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It's All About the Beer

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It's All About the Beer

Take a drink ... just one drink and you will understand why locally brewed craft beers are all the rage in the Meeting of the Great Rivers.

Check out Hibiscus Tart or Barley Wine beer among the seasonal beers at the region's newest brewery, Old Bakery Beer Co. Or follow the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway to Grafton and enjoy American Wheat or Colaweizen at the Grafton Winery & Brewhaus's brew pub. Both establishments brew on site and both have discovered their niche in the blooming craft beer market.

Craft Beer Week is May 10-17, 2019. Don't miss it!

Grafton Winery & Brewhaus Were First

Believe it or not, wine isn’t for everyone. That realization prompted Mike and Lori Nikonovich, the owners of Grafton Winery, to add a brewhaus to their highly successful and award winning winery in Grafton.

“We were the first winery in Illinois to get a Beer Manufacturing License and at the time, it was very unusual for a winery to offer beer as an option to wine,” Mike Nikonovich said. ”But we wanted to have something to offer the people who don’t like wine. We wanted our own beer.”

In August of 2009, the Grafton Brewhaus brewpub opened at the winery. Two tanks made up the newly formed craft brewery and dark wheat and pilsner beers were served. As the brewery caught on with customers at the winery, the choices of beers and number of tanks on site increased. There are now five tanks and the brewery is ready to expand to kegging its beers.

“We are now able to focus more on beers,” Nikonovich said. “We haven’t really promoted ourselves as a microbrewery. Now is our opportunity to do more with beer.”

The brewhaus, located on the main floor of the winery, offers a relaxed setting to sample the locally made craft beers.  Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the brew pub satisfies Nikonovich’s desire to offer a unique venue and beer that isn’t available anywhere else.  The Brewhaus beer is also available upstairs at the Winery and at the Grafton Winery The Vineyards location.

All beers are handcrafted on site and served in 16 ounce draft pints. The Grafton Brewhaus now has nine selections available to customers including American Pilsner, Bock Dark, American Wheat, Red Ale, Nut Brown, Stout, India Pale Ale, Shandy and Colaweizen.

“Our beers are really basic beers,” Jason Wood, Grafton Brewhaus production assistant and head brewer pointed out.

Still, they aren’t afraid to offer unusual blends of beer at a customer’s request. A customer at the winery was the impetus for the now popular Colaweizen beer, according to Nikonovich.
“We had a guest request the colaweizen. It is basically soda added to beer. It’s an old German tradition where you add something sweet to something that is bitter. Each soda brings a unique flavor to the beer. Colaweizen’s are blended manually to the customer’s taste,” he added.
Craft beer has a future in the Great Rivers, Nikonovich said. “Brew pubs are really the future.  When our brew pub is open, our beer outsells any other domestic beer we have on hand. I’m really surprised it has gone over so well.”

Craft Beer Paradise

When James Rogalsky and Lauren Pattan opened the doors of their new craft brewery in Alton, they weren’t sure what to expect.

Old Bakery Beer Company, the region’s newest craft beer brewery, and its accompanying restaurant has since become a focal point in the regional craft beer landscape. Housed in the former Colonial Bakery Building, the phantom scents of baked bread mingle with the aroma of the restaurant and the brewing beer.

And the beer, crafted by James Rogalsky, has been embraced by the local community, the region, and visitors.

“For us, it’s more than just being fulfilled running a restaurant and brewery,” Lauren Pattan explains. “It’s an opportunity to help build a community around it and to help the area. The most rewarding conversations we have had are when people say they moved to Alton because we have a craft brewery here.”

James Rogalsky, the company’s brewmaster, has created the area’s only certified organic brewery and has crafted 38 different beers over the last two years. The beers are created using exclusively  American malt and hops primarily grown in the Midwest. That’s a big deal, the couple maintains, since nationwide many beers are created using European grains. The restaurant also focuses on sustainability with its menu highlighting locally sourced foods including produce and meat.

Old Bakery Beers are also being distributed throughout Illinois and parts of Missouri, an effort that is a bit ahead of the couple’s plan for the brewery.

“Distribution has really taken off,” Lauren said. “When we started canning the beer, we saw several beers selling exceedingly well. Our Citrus Wheat is overall the most popular.”

With seasonal beers like “Gentle Giant”, a tribute to Alton’s legendary Robert Wadlow, Hibiscus Tart, Oktoberfest and Timor Coffee Red Ale, coupled with year round brews of Porter, Golden Oat and The Observer, Old Bakery Beer has found its niche in the market.

“We have a lot of repeat customers. And it’s been great. I like getting to talk to the customers and it’s rewarding to pour my own beer and watch them enjoy it,” Rogalsky noted.

While Old Bakery Beer Company is not the first, or even the only craft brewery in the area, it has sparked interest in craft beers and has become a trendsetter in the region.

“Just since we’ve opened, there are restaurants and bars in town that are focusing more on craft beers. A lot of places are really embracing it and that is fulfilling,” Rogalsky said.