Business

Consumers drinking up locally brewed craft beer

Lou Lenz, brewmaster and owner of the Kaskaskia Brewing Company in Red Bud, explains the brewing process.
Lou Lenz, brewmaster and owner of the Kaskaskia Brewing Company in Red Bud, explains the brewing process. News-Democrat

The thirst for local craft beer continues to spread and can be quenched at more metro-east brew-pubs.

One is under new ownership in Red Bud, where Waterloo-native and brewmaster Lou Lenz has recently taken over the pre-existing Kaskaskia Brewing Co. located in 150-year-old building at 105 E. Market St., where he has added his own line of craft beer. He bought the business in March and has had to install a reverse-osmosis system to purify the hard water in town.

He brews 100 gallons at a time from the basement of the microbrewery that is fed to the taps upstairs on the first floor, where he opens for business on weekends. He said his Belgian Tripel is the most popular because of its light body and fruity taste. He brews a variety of beers with fruit and wheat tastes. He has seen business triple over what the previous owner generated in the two months since he opened.

“It’s becoming more popular,” Lenz said. “It’s more natural, and more people want a better product. Most people between 25 and 45 want a better beer. Those 16 to 21 want a cheaper beer.”

Lenz had moved back to the metro-east last November after 12 years living south of the Equator in Chile. When he couldn’t find any craft beer, he started to brew his own.

“Here, I only drank craft beer,” he said. “In Chile, there were none.”

Craft breweries are flowing in popularity across the nation. According to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., microbreweries increased by 19 percent between 2013 and 2014. Last year, the association counted 3,418 craft breweries, which generated $19.6 billion of the nation’s total $100 billion brewing industry — a 22 percent increase over 2013.

Association chief economist Bart Watson said this expansion reflects the U.S. consumers’ desire for variety and more choices when it comes to drinking beer.

“It’s come to the point where you can’t call it a niche market, with almost $20 billion in sales in 2014,” Watson said. “So the total beer market is $100 billion and consumer craft beers had 19.3 percent of that in 2014. It’s a small business that has become big business in the beer business.”

More brew pubs have recently opened across St. Clair and Madison counties, including 4204 Main Street Brewing Co. in Belleville, which is planning a second locale in Alton later this month. Peel Wood Fired Pizza and Brewery in O’Fallon and Recess Brewing in Edwardsville have also recently opened their doors within the past year.

In Granite City, four brothers, who have been home brewing for the past 12 years, are planning to set up a microbrewery downtown and also want to look into establishing a brew pub there. Don DeGonia said he and his brothers have distributed their product to bars and restaurants and are now planning to establish DeGonia Bros. Brewery at 1312 Niedringhaus Ave., where they will initially brew and serve four craft beers on tap: a pale, a red, a nut brown ale and possibly double chocolate stout. He said he and his brothers Dave, Mike and Mark have brewed 25 different beers over the years.

“We’ve made everything,” DeGonia said. “We’re all over the place.”

DeGonia, who works as a business manager for the plumbers union in Collinsville, said he believes consumers have acquired more distinct tastes for beer.

“I really think that people are more educated about beer,” he said. “Just like there are wine snobs, I think there are a lot more beer snobs, for lack of a better term. They realize the flavors you could have with beer. It really has brought forth a beer revolution. There is so much you can do with beer. I don’t want to pick on the big breweries, but I think people finally realized there is more than just your flavorless yellow water, as I like to call it. It’s education, it’s new, it’s different and it’s all over the place.”

Back at Len’s basement microbrewery, he starts brewing by grinding and then mashing the grain. The product is then boiled in a kettle. This process takes about six hours and “from grain to glass” it can take about 10 days. Lenz makes 100 gallons per brew, but he wants to do more with his business.

“For me, just making beer to sell is does not work for me,” he said. “What I want to do here, to have fun, is home-brew classes. So if we can get five or six people together and decide on a beer, they come here and make the beer and they take it home; and if it is a big enough success, then we may make it and put it on tap.”

Watson said the rise of microbreweries not only comes from consumer demand for more choices and more flavor, but they also want to patronize local businesses.

“You can trace it to consumer demand for more flavor in beer and more local products,” Watson said. “It’s not just for the beer, but to support local businesses. A small brewer is no exception.”

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

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