SMALL DOWNSTATE BREWERY ATTRACTS NATIONAL ATTENTION
Century-old dairy farm now home to high-quality beer
About 100 miles south of Chicago (well beyond the limits of our craft beer menu), east of Pontiac, south of Dwight, and even 8 miles from Fairbury, cars are lined up on a country road and families are heading for a barn in a sprawling farmhouse. There is no doubt that your GPS led you to Emancipation Brewing because, well… there is literally Nothing elsewhere around.
The century-old barn, which had stood empty for a decade, housed dairy cattle for the last time. The milking parlor is now equipped with a 2-barrel brewing system. The barn’s grazing area – fittingly so – is now a tasting room. And on a recent Friday night, it was packed. Regulars swap stories at the bar, couples play board games at the tables, kids toss a soccer ball around the bins out back, and parents enjoy wood-fired pizza with beers literally rooted in the trees. fields around them.
It’s been four years since head brewer Lincoln Slagel and his parents, Don and Susan, opened the brewery on their family farm, but it took a unique outing to catch our attention.
“There was no water used to make this beer” they said on social media.
Brown’s Maple Ale is made from tree sap from a nearby farm and images of the brewing process are a reminder that fresh maple sap is thin and clear, not the thick, dark liquid we put on pancakes. Likewise, the beer wasn’t as sweet or thick as one would expect, but more of a well-balanced 7.5% dark ale with a maple flavor that isn’t overpowering. This is part of their Original Thoughts experimental small-batch series.
Although it takes up to 45 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, Slagel said it only contains about 2% sugar before boiling it. Changing the pH was essential, but otherwise “it was remarkably similar to brewing with our normal water from a process standpoint.”
“If I had brewed a standard dark beer, it would have been too sweet with even a little addition of syrup,” he added. “But the sap really made the difference. It added a depth that was never there and allowed for a smaller syrup to be added than expected which was great. I am extremely happy with it and it will certainly be a tradition.
By sampling other offerings, we found that Slagel not only keeps its beers true to its agricultural roots, but also true to its style: a cream beer, a golden beer, a hefeweizen, a hazy IPA and a session have all been selected. And with the exception of this dark ale, they all start with water from a 550-foot well on the property.
Then there’s their popular “Kolsch Night in the Boonies” service (the next will be on May 17), which is so successful that it is necessary to reserve. It became one of Slagel’s favorite events because “it does one of my favorite things in beer: bringing people together and making memories.”
“I believe the future of craft beer lies in unique, high-quality experiences and a return to our industrial roots – differentiating ourselves on quality, both in the beer we brew and in the experiences we we offer to our customers,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t follow trends or make crazy beers, it just means everything is done thoughtfully and to a high standard. For me, doing a Kolsch service has allowed us to not only brew delicious beer, but also to provide a complete beer experience that will educate our customers, leave a lasting impression, and most importantly, give them a fantastic time.
This attention to detail was evident during our visit: the staff is not only welcoming, but competent. Not just about the beer, but also about the brewery, the farm and the family behind it. They’ll tell you how the Slagels are an entrepreneurial family (yes, his cousins own Slagel Family Meats) and how an amber from a homebrew kit it all started seven years ago.
A graduate in business management and finance at North Central College, Slagel chose to do a senior project on starting a brewery, after being inspired by a roommate who was a member of a monthly beer club. Soon after, he was traveling with his wife to Germany to learn more and research recipes, later even learning that his great-grandfather was a hop farmer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. When they opened Emancipation Brewing, a relative unearthed the long-forgotten sign of this family farm – “Hop Pickers Wanted” – and it now hangs above the bar.
Slagel, 28, lives in Plainfield and with his wife, Kim, who also works full-time at the brewery, drives about 140 miles to and from the brewery.
“We started with the intention of offering a wide variety of styles, from classic European styles to modern American trends, but it’s not unique,” he said. “What seems unique to us is the way we present them. You won’t find any posh shades of IPA supremacy; you won’t feel bad if you don’t like imperial stouts or pastry sours. We don’t produce “token” beers like some trend-style breweries do when they have ten IPAs and a token lager.
“We think every style is as important as the next, even if it’s an ‘uncool’ style that doesn’t sell well. It will remain someone’s favorite beer and we won’t sell it short. Our goal is not to make our customers drink IPAs and stouts, but to make them drink their favorite beers, whatever they are. We don’t want to be gatekeepers; we just want to brew the best possible beers and present them on their own merits.
They have grown enough to now prepare canned offers under contract to Destihlwhich allowed them to self-distribute in some stores, bars and restaurants upstate, but also in places like Bottle theory at Elmhurst, orange and beer at Downers Grove and In-flight tasting room and bottle shop in Yorkville.
Yet the Slagels stay true to their rural roots – thoughtfully and strategically developing Emancipation Brewing while remaining grounded in their home rather than a more populated area. “We view its remote location as a feature, not a bug. It’s a wonderful destination, and although the lack of population density can be a problem, especially in bad weather for example, it is worth offering people a retreat, a place where they can go outside the beaten path,” he said.
“Growing up here, I didn’t see the beauty of it. But when we started looking for a location, it quickly became clear that the family farm was the perfect place. Thinking of it not as a place to work, but as a place where people would hang out with family and friends made me see it in a whole new light. I started noticing the sunsets, which have become a signature aspect of our outdoor space, as well as the beautiful hills, distant tree lines, and even the adjacent corn and bean fields, which add something to the atmosphere. ‘experience.
No more guys drinking beer
30 breweries. 18 holes of golf. A great “Chicago Brews Back” event.
August 1, 2023
2023 Beer World Cup winners in the Midwest
May 16, 2023
Sunsets and Sap Beers: A Brewery Trip Emancipation Brewing Company
May 10, 2023
Bell’s Hazy Hearted IPA: I like it, but…
April 24, 2023