Abe’s Ale and a Ditzy Blond, please: Local breweries offer quality experience for beer connoisseurs in Springfield
Some of the best kept secrets in Springfield aren’t in the actual city – they’re in the smaller, surrounding communities. And if you like beer, you may just want to take a trip to Rolling Meadows Brewery (RMB) in Cantrall, Ill.
Chris Trudeau is the co-owner of RMB. Operating in a modest-size room since 2011 on his family farm, Trudeau decided to go into the beer making industry after delving into beers during his college years in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the drinking age is 19.
“I did home brewing there where I went to school [at Emily Carr University], right down the street from Canada’s first microbrewery, Granville Island Brewery. One day in class I was focusing on communication design and [the professor] said a brewery’s largest cost is branding and their marketing, graphic design, [and] communication design.”
Trudeau said he ran with that idea of starting his own brewing business. He began working with his mom, Karen, who started delving into homebrewing with a “Mr. Beer” homebrewing kit. Karen and her friend Connie then started making dark beers, and a hefeweizen, a kind of wheat beer Rolling Meadows currently serves under the label “Springfield Wheat.”
In addition to working with his two brewers on staff, Trudeau also does the graphic design for all the beer labels. Trudeau knows beer – really, really knows beer. When you ask him what makes beer different than wine, for instance, he can pinpoint it to a key ingredient.
“Wine is kind of that sweetened alcohol liquid, but with beer, you’re making that barley sweet tea which is a sweet grain [beer],” he said. “And if you were to add in the yeast and make the beer, without the hops it would just be sweet. So the hops: they’re bitter and kind of have a citricy, orange flavor and they help to balance out the beer. And that’s really our thing here at Rolling Meadows Brewery; we’re all about balance.”
Trudeau’s family operation also promotes sustainability; unused grain from beer making is used as feed for his family’s farm animals. He said there are plans to add windmills and invest in solar energy within the next few years.
Rolling Meadows brews Springfield Wheat, Abe’s Ale (a 2013 Good Foods Award winner), and Lincoln’s Lager year round. The seasonal Barreled-Age Abe’s Ale is another top choice. Most local area pubs and bars in Springfield carry RMB beers, as do many other vendors in Illinois.
Trudeau said his favorite part of the brewing process is releasing a new beer. “It’s such a time consuming thing and you take it really seriously. Some brew pubs can put beers out there easily – they just kind of make it and ride it on the truck and there you go,” he said. “Whereas with us being a production brewery, with each beer we make, we do a label for it and they are distributed all throughout the state. It’s kind of like having a kid; it’s a birthing process.”
For beer and lunch, Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery is the venue to patronize. Owner Casey Conn, his brother Adam, father Court and mother Karen own and operate the establishment in downtown Springfield, which celebrated its first anniversary this Lincoln’s birthday. The microbrewery is located in a petite building behind the restaurant, originally built as a carriage house.
Ditzy Blond is the most popular Obed and Isaac’s beer, one of 37 beers the microbrewery has put out to the public. “The reason that is, is because that’s one of the lightest beers and you’re in Miller Lite and Anheuser territory- that’s what people drink around here,” Casey Conn said. “So trying to get them acquired to good beer, we did the lighter beer to slowly work them into good tasting beer versus the watered-down stuff from St. Louis.”
For being new, Obed and Isaac’s is already looking at expanding. “On the east side of the brewery, we just got the go-ahead to put a beer garden in,” he said. “We’re going to do bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, put another bar out there.” He added that his family also owns a house on 7th Ave. and Jefferson St. that they are about to start construction on as part of the expansion plans.
Conn’s advice to beermakers: take your time. “Perfect beer takes time and patience. It’s not as easy as it sounds; it’s a lot more work than people think in the restaurant and brewery business. Everybody wants to start their own restaurant and brewery, but it’s a lot of time and work and dedication that goes behind it.”