What's on tap: Microbreweries are pouring into metro-east

News-DemocratJuly 14, 2014 

A high school science teacher is leaving the classroom for the taproom.

Matt Flach is turning his hobby into a full-time vocation. This fall, after brewing on his own for the past eight years, the 32-year-old plans to open Recess Brewing at 307 N. Main St. in Edwardsville, his hometown. The microbrewery is named for the time that he hopes workers at the neighboring Madison County Courthouse will be spending at his establishment.

"I just really enjoy the process of brewing," said Flach, who has taught at Chicago public schools for the past 10 years. "I'm a science teacher with a science background and the whole aspect of science aspect really caught my attention. I just enjoyed the freedom to create something as opposed to sitting at a desk all day. It is what I enjoy."

Recess Brewing will brew four beers throughout the year and have the capacity of 10 beers on tap, with six other seasonal beers. Flach said his taste for beer is diverse and he will have five barrel-sized containers holding 155 gallons in his 2,600-square-foot brewery, which includes a 1,200-square-foot taproom. Patrons will be able to see the beer making in action because the pub and the brewery will be separated by panes of glass.

They will also be able to get their beer to go. Flach's establishment will be a "community supported brewery," or CSB. Customers will be provided with glass half-gallon growlers that they can fill with their favorite beer and take home or consume at the microbrewery.

"We will have a wide variety of options," he said. "I like to drink a lot of different styles, depending on the weather and season. I want to make sure that a lot of people can enjoy it."

And variety is gradually what metro-east beer connoisseurs and cravers are getting. Flach's microbrewery is the latest to announce plans to open an in-house brewery and pub in the region.

In Granite City, another microbrewery is planned inside one of the city's oldest buildings downtown. Last year, plans were announced for the Six Mile Brewery and Smokehouse, a microbrewery and restaurant at 1324 Niedringhaus Ave. inside the former First National Bank, which was built in the 1920s. The building and others along Niedringhaus Avenue and elsewhere downtown are owned by Lascelles Group LLC in Granite City. Granite City attorney and lifelong city resident Lance Callis, whose law firm is at 1326 Niedringhaus Ave., is part of the Lascelles Group. He recently said the microbrewery is "a work in progress."

In May, a microbrewery and restaurant opened in Belleville. Todd Kennedy owns 4204 Main Street Brewing Co., which is named for its address in Belleville. After two months of brewing, Kennedy said the business is preparing for expansion. He plans to add to his banquet room and bring in an additional 400 barrels for fermenting.

Like Flach's microbrewery, Kennedy's allows customers to watch the brewing process through windows into the tap room. The Belleville microbrewery is built within an upscale restaurant and has outdoor seating. Kennedy said he wants to create more than just a typical dining experience.

"It's a fun environment," Kennedy said. "Brewery pubs in general are fun environments. People enjoy that kind of experience versus that going to eat at another restaurant or just having dinner over having drinks. What we're trying to achieve is serving a really good meal, go out on the patio and have them stay and enjoy drinks and entertainment."

Brewmaster Tony Toenjes came from another recently launched metro-east microbrewery in Breese. Since 1936, Excel Bottling Co. has been making an assortment of other sugar cane-flavored soft drinks and bottling Ski soda. In September 2012, the company opened a microbrewery, Excel Brewing Co.

In its brief history, Excel Brewing Co. has recently rebranded and relaunched within the past month. Brewer Rod Burguiere arrived at the Clinton County brewery in January 2013 after years of brewing on the west coast and took over the brewing operations in January of this year.

He came from the Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, where craft brewing has been popular for years. As the new head brewer at the Breese brewery, Burguiere has recently made some changes to Excel and has introduced new brews that are what he calls "more hoppy," or have more hops that are found in traditional German lagers as opposed to the wheat beer and blonde ales the company had made.

"The beers we were brewing weren't particularly catching for me," Burguiere said. "I wouldn't have ordered them if I was in a bar."

"The were solid beers, but I think they could have been better," he said. "I wanted to brew what I wanted to drink here. That's why I changed it around."

Burguiere said he wanted to expand the microbrewery's selection.

"I came from Southern California and the craft scene out there, and we were selling very well," he said. "We rebranded with a new logo, new beer label, a new look with a craft focus that is just catering to the general masses."

Since the rebranding, customer have responded favorably, Burguiere said. He said Excel Brewery plans to introduce and bottle more new beer by the end of next month.

Offering a variety is also the key to Flach's fledging microbrewery, where he plans to serve snack foods while also inviting patrons to bring their own.

"We will have a wide variety of options," he said. "I like to drink a lot of different styles, depending on the weather and season. I want to make sure that a lot of people can enjoy it."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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