Suburban brewpubs capitalize on microbrew trend
Local beer is a hotter trend than ever and you can't get more local than at a brewpub, where the beer is made under the same roof where you're drinking it.
As interest in microbrews continues to rise, the suburban brewpub scene has expanded, too, with new spots opening and established spots looking to tap into the movement.
Wherever you live in the suburbs, a brewpub is close by. Some include Emmett's Brewing Co. in Downers Grove, Palatine and West Dundee, the Lucky Monk in South Barrington, Lunar Brewing in Villa Park, Mickey Finn's in Libertyville, the Onion Pub and Brewery in Lake Barrington, the Ram in Rosemont, Wheeling and Schaumburg, Rock Bottom in Lombard and Two Brothers in Aurora and Warrenville, to name just a few.
The owners of Tommy Nevin's Pub, which has locations in Naperville, Evanston and Frankfort, opened Nevin's Brewing Company in Plainfield last December.
"We decided to open up a brewpub because we feel the craft market has grown," said managing partner Marcus Mooney. "There are so many varieties, and we really wanted to be part of that. We felt that with the right combination of food, service and atmosphere we've offered at our other locations, we could expand to make great beers, as well."
You'll find six to 10 of their beers on tap at any given time, with a few staples mixed with seasonal brews like the hoppy Oktoberfest. Nevin's Brewing Company is working on bringing its brews to other bars, starting with the Tommy Nevin's locations. Until then you'll have to try them at the brewpub, where you can order beer flights and samplers paired with a gastropub-style menu of sandwiches, appetizers, pizza and entrees like jambalaya, barbecued ribs and Cider Mash Salmon rather than the Irish fare Tommy Nevin's serves up at their other pubs.
"These days, people have more discerning palates. They're doing a lot more experimentation. They're being more adventurous with the things they eat and drink," Mooney said.
Mickey Finn's Brewery in Libertyville was Lake County's first brewpub when it began making beer in 1994 and has also been enjoying the increased interest in craft beers. The bar expects to move to a new location in January that will have twice the space devoted to brewing, which could allow the popular brewery to bottle and can more beers and increase the number they have on tap.
"Craft beer has just taken off in the last five years," bar manager Kevin Baird said. "Everyone wants the hoppiest, high octane, big bold beers. It's more unique."
Baird said he's looking forward to the new space, which will go from 32 to 300 parking spots and have a 50-foot bar, but for now he's focused on the launch of the brewery's Oktoberfest beer and preparing for the rush that comes when the seasonal Santa's Magic is available for winter.
"It's actually kind of disgusting how much beer we go through in the month of December," Baird said.
Even places that previously weren't serving beer at all have gotten into the craft beer movement. When Village Vintner was located in Carpentersville, the winery would get plenty of women coming in for wine tastings and cheese plates, but their boyfriends and husbands would go across the street to Randall Roadhouse. Owner Steve Boyer saw he was missing out on business and decided to try his hand at brewing. He reopened the business in a bigger space in Algonquin and began serving eight to 10 beers on draft, mixing his own beers with a few from other local breweries like Warrenville's Two Brothers Brewing Company. You can try them in beer flights while choosing from a new menu of wood-fired pizza, ribs and stout-roasted corned beef, or pick up a growler to take home. Village Vintner is also planning on releasing its brews in 22-ounce bombers before Christmas.
Of course, Village Vintner still offers wines made in the building with grapes from around the country. There are about 55 available to drink there or take home and now beer and wine lovers can taste side by side.
The increase in brewpubs and breweries produces more camaraderie than competition, Nevin's brewmaster Mark Wilson said. Nevin's is hosting an event Oct. 26 that will pair a dozen dishes using head meat like veal cheek and pig face with beers from a dozen breweries including Chicago's SlapShot Brewing Company and Westmont's Urban Legend Brewing Company. The brewpub is also working on a new beer using freshly picked hops from Plainfield's Chicago Brew Werks.
"The brewing community is very closely knit," Wilson said. "We're all here to help each other out. We all learn from each other in the brewing industry and it's a lot of knowledge-sharing. It's kind of a big fraternity."