LAKE BARRINGTON – Pete Janusas has worked at the Onion Pub & Brewery since it opened in July 2003 at 22221 N. Pepper Road in Lake Barrington. He started as a bartender for owners and Barrington High School alums, John and Mike Kainz.
“I’ve always had a passion from craft beer,” Janusas said.
The Kainz brothers began the Wild Onion Brewing Co. in 1996, just two blocks down from the current brewery and pub.
“We were just a microbrewery back then and it was a tough market,” said John Kainz, explaining how he saw a “craft beer boom” in the mid-90s that did not pick up again until 2004.
“We weren’t selling as much beer as we had planned,” John Kainz said. “We decided to open the restaurant and let people come to us.”
Still with limited space, the team takes their time preparing Wild Onion’s collection of brews that ship locally and nationally to eight surrounding states.
Brewmasters like Janusas put in a lot of time each week, working for 12 hours on “double brew” days, John said.
“We could easily expand and start three beer shifts a day,” Janusas said. “But we prefer quality over quantity and take it one step at a time.”
First, the team heats enough water to fill 32 kegs and crushes more than three dozen 55-pound bags of grain.
“It’s a labor of love,” Janusas said.
Once the water reaches 154 degrees Fahrenheit, they spray it on the grain by hand and allow some time for the grain to begin to burn into sugar, creating alcohol.
Then, they strain the sugary liquid from the grain, boil it to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and add pellets of hops.
“The hops are the spice,” said Janusas, holding a handful of green pellets bursting with a floral aroma.
After the hot, sugary liquid absorbs some flavor, the team brings the temperature down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit and infuses the mixture with oxygen to help yeast fermentation.
Fermentation for a floral, double-IPA brew like the Wild Onion’s “Hop Slayer” can take three weeks.
But, what happens to all that grain?
Wild Onion Brewing Co. sends its leftover grain to a local farmer who uses it for mulch, fertilizer and animal feed.
“This way, there isn’t a lot of waste,” Janusas said. “The grain is being ‘used’ in every sense of the word.”
In the corner of the basement brewery at the Onion Pub are stacks of bourbon barrels that have been sent from a bourbon distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind. They are used to make Wild Onion Brewing Co.’s “Drago Stout,” and are filled with beer to blend with residual bourbon over an eighth-month period.
Janusas said the beer is named after the opponent of Rocky in the “Rocky IV” movie.
“We needed a big, bad name for a big, bad beer,” he said.
This stout pulls a smokey oak flavor out of the bourbon barrels.
The Wild Onion team brews 20 beers throughout the year, canning only six of them. Most of their beers are kegged. The Kainz brothers are looking into expanding the brewery and buying a bottling line in the near future.
“Customers want to buy more beer,” John Kainz said. “We sell cans and growlers (half-gallon jugs) at the pub, but we want to put an addition onto our current building since there’s plenty of room for growth.”
Additionally, the brothers will harvest their three-acre hop farm this August for their seasonal “Harvest Ale.”
“January through March is slow in beer business, but the warm weather months and fall get busy,” John Kainz said. “We will already be brewing our pumpkin ale next week.”
Once the Kainz brothers find a brew recipe they are happy with, they continue to make the same brew over and over, adding only small changes.
“It’s kind of like cooking,” John Kainz said. “If you want to, you can add a little more hops or tweak the recipe to make it sweeter. We go for drinkable, fresh, clean beer.”
“That’s the fun thing about being in the beer business,” John Kainz said. “You can always try making something different.”
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