For the first time in 27 years, cases of canned beer are rolling out of Belleville.
Just 17 months after Todd Kennedy built his microbrewery and began brewing his own on West Main Street, he is now canning beer for wider distribution.
Kennedy, the owner of 4204 Main Street Brewing Co., said he always wanted to open a microbrewery in town and return that heritage to Belleville, where several breweries once thrived but haven’t been seen since the Stag Brewery closed in September 1988.
“We just want to be Belleville’s brewery,” Kennedy said. “We want to be Stag all over again.”
Since opening his restaurant and bar last year, beer from 4204 Main Street Brewing Co. has reached 72 taps at taverns as far north as Bloomington and as far south as Carbondale and across the river in St. Louis. Now, with a new canning operation located next door, Kennedy anticipates cases of cans to reach grocery store and liquor store shelves soon throughout Southern and Central Illinois and into Missouri.
“The cans, we’re hoping, will be on all the shelves, at Schnucks grocery stores, everywhere,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully in the next six to seven months, we can be all the way to Kansas City and as far north as Chicago.”
His initial plan was to build a bottling site behind his microbrewery. But when the Popeye’s Chicken next door, at 4130 W. Main St., closed and filed for bankruptcy, Kennedy acquired the building. He also said his assistant brewer Adam Patterson later convinced him that the future of craft beer was in canning, not bottles.
We want to be Stag all over again, and we want people to see us that way and not see us as competition to restaurants. We do serve food, but we serve food as a way to market the beer.
Todd Kennedy, the owner of 4204 Main Street Brewing Co.
Kennedy said acquiring an existing building was a blessing.
“We didn’t foresee it,” he said. “We just made an offer, an all-cash offer, which helped, and they took it. We made an offer and seven days later, we got it. So we’re excited.”
The business began canning beer on Wednesday. A conveyer belt carries seven silver, lidless, aluminum cans into a small glass-covered compartment, where a seven-head filler drops down and inserts the beer in each can, rises back up and then the machine fuses a lid along the seam of each can. Labels are then affixed to each can by hand.
Master brewer Tony Toenjes said an adjacent 200-gallon tank feeds the beer into the machine. He said he can run 30 cans a minute and can about 100 cases at one time.
The microbrewery is currently canning five ales: Blonde Juele, the Pecan Brown Ale, 2-Hop IPA, the Common Ride and Dunkelweizen. The microbrewery is also canning its gold-medal-winning Octoberfest brand in a limited run. The Pecan Brown Ale and the Common Ride are also award-winning beers.
72 Taps at taverns serve beer brewed in Belleville
30 Cans a minute can be produced
5 Cifferent kinds of ales being canned
Kennedy developed his microbrewery and restaurant in an existing building at 4204 W. Main St., his business’ namesake, that housed a succession of restaurants over the past 25 years. Kennedy renovated the property to include large steel fermenters that were placed behind glass so customers could watch the brewing. He recently expanded the building with an additional space for more tanks. The 15 tanks vary in size and each can hold between 217 and 465 gallons — increasing the capacity from 65 barrels to 185 barrels.
Kennedy anticipates the first cases of his beer should arrive at stores in Illinois and Missouri by next week.
“That’s exciting,” he said. “It’s taken six, seven months to get to this point, but now that we’re finally at this point, it’s really moving forward and we’re excited to see where it could be.”
Although he also runs the restaurant, Kennedy said his focus is the beer. He said he has a great product to push, and the restaurant serves as a conduit to the selection of 20 craft beers he brews. Most importantly, he wants consumers to view his business as “Belleville’s brewery.”
“We want to be Stag all over again, and we want people to see us that way and not see us as competition to restaurants,” he said. “We do serve food, but we serve food as a way to market the beer. If you’re getting served food, we would serve maybe 400 to 500 people a week, and they would be exposed to the product. So for us, it’s just a marketing tool to get people to eat and then drink the beer.”
Kennedy also operates a second 4204 Main Street Brewing Co. restaurant and bar in Alton.