Given the time (2015) and place (Downers Grove) of its founding, some may consider Alter Brewing a surprising success story. The suburb has a history of strict liquor laws, and the taproom’s location — at the convergence of a residential neighborhood and an industrial office park — doesn’t exactly invite the heavy foot traffic of a buzzing downtown corridor.
Any doubt has since been vanquished. Six years later, the flourishing microbrewery’s new-ish second location in St. Charles is anything but “micro,” with seating for 160 indoors and more than 100 outside on its sweeping patio overlooking the Fox River.
When the weather’s nice, the plaza of bustling patios and pedestrian amenities surrounding Alter is a sight to behold. Situated along the Main Street bridge and adjacent to assorted restaurants, bars and shops with outdoor spaces, it becomes a hive of drinking, dining and socializing that feels more like a special-occasion street festival than a typical day or night out in the burbs.
In contrast to the original taproom (which has more of a laid-back, warehousey vibe), Alter St. Charles is sleek, modern and spacious — with a full-service liquor bar, a food menu, and a throng of servers racing around.
Atmosphere and Staff
While the aforementioned qualities create a feel that is more trendy restaurant than rustic taproom, there’s still plenty to offer lovers of the traditional brewery experience: a view of the gleaming fermentation tanks, an extensive draft beer list, and a unique outdoor bar made from giant repurposed storage containers.
It’s a double decker, too, allowing you to post up on the second level and do some serious under-the-radar people watching if, like us, that’s your thing.
The service we’ve received has been exceptional, and props to the chefs for concocting one hell of a loaded veggie sandwiches.
Fun fact: The first growler I ever purchased was Alter’s Alterior Motive IPA, from the Downer’s Grove taproom, probably not long after it opened. It made an impression, and I’ve been following their beer ever since.
Styles Available: Alter has a core rotation of popular, easy-drinking year-round beers, some of which you’ve likely heard of if you live in the Chicagoland area. A mixture of lagers, fruit beers, dark beers and even a hard seltzer rounded out the list on our most recent visit.
For the Hop Heads: Get to the Chopper — a West Coast IPA at nearly 8% — immediately caught my eye. More malt-forward than expected, but very satisfying on a hot summer evening.
For the Dark Beer Folks: Sweet and creamy with an aroma of coffee and cocoa, the Crane Kick stout should get it done for those brave enough to dabble with boozy stouts in the summer months.
For the Serious Snobs: A traditional German Altbier, Smokey the Bier is brewed with oak-smoked wheat malt and enough hops to give it a nice touch of bitterness.
For the People Who Are Going to Ask “What Tastes the Most like Bud Light?”: The Center Line Golden Ale — light and easy drinking.
My Favorite: Until recently, I would’ve defaulted to Alterior Motive, but Bleacher Seat Wheat Beer has quickly become all the rage in my demented little world. Well balanced but dry-hopped to give it that extra kick of hoppiness, this is now perpetually stocked in our fridge. Highly recommended for day drinking. Also, night drinking.
It takes about ten minutes to reach Alter by bike from our new house, so I suppose it’d be shocking if we hadn’t visited several times in the past couple months. It’s an excellent choice for a couple beers, some good food, and, as previously mentioned, delightful people watching.
If and when live music kicks off on the patio, the frequency of our visits will no doubt intensify.
- Originally published by The Hop Review in 2017, here’s an extensive Q&A with two of Alter’s founding team members.
Photos courtesy of facebook.com/alterbrewingkitchenstc