Walking into Emancipation Brewing Company in Fairbury, you’d be surprised to learn that it’s only been in operation for one year. The interior is impressive. Located inside of the original dairy barn, the concrete floor and old beams have been converted into a modern and cozy country chic aesthetic. The barn is spacious, with plenty of seating for groups of all sizes, and a large bar area welcomes travelers.
My husband and I took advantage of the warm snap in February to get some hiking in at Fugate Woods Nature Preserve, which is only five miles from Emancipation. I had been following the brewery on social media since it opened, and we were excited to have more than one reason to travel the solid hour drive. For new visitors, the brewery is located directly next to one of the owner’s personal properties. So don’t be like us and think you took a wrong turn onto someone’s farm. You did, but you’re in the right place (and there is signage).
When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by a friendly brew staffer who was more than happy to chat with us about their menu and the location. It wasn’t very packed at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, but groups started trickling in over the few hours we spent…and I noticed the staff put out the same level of service no matter the crowd size.
During cold months, I always get worried that there might be a beer menu that’s not my speed (I’m personally not a big dark beer fan), but I was excited about the diverse options on Emancipation’s menu. We started with flights so that we could try just about every beer they offered.
I stayed on the light end, and my flight opened with the West Loda Lager (6.6% ABV). A solid introductory beer, the lager is a superior “domestic” option. It could sit next to Bud Light on the shelf, but would be the right choice (and hey, you’re supporting local!). I moved on to the True Pistachio (5.36% ABV), a nutty wheat ale with slightly sweet notes. If you’re dreaming of spring, this is the beer to take you there. The Cream of the Crop (6.1% ABV) was my personal favorite. Brewed with Michigan Copper hops, this beer just goes down smoothly. It’s simple, easy, and packed with grainy flavors. Trying to keep things spicy, I ended with the Habanero Hat (4.83% ABV), a Kolsch brewed with, you guessed it, habanero. I love spicy food, but I sometimes find pepper-infused beer a bit gimicky. This one delivered. Lime and slight heat hits your tastebuds evenly, and I could see this one pairing perfectly with nachos or the right kind of carbs.
Moving from the lighter beer to the reds and browns, we took a “break” from the booze to sip on the Wee-Man Scottish Schilling, a low (3%) ABV scotch ale. We love this style of drink, but find that it can be a hard one to drink when you’re on the road because of the higher alcohol content. We appreciated that this one didn’t pack quite the punch in alcohol, but had all of the malty and caramel flavor. The Kim’s Irish Red (5.53%) might have been our table’s favorite, and the brew staff said it was a popular one among guests. It’s a traditional Irish red, with that beautiful rust coloring and crisp flavor. Their Milkhouse Stout (5.53% ABV) was our final taste, which was fitting. It’s slightly sweet, like a dessert, with a roasted and chocolatey finish.
If you want to support local businesses that support local, this is your place. The brewery participated in and was an award-winner at the 2019 Artisan Cup. The brewery does not serve food, but it does offer local cheeses and meats for purchase, has a rotating list of food trucks that visit on weekend evenings, and allows guests to bring in their own food. For gluten-free guests, they have cider brewed from another Illinois brewery as well as a few guest taps. You can order drinks in a few different sizes: half-pint, 12 oz. pour, and a full pint, creating a range of pricing from $3 to $7. Emancipation will fill clean growlers, and they recently started selling beer-to-go from their cooler.
Emancipation does host parties, and there were reserved signs on some of the tables when we got in. While we were there, an outdoor patio area was in progress that I’m sure will be incredible come sunny skies and warmer temperatures. This next year seems full of growth for Emancipation Brewing.
Emancipation Brewing Company
13113 N 2500 East Rd.
Th 4 to 9 p.m.
F + Sa noon to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 5 p.m.