McHENRY – As Curt and Linda Ames transformed the interior at 3425 Pearl St. in McHenry, passersby couldn’t contain their curiosity.
And when those passersby learned the Ameses aimed to make it a microbrewery and tap room, many couldn’t contain their enthusiasm.
Out from garages, attics and basements soon emerged signs, photos, even written narratives – all relating to the building’s 1860s origins.
“Vince Sossong sent me an email and said ‘Curt, I have an old sign in my garage and I’d like to give it to you,’” Curt Ames said, pointing to a vintage metal sign with white lettering on a red background that says “McHenry Beer” on one line, and in smaller lettering underneath, “Since 1861.”
McHenry Landmark Commission member and local historian Pat Wirtz and others also provided items to the new business owners, whose soft opening of the Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Co. drew hundreds during Fiesta Days. A grand opening is set for Aug. 24.
In recent years, 3425 Pearl St. was home to the short-lived Green Pearl Bistro and previously the Whale’s Tail restaurant. But its most enduring label was the McHenry Brewery, purveyors of McHenry Beer and, at one time, Buffalo Beer. The brewery remained active beyond prohibition and well into the mid-20th century.
For Curt and Linda Ames, the building’s history, coupled with an opportunity to buy it at auction for $200,000, clinched the deal.
“I’ve been home brewing since the late ’80s,” said Curt Ames, a retired colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps who grew up in the Pistakee Lake area. He now resides in Johnsburg with Linda and their daughters, Sarah, 10, and Caroline, 8, who have designed labels for the root beer and cream ale the Ameses also plan to produce.
Ames said for nearly 30 years he has been researching and dreaming of starting a microbrewery, and eyed the former McHenry Brewery building since at least 2010.
He credited the Shah Center, McHenry Bank & Trust, a cooperative, supportive city staff and mayor, and a Patriots Express Small Business Administration loan for helping to kick-start the brewery.
He plans to brew about 300 barrels of craft beer with the company’s eight-barrel system during the first year. Eventually, he hopes to produce about 750 barrels a year.
Helping with the endeavor will be about five employees, including Rob Tesmer of Crystal Lake, a recent Eastern Illinois University graduate who aspires to be a master brewer.
The tap room will offer $5 flights of four craft beers. It also will sell 64-ounce growlers and 32-ounce grumblers (average price $11 and $7, respectively, not including the vessel). Food will not be served, though patrons will be welcome to bring their own or order in.
The beer on tap will be craft types such as India pale, scotch and amber ales. Chiefly, it will be fresh, flavorful, unfiltered and unpasteurized, the owners said.
“Everyone asks me ‘What’s your favorite beer?’” Curt Ames said. “My favorite beer is a beer right out of the tap from a craft brewery.”
Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Co.
Grand Opening: Noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 24, with food, live music in the parking lot
Location: 3425 Pearl St., McHenry
Tap Room hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays (open Thursdays only until week of Aug. 21)
Information: chainolakesbrewing.com; 815-331-8345