Breweries in Bunches: NW suburban Huntley and Woodstock are home to a handful of some of the state’s more creative and comfortable craft breweries
By Trent Modglin
Kishwaukee Brewing Co.
1900 Dillard Court
Woodstock, IL 60098
What they’re known for: Kishwaukee founder and brewmaster Dan Payson learned his craft in Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest had a profound effect on him.
“The Seattle beer scene was a big influence for both of us,” Dan says of himself and his wife, Cara, who just celebrated the brewery’s third anniversary. “From West Coast IPAs to traditional German-style lagers, barrel fermentation and learning about cultures. We really learned to favor clean, traditional beer styles out there.”
Another fun fact: Dan’s architecture degree and six years of experience in the field made it possible for him to lead the design and hands-on construction for Kishwaukee’s initial buildout.
The Seattle beer scene was a big influence for both of us. … We really learned to favor clean, traditional beer styles out there.” — Dan Payson
What caught our eye: Kishwaukee is set back amidst an open field of greenery on the outskirts of Woodstock, and that’s not by mistake, as it was always intended to be a destination brewery where patrons could “enjoy the beer garden and not have to listen to traffic whizzing by,” and then walk through the large glass garage doors for another round when the weather is cooperating.
“Our venue has a simplicity in its structure with the beams and clean lines, and our beers are made much the same,” Dan says. “There’s a sense of commonality there. We don’t have to overdecorate… we just let the right things shine through.”
Food and beer: Pop-up food vendors of all kinds — a lot of them local — set up shop Wednesday-Sunday. Bar none, Kishwaukee’s Bufflehead brown ale is one of the best beers we’ve had this year. Sandhill lager is a popular flagship beer for them, and the Paysons made the commendable decision to have their Marzen on draft year round (Why isn’t this the norm?). They also are rolling out a new West Coast imperial IPA they’re very excited about.
From the brewery: “The phrase ‘We love beer so much you can taste it’ is kind of our thing, and we’ve always been focused on that idea since day one. — Co-owner Cara Payson
Holzlager Brewing Company
150F S. Eastwood Dr.
What they’re known for: Opened in September of 2019, Holzlager’s gained a solid reputation for their Hawaiian Hammer IPA with passionfruit, blood orange and guava. According to owner/brewer Travis Slepcevich, it’s not uncommon for people to swing in for a beer and not even realize they were stepping into the brewery that makes one of their favorite beers. They’re also one of the few breweries in the area with a nitro stout on draft.
“A lot of our customers really appreciate the employees and how kind they are and how they make them feel like they are at home,” Slepcevich adds.
Interestingly, the Covid pandemic forced Holzlager into packaging early than they had planned — albeit with small sealer equipment that thankfully arrived right before the shutdown — and distribution in Wisconsin (particularly Lake Geneva, the Dells and Milwaukee), which never fully closed, kept them alive during the pandemic.
What caught our eye: Housed in a former Ace Hardware that got subdivided into a strip mall, Holzlager was the first business to sign on and became the anchor for the entire building. If you’re hungry, their neighbors conveniently happen to be a pizza place and taco joint.
Inside, it’s an intimate, industrial space, and a plank wood wall and a corrugated metal wall are eye-catching for sure. A handful of tables, four TVs and a full bar take up most of the room, but there’s also a smaller bar that bellies up to the brewing area that’s rather unique.
We create our own water profile to try to replicate the water from the geographical location of where the beer style would generally be brewed to make things as authentic as possible.” — Travis Slepcevich
Sustainable brewing and water quality: We learned that Holzlager happens to practice sustainable brewing, where they make a habit of repurposing water in their products, creating less waste in the process. They also give all our spent grain to local farmers to be used as cattle feed, compost and natural fertilizer.
“We consider water the most important factor in good beer — we do lots of filtration and focus on the quality of the water,” Slepcevich tells us. “We also create our own water profile to try to replicate the water from the geographical location of where the beer style would generally be brewed to make things as authentic as possible.”
From the brewery: Launching the business just prior to the pandemic wasn’t easy, but Slepcevich credits a connection with the community as a big factor in being able to persevere.
“We’re still here to tell our story, so we did something right,” he says with a laugh. “I’m also really, really proud of our barrel-aging program. It’s small, but we’re doing well with it. Our focus is on imperial stouts, but other types are happening too.”
One of those happens to be an imperial cream ale in bourbon barrels with Door County cherries, which was introduced at FoBAB this November.
Mob Craft Beer
101 N. Johnson Street
Woodstock, IL 60098
What they’re known for: This rising star in the craft brewing community originally contract brewed out of Madison before opening up shop in Milwaukee seven years ago. Founders Henry Schwartz and Andrew Gierczak dreamt up the idea for the world’s first crowdsourced brewery, allowing fans the opportunity to turn their ideas into actual beer by way of seasonal competitions.
There has been an incredible amount of anticipation surrounding MobCraft’s expansion across the border into Woodstock, and for good reason. In total, it’s been a 28-month renovation project of a historic building, and they finally opened for business Nov. 16.
Mob Craft is located in the heart of Woodstock’s quaint town square in a historic former sheriff’s house, and the space is as unique as their crowdsourcing competitions.
What caught our eye: To put it simply, this location is ideal for a brewery, especially one with Mob Craft’s reputation. The new brewery is located on Woodstock’s quaint town square in the former sheriff’s house, just alongside an old courthouse that happens to be 150 years old.
