EXCHANGE: McHenry County craft breweries creating buzz – Washington Times

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) – In the backroom of Crystal Lake Brewing, stacks of empty aluminum cans slated for the microbrewery’s signature golden lagers and India pale ales wait to be filled and packaged through an automated canning line.

The newly installed line, owners John O’Fallon and Chuck Ross explained, can package a case of beer within a minute – an expected improvement over the downtown Crystal Lake brewery’s original method that had employees manually packaging two cans a minute.

Both Crystal Lake Brewery founders invested in the automated line to up production and meet growing demand for their four “flagship” craft beers that soon will hit retailers’ shelves in six-packs throughout McHenry, DeKalb, DuPage, Lake, Kane and Kendall counties for the first time.

The unexpected part for the two founders is how quickly they have arrived at that point, a year after they opened their craft brewery and tap room last August.

“Production is going up fast. We should be available from the north side of Chicago all the way up to the Wisconsin border by the end of the year,” O’Fallon said. “Right now, we can’t make beer fast enough.”

Craft breweries, from larger mainstays such as Sierra Nevada Brewing to the smaller “nanobreweries,” also are seeing more beer drinkers clamor for locally crafted and uniquely brewed beers.

For the first time ever, craft breweries in 2014 captured 11 percent volume share of the beer marketplace in the U.S., according to figures released earlier this year from the Brewers Association, a national trade organization that represents small and independent brewers.

Overall industry sales by volume in 2014 grew 0.5 percent, adding to craft breweries’ booming reputation. In 2010, craft breweries’ volume share of the marketplace totaled 5 percent.

With more beer drinkers wanting a taste of Crystal Lake Brewery’s Beach Blonde, Slalom King and other brews, O’Fallon and Ross installed three additional fermenters earlier this month and nearly doubled production capability, as the microbrewery prepares to expand commercially throughout the Chicago area.

The two hope to be producing 2,500 barrels of beer a year with the new canning line and fermenters. Both brewery founders said the company’s growth is similar to others in the craft brewery market largely because beer consumers now want locally produced beer for its quality and flavor.

“It’s because of the quality of our product,” Ross said. “Without the quality of the product, we would just be another guy. Business is moving well.”

Michael Dallas, who owns Scorched Earth Brewing in Algonquin, brushed aside concerns the growing market soon may become oversaturated.

Specializing in sour tasting beers, Scorched Earth also has installed an additional fermenter and other brewing equipment to its Algonquin brewery and tap room since opening last summer. The microbrewery packages four- and six-packs of select brews for retailers in McHenry, Lake, DuPage, Kane and northern suburban Cook counties.

Craft breweries total greater numbers out west in states such as Colorado and California, where many brewers started turning their beer brewing hobbies into fledgling businesses decades ago, Dallas said. Scorched Earth even started after Dallas took interest in brewing beer as a hobby, initially in 2006 with a home-brewing kit his in-laws bought him for Christmas.

As the craft brewery wave makes its way east, Dallas sees the number of breweries growing – not subsiding – since by design the brews are geared toward individual tastes.

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