Craft Brewing Bubbles Up In Illinois

Mar 15, 2019

The Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers reports Illinois had 54 operating breweries in 2011. By 2017 that number had risen to 200. Reed Sjostrom is co-founder and brewery director of Prairie Street Brewing Company in Rockford. Sjostrom attributes part of craft brewing's popularity to younger drinkers.

"From what I can tell, they are much more apt to buy local, to drink local and support local businesses in general," Sjostrom said.

Todd McLester owns the Hairy Cow Brewing Company in Byron. McLester attributes part of his brewpub's early success to the internet.

"Other than word of mouth we've strictly been social media so far," McLester said. "We did a Kickstarter three years ago and started using Instagram and Facebook. We've gathered a following through social media and we really have done no advertising at all."

McLester also found the craft brewing community to be closely connected and willing to help him get his business off the ground.

"Everyone has been super helpful," McLester said. "One of the first people I told was Steve Lenox, the head brewer at Prairie Street. I told him, 'I'm thinking of building a brewpub in Byron.' And he said, 'You need a consultant don't you?"

2017 U.S. beer sales reached $111.4 billion, according to the Brewers Association. Craft brewing made up $26 billion of American beer sales or more than 23 percent of the market. McLester believes there's still room for growth. 

"Some of the folks who got in just to make money might fall off," McLester said. "You've looked at the Brewers Association stats, and the number of breweries that open each year to the number that close isn't big. But it has grown."

A beer flight at Hairy Cow Brewing Company in Byron.

Steve Byers hopes to have Byers Brewing Company up and running in downtown DeKalb this summer. Byers feels the community will play an important role in his brewery.

"This is home," Byers said. "I've lived all over DeKalb County. I brought my family back here after college and this has really been the only option."

Byers also thinks that craft brewing can play an important role in the development of the community.

"A lot of my business plan has been focused on drawing people to DeKalb," Byers said. "DeKalb has seen better times in past years. It's time to revitalize DeKalb and to bring people out here. "

Byers believes the area could sustain three or four breweries. He just hopes residents are as hyped about hops as craft brewers like him.