Miskatonic Brewing in Darien, Illinois brews beers best described by one word - unforgettable.
Trust me. I know.
A week before Thanksgiving, I had a night to myself to finally enjoy a beer or two (or three). I had just finished a long week of writing for the magazine and a slew of other “bill-paying” assignments, so I desired a night to relax. I wasn’t going to Miskatonic in order to research the beer. I wasn’t going there to write about the beer. I wasn’t going to do anything that required me to work. I simply wanted to enjoy beer for a night.
Unfortunately, Miskatonic had the audacity to serve me a wealth of beers so good and so unique that I found myself taking pictures and asking my bartender a bevy of questions, which led to an exchange of business cards, and then an interview of Miskatonic Brewing co-founders/owners, Josh Mowry (Brewery Manager) and John Wyzkiewicz (Head Brewer).
I tried to simply enjoy my beer, but the beer was so good and brewery so cool, I couldn’t help but tell the world about it…So, here I am.
After talking to Josh and John, I can tell you that their passion is palpable. They are not kids in a candy store, they are the kids running the candy store and they can make anything they want. When you talk to them you come away knowing one thing – they LOVE what they do. Their enthusiasm is impossible to miss, and it explains why they are making superbly crafted beer.
Josh and John bring to Miskatonic a wealth of experience, including stints at Two Brothers Brewery, Goose Island, and Gordon Biersch. Their history alone could provide for an interesting chapter or two of a good book. Suffice it to say, that from lagers to ales, to canning and distribution, these two guys, collectively, have done it all. Because of that, they opened a brewery with a clear vision and plan that’s resulted 1) in a brewery that’s pleasing a variety of beer drinkers, from craft-beer savants to craft-beer virgins and 2) in a successful local business – that’s good news for all of us!
The physical brewery is unique. It’s part urban; part industrial; part typical taproom; and part cozy and inviting English pub, including old school darts (no plastic tips here!). With that English pub ambiance, comes an English pub philosophy of inclusivity and community. If you enjoy sitting at the bar and enjoying a typical taproom view of vats and tappers, this is the place for you. Or, if you like the pub section -- something more comfortable and warm – this is also the place for you. If you have kids or a dog -- this is also the place for you. John -- a father of twins - noted that he does not agree with the idea of shaming families who happen to enjoy beer and want to visit a brewery. Don’t worry, you won’t confuse Miskatonic with Chuck E. Cheese, but it is okay to come in and have a beer and bring your child for a while, or your dog. They also serve water, soda, and have plenty of kids’ games for people to enjoy. More to the point, it is a place where the community can gather.
And, of course, it’s a place that provides delicious beer.
Of the many varieties of beer offered, my personal favorite is their rye - Catchpenny. Unlike the vast majority of rye beers, this will not hit you over the head with rye flavor, but don’t be dismayed if you are a rye-beer lover like me. The rye is noticeable from nose to finish, but like a spicy jambalaya that’s accompanied by a plethora of good flavors, Catchpenny’s rye flavor is part of a wonderful ensemble of ingredients that allow for a well-balanced rye beer – incredibly well done.
John explained, “Our rye is designed differently. It’s easy drinking, approachable. Those are words we use. We wanted to brew something that captivated folks that aren’t super beer savvy, as well as the craft-beer aficionados. There is a big subset of craft beer people that want something palate resetting or something refreshing. You may think of it as a more simple beer, but it does have some layers…some earthy and spice notes, too. No matter who you are, we think you’ll like our rye.”
Josh added, “It was important to us that when we made a refreshing crisp finish, lack of IBU-type of beer, we wanted it to also be interesting and complex enough….something that speaks to craft on every end of the spectrum, through and through. It’s a great beer for showcasing rye without making rye the only thing that’s going on. Sometimes with extreme hops in an APA or IPA, you have to be much heavier handed with the rye to balance the hops. By doing a more delicate beer, you can be more delicate with rye. But at end of the day, you can have a lovely nuanced rye.”
Of course, they make more than just rye beer. In fact, they have an expansive selection that makes for one truly diverse flight of beers. With such an extensive list of brews, ranging from sours to hop-forward brews, and English ales to stouts, they may not all be to your liking, but that’s okay. Josh explained, “Beer is subjective. It’s rare that you can make beer that appeals to every single person. But, if we nail it on eight out of ten with someone, we feel we have done a good job…it’s a success.” John added, “That’s why we are going to make what we like, make it well, and move on from there. So far, though, that’s worked very well for us. We’ve gotten really good feedback. What’s really cool is when someone comes to the brewery for the first time, someone totally new to the craft beer scene…and see them being blown away and then asking, “what is this?’ They are like sponges. It’s really fun!”
And as this blog can attest, seasoned beer geeks and beer-writing nerds are blown away, too.
