Check out Lunar Brewing
Here on Local Beet, we have written about excellent, and not-so-excellent, brewpubs as far-flung as Benton Harbor, Milwaukee and Madison. But since we just had Earth Day, April 22, so the message to our Chicago-area readers has to be … drink local (at least that’s what editor-at-large Rob insisted, in a rather pointed e-mail). (Or maybe that should be “drink locally.” I’ve mourned the death of –ly ever since the first time someone told me, upon departing, to “drive safe.” Since when did someone decide to let adjectives masquerade as adverbs?)
Fortunately, it gives me an excuse to write about a small, local brewpub that doesn’t get as much recognition as local faves Goose Island, Revolution, or even Piece. And unlike the more far-flung brewpubs, it doesn’t require a multi-hour drive, spewing carbon monoxide, and who knows what else, into our already-sufficiently-challenged atmosphere.
Plus, you’ve got to love a place that (probably inadvertently) named one of its beers after a potent toxin.
The Red Moon Rye-Sin at Lunar Brewing (54 E. St. Charles Road, Villa Park, IL) is nothing like the ricin that certain extremists were threatening to deliver through the mail several years ago. A bit of ricin, half the size of a grain of sand, can be fatal. On the other hand, an entire pint of Rye-Sin can help make you a little bit happier. As the name suggests, it’s a beer that incorporates malted rye as well as barley. With 20% to 30% rye, it doesn’t have as much rye character as a roggenbier, but the smooth rye spiciness complements the caramel and other malts that give it its red color.
Ratebeer recently named Lunar Brewing as the 23rd best brewpub in the world – among Midwestern joints, it only trailed Benton Harbor’s Livery, slightly. It outscored other popular local brewpub favorites, like Three Floyds (# 25) and Flossmoor Station (#26).
And it’s an authentic neighborhood bar – not some sleek, pretentious suburban Disney-fied idea of what a modern brewpub should look like. (Said Brad, behind the bar, “No white tablecloths here. Actually, no tablecloths of any kind.”) It has been a classic corner tavern in Villa Park for about 60 years, and it looks like what you’d expect from from an old local joint. But in addition to the grizzled regulars, you’ll find a few in-the-know beer geeks savoring its unique creations.
Lunar didn’t begin brewing its beers until May 1996. Its small 1.5 barrel brewhouse turns twice a week, keeping its three-barrel fermenting tanks full. (One barrel = 31 gallons.) Brewmaster Jim Filisko likes to turn out a wide variety of beers — most recently, he’s introduced his 600th brew, cleverly named Batch 600.
Keeping with the Lunar theme, the flagship beer is a 6.3% ABV IPA named Moondance. Nicely hoppy, with a long finish. But it’s overshadowed by the (difficult-to-brew, premium-priced) amazingly smooth, rich, barrel-aged version of Moondance, redolent with aromas of caramel and Bourbon. I wanted to take a growler of this home … until I found out that growler prices are based on prices by the glass. That’s not bad for Lunar’s normal-gravity beers. But even bringing my own 1/2 gallon growler bottle, $46 is a bit much for a growler of the barrel-aged Moondance, to this cheap bastard. (It’s probably better all the way around, as the bartender said there wasn’t much left, and they wanted to be able to keep it on tap as long as possible. It may not still be available now … but I’m betting Jim will make another batch.)
I went home with a growler of the Red Moon Rye-Sin, comparably priced with most growlers from others of the region’s great brewpubs.
July 20 will be a special day for Lunar. As the 41st anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, go there and taste the brand new Apollo Red Ale. Or don’t wait ‘til then. You don’t need to wait until July 20 to drink local – ly.