When it comes to beer in the States, sadly, the masses really aren't looking for something unique, memorable, or of notable quality. They want their simple, adjunct-reliant, lager impostors. That's because the masses aren't connoisseurs of our favorite malty nectar and haven't taken to the plethora of fantastic microbrewed beers currently available. No, unfortunately they gravitate toward beers that are mass produced in towns that have become known for their multi-billion barrel brewing facilities. For the rest of us, however, these well-known areas and big name brews just wont cut it. There's a definite appeal to the small town vibe when it comes to microbrewing, for it is there that local creative flare can come together with time-tested recipes and give birth to American-made interpretations of the classics, or entirely new styles not yet seen in the world of beer brewing. The small town also gives rise to local fan bases that take pride in their home town brewsand these fans often regard their favorite beers as an important commodity not simply for export and profit, but for local privilege. We applaud these small town craftspeople, and appreciate any opportunity to share their local liquid treasures.
The small town of Elmwood, IL, located about 25 miles west of Peoria, is home to the only brewery in central Illinois, the Elmwood Brewing Company. With an area of about 1.2 square miles and a population of approximately 1900 people, the EBC is one of the towns largest employers, with about 20 employees. And for quite a while, the only folks who could enjoy Elmwoods fine beers were locals and visitors who patronized EBC's Brew pub. Thankfully, the brewery has recently begun bottling their malted tonics and distribution has moved beyond the town itself, though still not readily available outside of Illinois, which makes their appearance in the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club a special treat.
When we opened a brew pub and restaurant we always had a plan to expand the business into microbrewing, says Matthew C. Potts, brewery founder, co-owner, and Brewmaster. Like many other microbrewery founders in the nation, he got a fairly unlikely start in the business. In the summer of 1991, between graduating from the University of Illinois and attending DePaul College of Law in Chicago, Potts started drinking Killians Red instead of other cheap domestics while out with friends. As he puts it, it really opened my eyes to quality beers. Sometime after this eye-opening experience, his wife bought him a home-brew kit as a Christmas present, and his brewing experience began, along with a heightened interest in the brewing industry. In his own words, I started making beers and thought Boy, this is good stuff. Much better than anything you can buy in the store.
Once out of law school, he started practicing law with his uncle in Elmwood, IL. Though he still had the brewing bug, and began thinking about founding a brewpub in town. Over time, he developed a rapport with his clients and ultimately, a couple of them decided to invest in the brewpub concept. When a once grand building built in 1896 in the town square went up for auction in 1997, Potts purchased it. Along with principal business partner, David J. Howard, Potts began much needed renovations on the structure that would become the Elmwood Brewing Company and Brewpub. Howard, an Elmwood native who pulls triple duty serving as Chef, restaurant General Manager, and company Vice President, holds a culinary arts degree and is an award-winning chef, having won the Gold medal in the American Culinary Federation 2000 Regional Conference Culinary Competition. The completely renovated building officially opened as a restaurant in November of 2001, the same time it began offering its handcrafted brews.
Like his partner, Potts also has quite a few responsibilities. Aside from roles as company President, Co-owner, and Brewmaster, he still practices law three days a week, from Monday to Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday you can find him at the brewpub.
For more information about the brewpub, brewery and scheduled tours, call (309) 742-4200 or check out their web site at http://www.elmwoodbrewing.com.