Local Business

McHenry County’s thirst for craft beer grows

Those left wanting more flavor and freshness when sipping a brew have new reason to smack their lips as McHenry County’s craft brew scene continues to ferment.

The Crystal Lake Beer Co. is coming to 150 N. Main St. this summer, joining McHenry’s Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Co. in locally producing craft beers for sale in their taprooms and distribution to a variety of area outlets. 

“We’re excited,” said Chuck Ross, co-owner of Crystal Lake Beer Co. along with John O’Fallon, both of Crystal Lake. 

“We hope to open by mid-summer to be able to participate in Crystal Lake’s centennial celebration,” he continued. “The city has been very supportive and excited, and as we move forward, we haven’t lost any enthusiasm in the marketplace.”

And Crystal Lake Beer Co. assuredly won’t be the last to frost local mugs, as Scorched Earth Brewing Co. is under construction in Algonquin and a Woodstock entrepreneur also is said to be putting together a plan for a location near the Square.

Ross and others who are brewing, distributing and pouring craft beers are part of a still-trending market. 

In 2012, growth of the craft brewing industry was 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by dollars compared to growth in 2011 of 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars, according to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit industry trade group for small and independent American brewers.

The industry accounted for 108,440 jobs in the United States, including serving staff in brew pubs, according to association statistics.

Curt Ames of the Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Co. in McHenry said his taproom business has burgeoned since opening last summer at Pearl and Green streets, though he is not yet distributing.

“We did 80 barrels the last quarter of last year,” he said. “It’s fun to still see a bunch of new people coming in the door.”

And Ames is not at all concerned about the prospect of the local micro-brewing scene becoming oversaturated.

“It’s honestly better to have a few in a geographic region,” he said, “because then you become a destination for outsiders.” 

Duke’s Alehouse & Kitchen, not far from the new Crystal Lake Brewing Co.’s location on Main Street in Crystal Lake, is perhaps the county’s most longstanding location for offering a variety of craft beers — with beers from throughout the Midwest and the world. There’s no dearth of consumer interest, said Tom Dycha, beverage manager since 2008.

“We do offer 21 on tap at all times,” Dycha said. “My bottle counts usually range from 140 to 170 at any given time.” 

At a time when many consumers are still watching their nickels, and given that craft brews are pricier products, what’s the appeal?

“It’s more flavorful and of higher quality,” Dycha said. “Compared to domestic beers, our sales are 80 percent craft, 20 percent domestic. The domestics did increase last year … I know a lot of micro breweries are starting to make more sessionable, lower-alcohol, easier-drinking beers – beers that are not too bold, but have a nice, crisp flavor with milder hops, milder malts. 

“I have to say that craft beer sales are still trending up.”

The curious are welcome to sample a small taste before diving into a bottle or glass. Duke’s present offerings range from Southern Tier 2XMAS at $3 for a 12-ounce bottle to Boulevard Rye-on-Rye for $25 for a 23-ounce bottle. Craft beers on tap go from about $4 to $9.50 a glass. The regularly updated beer menu is available at thedukeabides.com.

Sampling is equally available to the curious at Jasters Craft Beer and Winery, which opened Nov. 25 at 414 W. Virginia St., Crystal Lake.

Owners Adam and Melissa Harjung of Cary set out to give the location a 1920s speakeasy vibe, with a copper-hued tin ceiling, brick-faced walls, teal-upholstered booths and a handsome, handcrafted cherry and maple bar. 

What’s poured there, of course, is of chief importance, and at Jasters, customers can enjoy several dozen varieties of micro-brewed porters, India Pale Ales, Scotch Ales, stouts, lagers and more.

“I’d have to say 70 percent of our business is craft beer,” Adam Harjung said, adding that a lengthy fine wine list and specialty cocktails also are available.

Harjung and his general manager, Tanya Callaway, said they look forward to adding local brewing companies’ offerings to their list. 

The Midwest, they said, may have been a bit slow to the craft brew party, but the thirst grows.

The Crystal Lake Beer Co.’s Ross said he and O’Fallon are banking on it, and looking forward to a thriving taproom and distribution business, with an initial system capacity for producing up to 9,000 barrels annually.  

“It’s a passion for us,” Ross said. “It’s exciting and something we think Crystal Lake is lacking in, and we looked at it as an opportunity for the city as well as ourselves.”


By the numbers

6.5 percent: Craft brewing sales share in 2012 by volume

10.2 percent: Craft brewing sales share in 2012 by dollars

409: U.S. brewery openings in 2012

43: U.S. brewery closings in 2012

13.24 million: barrels* of craft brew sold in 2012

* One barrel = 31 U.S. gallons

Source: brewersassociation.org

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