Breweries in Bunches: The Bloomington-Normal area is bursting at the seams with a half dozen popular craft breweries that offer a little bit of everything
By Trent Modglin
Destihl Brewery & Beer Hall
1200 Greenbriar Drive in Normal
Details: This is one of the more impressive breweries we’ve encountered anywhere. Truly, it is. Opened in 2017, this production brewery, beer hall and private-event space sits on six acres, covers some 47,000 square feet and features 30 taps and American-inspired pub fare. We’re talking three different rooms, ample event space inside and out, and a cavernous brewing facility that leaves tour participants slack-jawed. And a pond with ducks. Can’t forget the ducks.
Founder and CEO Matt Potts, who started home brewing in 1995, left a career in law to open Destihl in 2007. Not to be confused with the brewery and beer hall is the company’s original venue, Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works, which is a full-service restaurant (with a sparkling new patio) located at 318 South Towanda Avenue in Normal.
Destihl’s production brewery, beer hall and private-event space sits on six acres, covers 47,000 square feet and features 30 taps and American-inspired pub fare.
What they’re known for: The venue is impressive, to be sure, but so is the food and beer (the latter of which is available in nearly 40 states these days). They have a motto — “Support flavor and boycott bland” — and that holds true with both the beer and food menus, with offerings like a creole seafood pot pie, Korean beef tacos and a Sunday fried chicken dinner.
Their Deadhead IPA series has exploded, and Destihl’s wild sour program is on the rise too. Live music is big at Destihl, focusing on a variety of musical genres, and their Tour Bus Concert Series pulls in large crowds. They also host regular events like yoga sessions, classes and markets.
What caught our eye: The sheer size and beauty of the venue, which boasts three distinctly different spaces (dining room, bar area and barrel room). Beyond the beer, you’ll find hard seltzers, hard ciders and wines — all made in house. The Peach Wheat and Hawaii Five Ale tempted our taste buds, and the barrel room and courtyard patio are ideal for a private party.
From the brewery: “The Deadhead series has been so big for us. The fact we won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the most-entered category is just huge. We’re also undergoing a massive expansion right now too, doubling our canning line and adding nine new fermentors. The goal is to double production from last year. We have huge things coming our way and couldn’t be more excited.” — Brewing operations manager Catie Wiesch
White Oak Brewing
1801 Industrial Park Dr. in Normal
Details: Co-owner Bryan Ballard started brewing his own beer in college at NIU, and even more in law school, learning the process from his dad, who admittedly wasn’t very good. Ballard and his dad opened The Hop Shoppe in 2011, selling brewing supplies before the brewery (2015) and tap room (2016) became a reality years later. Ballard’s background in law helped push through new legislation to allow tap room licenses in Normal.
“Waiting to get through the red tape and get our liquor license forced us to start with the difficult part first,” says Ballard, who grew up in the same neighborhood as the brewery. “And while it wasn’t great at the time, focusing on making good beer before moving forward with the rest of the business was beneficial for us in the end.”
What they’re known for: Hazy IPAs immediately come to mind, especially Cannonball Comin’ — an ode to Bill Murray’s character in the movie Caddyshack. “We don’t see ourselves as the kind of the kind of brewery that would have a flagship beer or two, but our hazy IPAs and the Holla Atcha blonde ale, by default and by sales, have become our best sellers,” says Ballard, who shares ownership with Scott Schahrer and Mark Reichert. “But it’s important for us to do a variety of stuff.”
“It’s important for us to do a variety of stuff. … We’re not flashy. We enjoy doing our own thing and making better beer than the day before.” — White Oak Brewing’s Bryan Ballard
What caught our eye: The picnic table-laden space in front of the brewery is fantastic, and the fact the brewery is nestled in amongst a quiet neighborhood adds a certain charm. And a lot of regulars come from the neighborhood and the surrounding areas, as all three owners have roots in Normal and are well-connected in the industry.
From the brewery: “We’re not flashy. We quietly keep our head down and enjoy doing our own thing and making better beer than the day before.” — Co-owner and head brewer Bryan Ballard
Keg Grove Brewing Company
712 E. Empire Street in Bloomington
Details: Co-owner and head brewer Jeff Mroz, a former elementary school teacher, doesn’t remember what the driving force behind wanting to open his own brewery was exactly, other than a desire to brew beer and teach people about various styles.
“Originally, the idea of doing our own thing seemed too big, and it felt like we weren’t there yet because we were brewing out of my driveway and giving it away for free, but the the amount we were making was moving, and our parties kept progressing,” says Mroz, who got his start at the Hop Shoppe, the supply store owned by Bryan Ballard, now of White Oak Brewing. The compliments on his beer kept progressing too. Finally, while bottling cases of his beer at 1 a.m. for a friend’s wedding the next day, it hit him. It was time for a brewery.
And while it didn’t happen overnight, it did happen. A local brewfest in town provided a much-needed boost during the buildout process, giving Mroz and co-owner Tyler Cox the confidence that four of their core beers were a hit.
It doesn’t take long to recognize how comfortable the Keg Grove taproom is, as they “put a lot of thought into the neighborhood bar concept.”
What they’re known for: Holey Jeans blueberry American wheat and a level of approachability when it comes to their overall beer lineup. Mroz and his crew originally brewed Holy Jeans for their wives, many of whom didn’t drink beer before, and it ended up spawning an entire fruit/wheat series for Keg Grove. It’s named for a friend of theirs who purchased jeans with holes already in them, and led to many more wheat ales being named after clothing items like Flannel Thong, Pear of Chaps and Sleeveless Tuxedo, to name a few. The Duke, a smooth cream ale that is going to be rebranded soon, was another guiding force, and we enjoyed the crisp kolsch called Lighten Up Francis on a recent visit.
