As recently as last year, St. Charles was home to a grand total of zero breweries.
Soon, that number will have rapidly ballooned to four.
For those counting at home, that’s a lightning-quick transition from craft beer desert to what could arguably now be considered the Brewery Capital of the Western Suburbs. Recent announcements informed us that the existing Riverlands Brewing and D&G Brewing taprooms will soon be joined by Polyanna Brewing (third location) and Alter Brewing (second location), both reportedly on riverfront properties.
This is, of course, great news for area beer enthusiasts. And although these newcomers are established names in Chicagoland’s bustling beer scene (for good reason), they’ll have some catching up to do when it comes to matching Riverlands' growing popularity — it seems to have quickly developed a passionate local following as a laid-back, community-oriented brewery.
As is often the case with non-urban taprooms, Riverlands took a space within a nondescript, commercial/industrial strip and transformed it into a social destination. If the sizeable family-friendly Sunday crowd we encountered is sufficient evidence, the conversion appears to have been executed without a hitch.
Prior to the visit, I had already been introduced to Riverlands via a few birthday gift crowlers, so the river-themed ambiance came as no surprise. I’ll tell you what, though — from the sharp-looking, barrel-base wooden tables to the wall that consists solely of restored wood from an old barn — this place really nails its intended vibe.
Atmosphere and Staff
Intentional or not, the environment they’ve cultivated caters to a wide audience, which has probably helped drive the brewery’s initial success. It seems to have struck an excellent balance: it’s clean without seeming sterile; well-lit, yet homey and relaxing; and modern, but in a refurbished-rustic-log-cabin kind of way.
There’s plenty of room to stretch your legs, grab beers at the bar, or lollygag around and check out the intriguing artwork on the walls. It’s bar-serve only (no server, no problem is my motto) and bring-your-own-food. We hit up the food truck in the parking lot, and my only minor gripe about the whole experience was shelling out $30+ on two orders of meh-tasting tacos.
Styles Available: Riverlands wasted no time in hopping on the hazy train, with several New England-style ales dotting the menu. There were a few options for those who prefer dark and malty, as well a standard farmhouse and a fruity sour. Traditional German styles were conspicuously absent.
For the Hop Heads: Vic Secret, El Dorado and Citra hops join forces to form the River Rascal, an Imperial New England that was surprisingly mild for its 8-percent ABV.
For the Dark Beer Folks: The First Catch of the Day is aptly described as “breakfast in a glass.” Two different types of coffee, plus hints of maple and vanilla. Not my ideal cup of joe, but I’m sure stout lovers will disagree vehemently.
For the Serious Snobs: Labeling it as snobby would be inaccurate, since the Pulp Tart: Peach (a light Berliner Weisse sour) will refresh weathered drinkers and total novices alike.
For the People Who Are Going to Ask “What Tastes the Most like Bud Light?”: It’s summer. You’re sweaty and tired. Reach for a Premium Lager and quench your thirst, my friend.
My Favorite: Pride of the Fox — at a time when we’re so saturated with poor imitations of the New England style, it was a relief to taste a hazy pale ale that’s executed to perfection.
I now fully understand why this is one of the in-laws’ (can I use that term even though we’re not married?) favorite new breweries; it certainly met the lofty expectations they set forth.
In terms of the future, all signs indicate that there is plenty of demand in the St. Charles area to support four quality breweries beginning in 2020. I’ll even put my money where my mouth is — if I stop by Riverlands on a Saturday afternoon come February to find it half-empty, I’ll do an impromptu polar plunge and jump in the Fox River.
Then revitalize myself with a tasty, body-warming Pride of the Fox.
A recap from the Kane County Chronicle on Riverlands’ grand opening celebration this past March.