It’s never too early to start planning for the nicer weather that is coming soon. What’s a better way than soaking up some rays spending a day sitting outside sipping wine or trying a fresh brew? ILLINOISouth has several options when it comes to wineries and breweries (we even have a distillery!)
It’s a brew-volution, and your old best friend Bud should be wiser for it by now. Well, if you’re starting to prefer wheat, fruit- or pumpkin-flavored beers brewed in smallish batches, you won’t mind that poke at the region’s biggest, all-American (Belgian) brewery. (I mean, what’s this strawberry-rita swill the maker of the so-called Great American Lager is trying to make us swallow nowadays?)
Craft beers are the rage all around. A new proponent of the “designer” beer is Bill Meier of Excel Bottling Co. in Breese, makers of Ski and more than a dozen other soda flavors. Excel launched a new division, Excel Brewing Co., just shy of two years ago. One variety is Lefty’s Lager, named for the grandfather who founded the local bottler in 1936.
Soda sales are declining, says Meier. Meanwhile, beer industry experts say the market share of craft beers has risen sharply, more than 20 percent in the last two years. To coin a phrase, looks like Meier et al. are in the clover… well; hops, that is.
Increasingly, beer makers are coming out of their basement or garage operations to fashion brews that are local-local-local. Aficionados of these frosty, foamy adult beverages need only visit the nearest bar or family-owned pizza joint to see that there are at least a half-dozen more options nowadays than Stag or Bud Light. There may be Schlafly from St. Louis, which started almost 25 years ago as not much more than a tap room.
Or there may be a couple varieties from Kaskaskia Brewing Co. in Red Bud… and, if not today, then soon. The new owner has seen sales increase three-fold since he took over the business. In March.
Mature adults prefer a better beer, beer crafters say. The kids? From underage to legal, they don’t really care. Most just want it cheap. You certainly don’t have to be a beer snob to enjoy a superior product, but you also don’t have to put up with weak, flavored yellow water, as some beer crafters call today’s corporate product.
Meanwhile, fresher product just tastes better, notes Meier. So he tries to keep his inventory as low as he can. Would you sell a pizza that’s been out of the oven too long? The four DeGonia brothers sure wouldn’t. But the DeGonia Bros. don’t spin dough; at this writing, the longtime home brewers were planning a microbrewery in a revitalized section of downtown Granite City. (OMG… how about a double chocolate stout?)
Making beer is a labor of love. But to survive in a fragmented commercial market, expansion is key, so long as you don’t get too big or grow too fast. Obviously, craft brewing is economically feasible, with industry observers today counting upwards of 3,000 microbreweries from coast to coast.
Did we say pizza and beer? In O’Fallon is Peel Wood Fired Pizza and Brewery, which hasn’t yet celebrated its first birthday. Neither has Recess Brewing in Edwardsville. Meanwhile in Madison County, Alton will welcome a second location of Belleville’s 4204 Main Street Brewing Co., if it hasn’t already. And in Centralia, you can sample Makraft Brewing Co.’s product at their tap room.
So, let’s click glasses and raise some luscious local foam to our mouths!
This information originally appeared in the Tourism Times Seasonal Guide. Click here and sign up to receive three issues every year at no cost!