Mroz and Cox also host the Two Beers In podcast, often recorded from a room above the brewery with a vending machine that, much to our delight, happens to spit out random blue-collar beers (think PBR and the High Life) for a quarter.
What caught our eye: Centrally located in Bloomington, and tucked away in one of the original neighborhoods in town, you could easily miss Keg Grove the first time if your GPS wasn’t turned on. But once you find it, you’ll notice how comfortable the taproom is, as they “put a lot of thought into the neighborhood bar concept.”
Fun fact: Keg Grove gets a lot of business from those who jog and bike along the nearby Constitution Trail that runs from Normal and Bloomington.
From the brewery: “We do what we can to support the community, partnering up with local organizations and starting our own golf event. We did 60 charity events in one year. This thing is bigger than us, and it should be. We’re thankful for our supporters and want to give back as much as we can.” — Co-owner Jeff Mroz
Fiala Brothers Brewery & Beer Hall
127 E. Beaufort Street in Normal
Details: Steve and Ryan Fiala grew up in NW suburban Morton Grove and went to college at Illinois State University, where they laid down roots, working in the restaurant industry for 15 years in Normal and Champaign. Steve, who started brewing in his garage a dozen years ago and really enjoyed the process, got serious about partnering with his two brothers (the third is a doctor in Chicago) and opening a brewery — and after years of planning, engineering issues and Covid-related delays, Fiala Brothers opened in the busy uptown Normal district in August of 2022.
Close to Illinois State’s campus, Fiala Brothers gets a mix of local beer enthusiasts and students and offers a second bar upstairs along with a mezzanine and unique rooftop (it turns out craft beer goes well with sunsets). On draft you’ll find a total of 18 rotating guest taps, featuring a lot of local stuff, and six beers of their own.
What they’re known for: Plenty of craft beer, but also alternatives like Old Style and Modelo for those leaning more mainstream, as well as an increasingly impressive selection of whiskey, which has led to popular tasting events.
Their food truck-style kitchen focuses on gourmet-style grilled cheese sandwiches, and it’s worth noting that the Fialas own D.P. Dough, a highly regarded calzone spot, next door if you want to order in.
What caught our eye: The massive garage door in the front that opens when the weather cooperates adds a lot of character, as do the high ceilings, brick and wood walls, exposed tanks and seating at the bar that combine to create a stylishly industrial feel. And that rooftop is so enticing, even on a 50-degree day in March when we visited.
From the brewery: “We are proud to have gotten through the construction and having been able to get everything done during Covid— and we would up with a beautiful place we are proud of with a great bunch of people and brewing a bunch of different stuff.” — Co-owner Steve Fiala
Lil Beaver Brewery
5 Finance Drive in Bloomington
Details: Lil Beaver originally opened in January of 2017 in what they describe as “a seriously small, tight space,” and outgrew it fairly fast. In 2020, they were able to purchase the entire building and expand the brewery, adding tanks, moving the canning line into its own space, and building out the patio and full kitchen.
What they’re known for: Being open seven days a week, for starters. Also, their “crazy amount of beers,” with a wide selection to fit any taste, including 30 on draft and 10 more available in their outside bar. A total of 35 are from Lil Beaver and five ciders are courtesy of Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill in Michigan. “You can’t overlook our seltzers,” says business manager Brandon Ciasnocha. “They aren’t your typical seltzers. Ours have lots of flavor, and are quite popular in the summer.”
“We pride ourselves on our variety. We keep our seasonal and flagships year round, but our constantly changing tap list is what we’ve become known for.” — Lil Beaver’s Brandon Ciasnocha
Wainbows, a New England-style pale ale, and their Dad Jokes black IPA — of which they’ve brewed 10 different volumes so far — are staples off the beer list.
They have a large food menu as well, starting things off with shareables like fried pickle chips with a side of chili lime ranch or cauliflower bites tossed in a Korean BBQ sauce. Salads, nine-inch personal pizzas and a host of panini, sandwich and smash burger selections — kids and vegan options too — abound. Their birria tacos are known to attract hungry customers from all across central Illinois.
What caught our eye: The coveted beer garden with picnic tables and string lights adds a lot. A unique element that draws attention outside is the full bar made from a converted a shipping container. The sheer size of the food menu is impressive as well.
From the brewery: “The biggest thing is our variety. It’s never just IPAs or stouts. We have 12 different tanks, and we pride ourselves on our variety. We keep our seasonal and flagships year round, but our constantly changing tap list is what we’ve become known for. We want to make it fun for people and make sure they’re not drinking the same thing over and over again.” — Business manager Brandon Ciasnocha
Casper Brewing Company
3807 Ballybunion Road in Bloomington
Details: A family-oriented brewery specializing in traditional German styles and international favorites, Casper Brewing Company is situated on the edge of The Links at Ireland Grove golf course near the Bloomington airport. Owner David Casper, an organic chemist, spent better than 15 years developing beer recipes before opening Casper Brewing in December of 2021.
What they’re known for: Authentic European styles. The Merry Hoppins extra special bitter, Fawkes’ Sake British brown ale and Czech pilsner caught our attention off the draft list. Things stay busy at Casper with weekly events that include trivia on Mondays, Mingo (musical Bingo) on Tuesdays, Books and Brews on Wednesday and a Euchre club on Thursdays.
What caught our eye: A solid selection on tap, including 18 beers, flavored hard seltzers, wine and craft sodas. Casper boasts a decent-sized patio with string lights that overlooks part of the nearby golf center.