Eclipse Beer Journal: St. Nicholas Brewing, DuQuoin

Eclipse Beer Journal: St. Nicholas Brewing, DuQuoin
The dining room of this brewpub in far downstate DuQuoin, IL

As my previous post suggests, I was able to make the trip south to view the Total Solar Eclipse, and to visit a few brewing establishments in the area.

St. Nicholas Brewing

St. Nicholas Brewing Co., DuQuoin

St. Nicholas Brewing Co. is located in the town's historic St. Nicholas Hotel, right across from the railroad tracks, which still has an Amtrak intercity stop. The three-story hotel was built in 1879, and remained in business until 2005. It apparently fell into neglect quickly, since when the owners of what became the brewery took the building over in 2009, several years of rehab were needed. Today only one floor of the building is occupied, all the walls in the public rooms are stripped to the bricks, and the ceiling to the rafters. But those rafters have several bicycles hanging from them, indicating St. Nicholas' support of local cycling groups and events. It has the brew works visible at one side of a blocked off staircase, a bar and dining room, and an outdoor patio.

I was in DuQuoin Sunday night, where I had secured one of the few remaining spaces to stay in the path of totality: a camping spot at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds (only $25 per night). My plan was to push on Monday morning to Murphysboro, which would have just as much totality as the big event at Carbondale, but less of a crowd.

My 17-year-old, the "Eating Machine," was along with me. We had set up a pup tent at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, one of the few spots where you could overnight in the eclipse path for less than $100. The boy came along based on the promise of their "Pint of Bacon" appetizer. The eclipse crowd was good-sized, and a map at the entrance bore hundreds of pushpins showing from where in (and outside) the US customers had come.

DuQuoin Fairgrounds & St. Nicholas BrewingTheir menu shows the usual: salads, burgers, sandwiches and pizza, with seasonal special like steak, seafood and Cajun. They also describe how they source their ingredients locally whenever possible and of reducing their carbon footprint.

After his pint glass of bacon, the Machine had a Meat Lover's Pizza, 12-inch affair baked on what looked like flatbread crust, that he managed to inhale with no trouble at all. I went for their basic hamburger with just a few fixings, the better to taste out the burger itself. The burger meat was thick, but not juicy, apparently using a leaner grind. Its edges were well done and crispy, and the bun from a local baker had a slightly chewy crust, like a brioche.

I ran through a tray of just four sampler beers, since I was going to be sleeping on the ground that night, but I also got a bomber of their strong dark Belgian ale, which is now in my cellar. The Machine finished off his repast with a root beer float from their house root beer.

This is the kind of establishment that has become a part of many small towns, a "destination" brewer that also features locally produced food, and supports local activities.

Taster tray at St. Nicholas Brewing

Peloton Pale Ale. 5.9% abv Going with the ones named after local places, I figure those are the flagships, right? Slightly brown body under a spongy pale ale head. Cascade hops forefront on the nose, with a pine resin and apricot smell. Taste has big hops up front as advertised. Immediately notice the malt is a bit dry. That seems to be the brewer's choice, and it's meant to showcase the hop florals.
Garden Pepper Mango. Yes, I will always try out a pepper beer. This single batch was just put on tap, so the server was unsure of details, so I wrote the brewer, who said it's made with pepperoncini, mild jalapeños and banana peppers. It was light and cloudy, like a Belgian wit, with a very thin head. I had picked up on jalapeño peppers right away, and it left a mild burn, mitigated by the addition of mango fruit sweetness. The brewer told me it had proved very popular, and should be available again.
Barley Wine. 9% Warming alcohol from its first sip. This is just a bit fruity. The base malt might be pretty sweet, but hops are hiding in the background to keep it from becoming treacly. A smooth strong beer with plum and dried cherry notes.
Black Sun Eclipse Ale. 5.7% A blackened version of their IPA. My son, who is not drinking yet, don't worry mom, could smell it from his corner of the table, saying he thought it had raspberry and "vines." I figured that to mean it had an earthy smell of English hop. Despite the dark body, this did not have the graininess of a stout. There was a bit of berry in the taste, and maybe Amarillo hops. Perhaps a bit of wheat in the malt, but that's just my guess.

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