Craft distillery seeks spot in Naperville's old Nichols Library

  • A craft distillery called Crooked Wheel is one business that has its eye on opening in the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville once the landmark building is restored.

      A craft distillery called Crooked Wheel is one business that has its eye on opening in the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville once the landmark building is restored. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • The old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville is set to be structurally and aesthetically restored as part of a $21 million mixed-use development. As building owners work on drawings to seek a construction permit, a craft distillery called Crooked Wheel is eyeing the former library as its future home.

    The old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville is set to be structurally and aesthetically restored as part of a $21 million mixed-use development. As building owners work on drawings to seek a construction permit, a craft distillery called Crooked Wheel is eyeing the former library as its future home. Courtesy of Kluber Architects + Engineers

 
 
Updated 6/8/2018 11:54 AM

Two longtime co-workers plan to blend their passion for craft spirits with a respect for history as they work toward opening a small distillery in Naperville.

Derek Krauss and Joe Rehbein say they want to open Crooked Wheel craft distillery to manufacture and offer tastings of spirits such as whiskeys, bourbons and vodkas. They told liquor commissioners Thursday they hope to locate it within the 120-year-old former Nichols Library, which a developer is restoring as part of a mixed-use project.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This local craft distillery concept is really well-suited for this community," Krauss said. "It's the perfect addition to the feel and the traditions of Naperville."

Lissa Druss, spokeswoman for old Nichols Library owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown, said the owners are not yet engaging in formal discussions about tenants for the old library and the new retail spaces they plan to build because they do not yet have a construction permit. But Druss said the owners are fielding early interest from potential users such as Crooked Wheel.

"This is meant to be something that's handcrafted from start to finish," Krauss said about Crooked Wheel products, which could be named for historical elements such as the Ottawa trail, Hobson mill, the historic limestone quarry and the Pre-Emption House. "We're developing it in keeping with Naperville's history and heritage."

For Crooked Wheel, which received preliminary approval from the liquor commission, the old Nichols Library at 110 S. Washington St. is well situated, close to downtown bars and restaurants.

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"The distillery itself is going to be developed to be a destination and an attraction," Krauss said. "The idea is to make this really a walking destination, something that could be included within the restaurant scene."

Crooked Wheel does not plan to serve food in what Krauss and Rehbein are designing as a distillery and tasting room, similar to the setup at Naperville craft establishments Solemn Oath Brewery and 2 Fools Cidery.

"I love the idea," liquor Commissioner Paul O'Toole said. "For me, the distinction is making sure it's really seen as a distillery manufacturing operation, as opposed to another bar."

If approved by the city council, Crooked Wheel would be able to sell the spirits it distills to distributors for resale and sell up to three tastings to guests in the tasting room. The council still could adjust the serving size of tastings the business can provide.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Liquor commissioners also praised the potential location at the old library, which was declared a local landmark last September. Commissioner Whitney Robbins called the plan "awesome."

"That could be pretty phenomenal for us," she said.

Preservationists with Save Old Nichols, a group that mobilized to protect the building, say they haven't heard directly from Crooked Wheel, but they look forward to new vitality for the building once structural and aesthetic restorations are complete.

"We think it's a wonderful event space," said Becky Simon, Save Old Nichols president. "We have always felt all along that old Nichols Library has a long life ahead of it. I am sure that somebody will be very happy to use the building and carry it forward for the next 100 years."

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