We were lucky enough to get a sneak-peek tour at the end of September, and the space — consisting of a sprawling patio out front, a bright yellow first-floor bar area and a brick-walled basement taproom where the jail used to be — is as unique as their crowdsourcing competitions. Although MobCraft will get most of their beer shipped in from the Wisconsin facility, they will be utilizing tanks in the basement for creative small-batch projects.
On tap: A full bar and a total of 15 taps are available. Try the Out of Office ale, which is equal parts crisp and crushable, or the toasty Go Big or Go Home dobblebock. And keep an eye out for the chocolate stout they’ll be making in collaboration with the chocolate store across the street.
From the brewery: “I believe today, in the ever-crowded brewing space, that it takes more than just brewing great beer. I believe you need to create something that sets you apart. You need to create a destination. And that’s what we’ve done here in Woodstock.” — Jimmy Geallis, MobCraft general manager
Sew Hop’d Brewery
1 Union Special Plaza, Suite 113
What they’re known for: The building was originally an old dairy production facility built in 1907. Sew Hop’d shares the building now with Union Special, a manufacturer of industrial sewing machines with a history itself that dates back to 1881 and has been owned by Terry Hitpas and Lance Lamb since 2008. They bought the building in 2013 and, as world travelers who enjoyed drinking beer together, knew they had an ideal spot to open a brewery.
“Having a factory in the middle of the town is not the same as having a brewery,” Hitpas says with a smile.
Their lead brewer, Doug Vanderwalker, was previously an engineer at the sewing machine company who had spent time in the service in Germany and was a home brewer who utilized the kitchen above the factory to make some batches they’d share with employees.
“The backbone of Sew Hop’d has always been the beer,” says Lamb. ”That’s what is important to us. There is a lot of German influence, and it’s largely evolved into that, but we can do some pretty good IPAs too.”
We love the vibe that’s been created, and people say they can come in here and really feel at home. And that epitomizes what we’re shooting for.” — Co-owner Lance Lamb
What caught our eye: With the taproom, they managed to maintain a rustic warehouse appeal and combine it with a sleek, industrial look. Huge windows allow a ton of natural light in, and a big draw is the giant patio that seats 150 and and plays host to food trucks on the weekends year round.
Expansion last January created an additional room that houses shuffleboard tables, dart boards, private parties and bands on weekends. An exclusive mug club will be open to a limited number of new members this winter, so keep an eye on social media if you live in the area.
Brewing some award winners: As for beer, their pumpkin ale, which is made by adding pumpkin right into the boiling process, is served at nearby Goebbert’s Farm and Pumpkin Patch.
Brews to get your hands on ASAP include the Copperhead Trail helles bock, Cherry Funnel Cake Berliner weisse, Common Thread DDH triple IPA and the Fall Fest West Coast IPA. They also released their Kokua Project session IPA in the taproom in October in support of the Maui fire rebuilding effort.
Oh, and did we mention Vanderwalker and Sew Hop’d took home a gold medal in the German-style altbier category (for their Alt 140) at the Great American Beer Festival in September? Doesn’t get any bigger than that.
From the brewery: “The one thing we hear over and over is that we’re Huntley’s hometown brewery. We love the vibe that’s been created, and people say they can come in here and really feel at home. And that epitomizes what we’re shooting for.” — Co-owner Lance Lamb
13980 Automall Drive
What they’re known for: More Brewing quickly built a lofty reputation for hazy IPAs, fruited sours and stouts, and won medals early on that propelled their barrel program into the upper echelon of the market. More recently, their lagers have been gaining notice in the industry as well.
And in case you missed it, in just its sixth year in business, More opened its third location (this one in west suburban Bartlett, with the original in Villa Park) this summer to rave reviews. Quite the rooftop experience there, if you haven’t been. Executive chef Jonathan Jakubik has created quite an elevated menu too. More on that later.
More’s brewery in Huntley is housed in a former car dealership, and it’s gorgeous to say the least with two huge vaulted-ceiling dining rooms, a private party room, shaded patio, long bar and massive brewing facility.
Old car dealership, reinvented: More’s Huntley brewery, conveniently located just off 90 at the Route 47 exit, is housed in a former car dealership, and it’s gorgeous to say the least with two huge vaulted-ceiling dining rooms, a private party room, shaded patio, long bar and massive brewing facility.
“Taking over that building has done wonders for our brand,” says Ross Davis, director of general operations. “We were able to expand production, and with the increased space, we are able to hold a large number of barrels filled with all sorts of high-gravity beers that we love to age for extended periods of time.”
New food menu: What was already a great food menu got a “refresh” in October. A lot of favorites are thankfully sticking around, like the Wisconsin cheese curds, More burger, Nashville hot chicken sandwich and the Indian-inspired items, but they’ve added some twists to classics like the Chicago cheesesteak, done up with a giardiniera-infused cheese whiz, celery salt and sport peppers.
New higher-end entrees include the shrimp & scallop tagliatelle in a creamy lemon Cajun sauce and the masala lamb chops served with a mango and mint chutney, masala sauce and Mediterranean vegetable salad.
Don’t leave without trying the monster cookies. You and your sweet tooth will thank us later.
Upcoming beer releases: A batch of Roaming Elephant barrel-aged barleywine was aged 30 months in Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill and Baron 1792 barrels, and then there’s the return of Strawberry Banana Double Marbles. Both were released in October.
Not to be overlooked is a rum barrel-aged, tiki-inspired sour ale called The Soggy Dutchman, and a favorite lager returned in October called Huntley Helles, which is incredibly crisp with a malt backbone and soft bitterness to round it out.