They don’t only make beers that are “different,” per se. You can still enjoy the classics, such as their American Pale Ale and the Wise Fool IPA -- very well crafted and notably hoppy, but impeccably well balanced and flavorful. Nonetheless, in true Miskatonic fashion, they also have a few plays on IPA with their Chapter Series, comprised of an American Red IPA, a Wheat IPA, and a dry hopped version, which is one of my favorite styles of IPA. For that matter, they have porters, stouts, and a great pilsner; it doesn’t have to be an ale to be a craft beer (See: Metropolitan Brewery in Chicago).
One of my other favorites is their English Ales: Angry Mob and Grendel. Angry Mob is described as “A malt-forward, easy-drinking English Mild brewed with a touch of toasted buckwheat for a toasty, nutty flavor.” Meanwhile Grendel is described as an English old ale that is “smooth and warming. It is lighter than a barleywine, but still malty and rich with subtle toffee and stone fruit notes.” English ales seem to get lost in the shuffle within the craft-beer world, so it’s nice to see them offered at Miskatonic – and they happen to be really good. Angry Mob will make the journey from the brewery to to my house via a growler in the near future, I assure you.
They also have joined other brewers in producing the increasingly popular, and sought after, sour beer. (In fact, you can buy Chilled Magazine in February and read an article about Gose beers, written by yours truly. How’s that for shameless self-promotion?) Much like their rye, Miskatonic’s version of sour beer is a celebration of style and finesse. The sour will not turn your jaw inside out. Yes, it’s the star of the beer, but it’s not a one-note performance – it’s a symphony. John explained, “The first word out of your mouth that we want is ‘refreshing.’” Josh added, “The vast majority of session sous have wheat in them. Having that unique grain profile [in our sour] along with that lacto and that aroma from the hops is something we are proud of.” It is dry hopped with Hallertau Blanc, which adds complimentary lemon and grape notes. Josh and John talked about the brewing process and even admitted that when they first brewed it, they weren’t sure just how good it might taste. Like any good chef or mixologist – it’s often about trial and error. However, not only are they pleased with the result; they can’t help but be giddy about doing more things with it in the future. Josh added, “It’s a good base.”
Sours and Gose beers are actually 1000-year old styles that have been resurrected within the new craft beer movement. Craft-brewers’ greatest success has been to reintroduce classic beer brewing techniques and styles to the beer drinking world. (And, I think we can all thank them for that, can’t we?).
Probably the most popular brewing rebirth involves barrel aging, and Chicago is a big reason for that. Josh noted, “Think of Goose’s Bourbon County. Think of FoBAB. Chicago breweries have won so many awards for barrel-aged beers. It’s not the only place that has great barrels, but it really is something that Chicago breweries have done well for a long time. So many people have experience with it already, so there are more knowledgeable people in Chicago making barrel beer than anywhere else in the country, I think.” “We’ve only been open six months, so it’s just getting going, but we are excited to do that soon.” John added, “It used to be that brewers used old wood because that is the only thing that could be used. Now it’s about using wine, rum, whiskey or whatever type of barrels that can be found as a way of giving beer added flavor. Brewers are just gobbling that potential up. I'm just dying to experiment. We love drinking it. We love brewing it. We won’t shy away from it. It’s going to be nice. It’s going to fun.”
Fun is probably a word that isn’t thrown around very often in many workplaces, but John and Josh used the word so often, I lost count. When people have fun at work, they usually are pretty successful. They are, and the suburb of Darien is the benefactor. You might wonder how they ended up in the small suburb of Darien. Partly, they are familiar with the area and partly it involved the logistics of having a space available to meet their vision. John mentioned one important item, “We wanted city water was a big one. Wells can be problematic.” More importantly, though, John and Josh added that the city of Darien was incredibly helpful. “It can’t be stressed enough. Darien was really great. The City [of Chicago] has a lot of great breweries already, but this region is just now starting to explore the world of craft. We wanted to bring some sophistication to this area with regards to beer drinking, and it’s been amazing to see new people learning about a good craft.”
By locating themselves in Darien, they have added to great collection of new breweries that have arisen in the last few years along the I-55/Illinois I&M corridor – Miskatonic, Imperial Oak, Buckle Down, Pollyanna, Blue Nose, and quite a few more. Each one unique, but together they are making for one awesome collection of breweries.
Miskatonic exemplifies the spirit of craft beer; they enjoy a wonderful relationship with their town and its people, and they are working hand-in-hand with local restaurants. They also get their ingredients locally, from Lake Michigan water to Michigan hops and various other farms throughout the Midwest. That’s “Drink Local” personified.
No worries, if you can’t make it to the brewery, they will soon be selling their beer in cans. I can’t wait. Maybe when I drink it at home, I can finally enjoy their brews without having to write about them.
Nah, who am I kidding? It’s impossible to remain quiet when enjoying great beer!
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