With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached our Thirteenth state on the list, the Land of Lincoln, Illinois. A state who’s name was coined by early French Canadian settlers, based on the Miami- Illinois native word irenwe-wa, “he speaks the regular way.” The French filtered the name through the Ottawa dialect of the Ojibwe language (ilinwe), substituting the we with the French ois ending.
Illinois ranks 5th in total population (just over 12.8 million), with a total of 103 craft breweries as of2014, 80 of which are represented by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 11th in total breweries and 32nd in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Illinois’ brewing history all begins with it’s earliest European settlers, the French. In a colonial settlement in the small Mississippi town of Kaskaskia, the first brewery was built at some point in 1765. Later, with Chicago’s growth as a fresh water port town on Lake Michigan and recent innovations in farming technology, the fertile lands of Illinois drew immigrants from Germany and Sweden, who in turn brought their brewing heritage as well.
The state’s brewing operations really started to take shape in the late 1840’s and 50’s, then flourished during the peak years from the 1880’s through the teens of the 20th century. While quite a few brewers survived Prohibition, the last of the old time breweries closed in the early 70’s as the national behemoths of brewing over took all distribution and beer sales with their light lager offerings. With Miller, Pabst and Schlitz just over the Northern border and Anheuser-Busch across the Mississippi in the SW, it’s amazing that the independent brewers lasted as long as they did.
The oldest existing brewer in the state is Goose Island, who opened their Clyborn brewpub in 1988. They’ve won more GABF medals than any other brewer in the state (29) and are world renown for their Bourbon County series as well as their Vintage ales. They’re no longer considered a craft brewer by the Brewers Association following Anheuser Busch’s outright purchase of their brewing operations in 2011 (the brewpubs are still independently owned). Mickey Finn’s Brewpub, opened in 1993 in Libertyville, is the oldest craft brewer in the state and the largest producing brewer is Lagunitas, founded in California in 1994 and half owned by Heineken.
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DESTIHL Restaurant & Brew Works (Normal, Champaign & Bloomington) – Opening first in Normal in 2007, DESTIHL’s owner and brewmaster Matt Potts has built a 20,000 barrel per year brewery that specializes in barrel aged European styles as well as innovative American style offerings. Having won two GABF medals in the past 3 years, DESTIHL continues to grow and bring smiles to Central Illinois.
Flossmoor Station Brewing (Flossmoor) – The brewpub, founded in this deep-south suburb of Chicago, is one of the state’s oldest craft brewers, in operation since 1996. Located in a fully restored 1906 train station, owners Dean and Caroline Armstrong have built a winning tradition, collecting 23 GABF medals, the most by any craft brewer in the state.
Half Acre Beer (Chicago) – Founded in 2007 and contract brewed with a Wisconsin brewer until their Chicago facility opened in 2009, Half Acre has made a name for themselves with their flagship Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. The first Chicago brewer to distribute in cans, their 16oz offerings sport some of the most creative label art around, not to mention the delights offered inside.
Off Color Brewing (Chicago) – One of the newest brewers in the state, Off Color live up to their name offering unique farmhouse ales as well as other European styles, wrapped in distinctive black and white, hand-drawn label art. Founded by former Goose Island brewer John Laffler 2013, they’ve already created collaborations with Prairie Ales, 3 Floyds and Mikkeller among others, not to mention distribution already pushing out to both coasts.
Pipeworks Brewing (Chicago) – One of the nation’s top rated brewers of imperial stouts, Belgian styles and strong ales, Pipeworks has been impressing the public since 2012. This Kickstarter funded operation has created a vast array of styles (over 190 unique beers), so much so that they even catalogue their batch history on their website.
Revolution Brewing (Chicago) – This self-proclaimed “largest craft brewer in Illinois,” led by former Golden Prairie and Goose Island employee and brewer Josh Deth, has been in operation since 2010. They’ve since set a fast pace for Chicago’s brewing community by snatching up 2 GABF medals, flying high with their Anti-Hero IPA and an impressive variety of every style under the sun on tap.
Two Brothers Brewing (Warrenville & Aurora) – Located in two of Chicago’s western burbs, Two Brothers has been a guiding light for the state’s craft beer scene since their 1996 founding by Jason and Jim Ebel. Winners of 7 GABF medals, 3 alone for their stellar Domaine DuPage French Country Ale, the brother’s attention to detail as brewers as well as their stewardship to the environment is worth emulating.
Didn’t find a brewery near you listed here? Check out this list of Illinois Breweries for more info.