There’s More to Bourbannais than the Bears

October 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

Tom Keith

What do you do when you have a couple of hours to kill before going to The Local Beet’s Farm Dinner? You get to the farm early and help Melissa, Michael and Rob set up, right?

Naw. I hung out at a brewpub. Brickstone Brewery, in Bourbonnais, was right along the route.

Everyone has personal biases. For a brewpub, or even a beer bar, I like an old, maybe slightly grungy, well-worn appearance. Perhaps the best, most authentic version I’ve ever been to is McSorley’s in New York, serving beer since 1854 (and serving women, only since 1970 [no, you can’t order off the menu and have them bring a woman to your table. But if you happen to be a woman, and want a beer, you would’ve been out of luck at the McSorley’s of 1969.]). But the beer list there (“light” or “dark”) sucks.

In Chicago, I love the atmosphere at the Map Room, the Hopleaf, and Quenchers, to name a few. I’m on record as being a big fan of The Livery, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Silver Creek, in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. All with a decent grunge factor.

So when I see slick façade in a suburban shopping area like Brickstone (or like St. Francis Brewery, in St. Francis, Wisconsin, just south of Milwaukee), my suspicious hackles are immediately raised.


Inside Brickstone, it got worse. Entering, I saw a nice, clean room, accented by stone walls (again, similar to St. Francis). Unlike my Chicago faves, I couldn’t ever imagine someone regurgitating on the floor here. This can’t lead to a good beer experience, can it?

Well, maybe. When I think of Chicago-area towns with brewpubs, Bourbonnais is not the first place that comes to mind. And it shouldn’t be. But based on this visit, it should certainly be in the top five, or ten, anyway.

Per our usual procedure, we got a sampler.

l to r, back row: 557 Light Lager, Cherry Ale (they were almost out of it), Blonde Ale, American Pale Ale, Golden Promise IPA, Robust Porter
front: Replic Ale, Forbidden Wheat, Heady Betty Double IPA, Irish Red, Belgian Dubbel

I was surprised by the 557 Light Lager. It’s obviously their offering for the basic BudMillCoors drinker, but it had a genuine hopiness, both in the aroma and the flavor. It takes guts on their part to offer a beer with real taste to drinkers who are used to drinking thin, watery dishwater.

I was also surprised by the Cherry Ale. This ain’t no robust Cherry Ale like New Glarus’ outstanding Wisconsin Belgian Red. Instead, think of it as the bastard child of Bud Light and Cherry Kool-Aid. At best, it’s a beer for people (not to be sexist, but mostly young women) who don’t really like beer.

The standout of the afternoon was the Double IPA (although, admittedly, I’m a hop-head). They claimed it chimed in at 80 IBUs, but I would have guessed 50 or 60. (For reference, most lawnmower beers are in the 8 – 10 IBU [International Bitterness Units] range – a measure of the beer’s bitterness from hops.) Still, the hops were the star of the show. At 9.0% ABV, it’s a big beer, but it retains a bit of sweet maltiness to balance the hops. I could go for even more hops, but I did like it as it was.

Sadly, the Replic Ale, another highlight, may not be long for this world. It was created for the Illinois Craft Brewers’ Guild’s Alefest last July – an event in which many breweries are challenged to create their own takes on a specific beer style – in this year’s case, Belgian Wit. At that event, there were many good wit-style beers – it was fascinating to compare them. There was no one winner, nor should there have been, but Brickstone’s was among the best I sampled. And re-sampling it at the restaurant/brewery, its lemony, herbaceous character made for a beer that I could have drunk all afternoon – if I didn’t need to get down to the Local Beet Farm Dinner. Our server said there were no plans to make it a permanent menu item.

Based on a single visit with a single server, though, I was impressed. Asking questions about hop varieties, grains used, and mashing techniques, the bartender – who suggested he worked there only part-time – had credible, informed answers for 3/4 of my questions. And for those that stumped him, he texted the brewmaster, and got back to me within minutes, if not seconds.

Everything else I tried there would suggest a trip down to Bourbannais might be a good idea, even if it’s not Bears training camp season.

Brickstone Brewery
557 William Latham Drive
Bourbonnais, IL 60914