention to the fact that they have a special Fantasy Football setup created. This means nothing to me, but apparently it’s a game they play somehow, so I’ll leave the rest to them – just thought you guys would want to be made aware of it.
America’s Brewing: Ryan actually helped me out with some of the research for America’s (pretty sure I owe you a beer for that), as he checked America’s Brewing out at the Hoptacular down at the Aragon. I was on the fence about adding them in, until he told me about them dryhopping beers on-site through a sort of hops-pump. I had to know more.
Talking to brewer Mike Rybinski, he told me about the process of (and I hope I’m not giving away any trade secrets here, Mike) getting an actual industrial strength water pump from one of those home improvement big-box stores, playing around with the innards and using it to run beer directly through a container with a handful of fresh hop cones.
Now, he told me that this was inspired by something that Dogfishhead has done previously, so perhaps this is common knowledge on other parts of the interwebs, but it kinda blew me away and I’m upset that I didn’t take the time to swing by the recent Oak Park Microbrew Review where he said he’d have the hops engine out and in play. Alas, maybe next time.
Flossmoor: I just love the fact they started bottling on the 75th anniversary of Prohibition. I’m a sucker for Prohibition-related dates and anniversaries and things like that (and we’ll get into that Batch 19 stuff at a later date). Also, a bomber of Flossmoor’s Pullman Brown Ale is what was enjoying the night before my little TV date, for whatever that’s worth. (It’s very good.)
So there you have it. I’m sure I still forgot a couple of things that I wanted to squeeze in that I otherwise couldn’t, but suffice it to say that doing the legwork on this was not exactly a chore. I got to check out some places that I’ve been meaning to, as well as enjoy some of the output of some very underrated brewers – and hopefully send a little business their way as well. Of course, thanks as well to Chicago Magazine for letting me sully the pages of their publication just for one month.