Smile Politely

Deck the beers with hops and barley

‘Tis the season to get tipsy. You’ve got visits with your relatives, dreary weather, and cats that keep knocking over your holiday decor — all reasons to throw one back as you wait for 2019. While Champaign-Urbana has made quite a name for themselves in the local craft beer community, just down the road in Bloomington-Normal are some additional excellent options. Whether you want to pick up a unique gift for the booze lover in your life, or just need a little adventure, Bloomington-Normal has four brewery options for you. 

White Oak Brewing 

Located off of White Oak Road in Normal, this small brewery is tucked back in a warehouse area. The second brewery to set up in the community (Destihl’s got #1 rights), they quickly became known for their tasty India Pale Ales and fun names. It’s important to keep warm while drinking in December, so my husband and I selected a few of their heartier options. He ordered the Woooooo! ($5), a brown porter with 5.5% ABV. It was nutty and crisp with hints of chocolate. I opted for White Oak’s barrel-aged barleywine, Penumbra (pictured above; $5 for 5 oz.), a brew made for cold nights…or if you fall into the lumberjack/lumberjane category. With a 9.5% ABV, you get an immediate sweet alcohol taste with a heavy malt finish. It’s a slow drinker that reminded me of bourbon. For funsies, we shared a glass of their Purple Pizzazz ($5), a boysenberry IPA with a velvety purple color. It was dry with light hop flavor and left a bubbly mouth feel. This particular beer is the first in their Crayon series, focused on creating beautifully, naturally colored beers with strong flavors.

1801 Industrial Park Dr
Su-T 3 to 7 p.m.
W + Th 3 to 10 p.m.
F 3 to 11 p.m.
Sa 1 to 11 p.m.

Destihl Brewery and Beer Hall

Our second stop as we drank away the thoughts of our Christmas-stretched bank accounts, was Destihl’s beautiful new-ish brewery located on the north end of Normal. With a food menu that rivals the drinks, it’s an excellent lunch stop as well. Offering the most diverse range of beers, we gave our server some personal preferences, and she put together a top-notch winter flight. We started with the Weizenbock ($5.25), which tastes like an amber ale with biscuit, malt, and caramel notes throughout, and a crisp, clean finish. Going from light to dark, we sampled the Congregator ($5.25). A higher ABV option (8%) that surprised me in it’s quick drinkability. I felt like I was drinking a Vienna lager or Oktoberfest (one of my personal favorite types of beer). Our third beer, the Baltic Porter ($6), was delicious. Smooth, dark, and chocolatey, it’s the perfect combination of a porter and lager. Both my husband and I agreed it was our flight favorite. Our last small pour was of their Toasted Coconut (which is part of their popular Dosvidanya series which are $8 per 8oz draft). Up front you get that coconut flavor which is quickly overpowered by the imperial stout finish. It’s heavy, bitter, and boozy (12.5% ABV); definitely the kind of beer you cozy up to the fire with.

Bonus Beer: I snuck in a full Blueberry Saison ($5.25), since I knew my husband was driving. Saisons have a special place in my heart, so I could not resist. Photo-worthy color, farmhouse style, and light after tasting the darker options.

1200 Greenbriar Dr
M-Th 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F + Sa 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Lil Beaver Brewery 

Lil Beaver Brewery grabbed the holiday spirit by its Santa hat, hosting an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party to tap their latest beer, the Holly Jolly White Peppermint Stout ($6). A white stout (10% ABV) brewed with white chocolate and peppermint, it will transport you right in front of a fireplace on Christmas morning. The white stout has a fun, light pink color; it was surprisingly light and delivered on that candy cane flavor. Because we were there to get our ugly sweater on, we sampled a few more in case you have an aversion to jolly or peppermint. Lil Beaver’s Magic Mango Inferno ($6) was a popular choice among groups that evening; it’s a 7% ABV fruit beer with bold flavor. This beer will warm you up quickly with spice, but the heat doesn’t stay long, leaving you with the hops and mango. Traditional wintertime drinking demands something darker, so we turned to Lil Beaver’s Erg is a Silly Word ($6). An oatmeal stout (6.5% ABV), that my husband, the stout drinker, described as “fulfilling” and “really good.” You can taste the chocolate, biscuit, and malt tones as you relax to the heavy metal tunes the party opted for.

Visitor tip: Lil Beaver’s entrance might be hard to find for newcomers, as it is located in a warehouse area on the south end of Bloomington. Their social media and website help describe their location (enter the door to the left of Let’s Party Rentals), and there’s always been an abundance of cars congregating in front of their space — but no worries, we never have trouble parking.

16 Currency Dr, Unit B
Th 3 to 9 p.m.
F 3 to 10 p.m.
Sa 2 to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 5 p.m.

Keg Grove Brewing Company 

Festive Merriment was the theme for Keg Grove Brewing Company’s (KGBC) holiday-inspired stout release, and a merry time was had. Tab discounts were offered with toy donations, gingerbread house making got competitive, and the brewery was decked in lights and cheer. Baker’s Dozen ($6) was the star of the show. A stout (6.5% ABV) made with cookies and brownies from local restaurant, Kelly’s Bakery and Cafe. Light in flavor and body, this stout tasted more and more like baked goods the more you drank….which was a bit dangerous for my sweet-tooth. If you’re looking for a more traditional stout, KGBC’s Late Night Golf Cart Ride ($6, 5.2% ABV) is a thicker stout made for coffee lovers. Black as night with sweet coffee tones that linger after you’ve taken a drink, it’s easy to drink in cold-weather months (and would be very easy to drink at 8 a.m.). For my comrades who drink on the lighter side, go for No Thyme ($6), an herb cream ale with 5.7% ABV that’s hard to put down. I want to drink this beer while I’m prepping my holiday meal. It’s brewed with parsley, sage, and rosemary from Cook Farms. The brewers found a perfect balance of fresh herbs and ale.

712 E Empire St
W + Th 3 to 9 p.m.
F 3 to 11 p.m.
Sa 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Su noon to 8 p.m.

Photos by Jordan Goebig

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