Two Brothers Brewery

January 23 2010 - 8:33 PM

Continuing my excursions to noteworthy Chicago-area breweries, I trekked to Two Brothers Brewery to take a peek at the #2 craft brewer in IL (the champion being Goose Island). Though they were founded just 13 years ago, family-run Two Brothers has grown tremendously and now distributes in 8 states, and arguably even has an international presence. (Apparently there’s a guy who brings 10 pallets of their beer back to Sweden once a year.)

You can get an up close look at the brewing facilities by taking a tour of the premises. Tour guide Gabe was a fount of knowledge about beer-making, and super witty to boot. Seriously, this was hands-down the funniest brewery tour of all time.

Gabe began by giving us some history about Two Brothers. The tale began in the dark ages of American craft brewing, when Bud was de riguer and you were lucky to get Leinenkugel from a friend who’d returned from WI. Jim and Jason Ebel, the aforementioned two brothers, had spent some time in Europe while in college, returning as beer connoisseurs who were disappointed at the paltry selection of craft beers on this side of the pond. The solution? Brew your own. Jim began delving into home-brewing, and passed along his skills and knowledge to Jason, who returned to his fraternity and immediately became very popular. After some stints in other fields (law school, green architectural design), it dawned upon the Ebel brothers that maybe they could make a living brewing beer. So, they acquired a couple of old milk tanks from their grandfather, a retired dairy farmer. The tanks were converted to fermenters and the business was off and bubbling.

After the history lesson, Gabe went on to describe Two Brothers’ philosophy on beer and brewing techniques. He noted, “Making beer is 10% inspiration, which is the fun part. The other 90% is sanitation.” Unlike cooking, where spur of the moment innovation can be rewarding, beer-making is about adhering to a process and doing the same thing every time.

On beers in bourbon barrels: “Bourbon barrels can only be used once and they’re pretty cheap, so beer brewers like to reuse the barrels, which gives your beer all sorts of tannins, vanillin and bourbon aromas. Great, right? The problem is that you go and order one of those bourbon barrel-aged beers, and as soon as you take a sip, every hair on your head raises because you didn’t read the sign and it turns out the beer is 17% alcohol! Look, beer is not meant to be sipped. If I wanted to sip something slowly, I’d be drinking bourbon with an ice cube.”

On lagers versus ales: “There are two main types of beer: lagers and ales. Ales are hot-blooded creatures, and ferment at a much higher temperature than lagers. A lager is clean, crisp and eh, a little boring. Sam Adams is a lager. If I walk into a bar and their beer selection isn’t great but I see Sam Adams, I’ll order that. An ale is a roller coaster ride. Think of the anticipation you feel as you go up that first hill, hearing the click click of the tracks. You are all here today because you like to ride the roller coaster.”

After the lecture and glimpse of Two Brothers’ bottling facilities, we were rewarded with tickets for 3 samples of anything on tap. Ebel’s Weiss was a traditional Hefeweizen with surprisingly strong banana flavors, which made it quite interesting. Next, I tried the Red Eye Coffee Porter, a bold ale loaded with an almost-overwhelming coffee flavor, sure to please java fans. The Northwind Imperial Stout was my favorite drink of the afternoon, rich and chocolatey, perfect for an overcast, chilly day. Unfortunately, it is on the way out for the winter, so be sure to check it out sooner rather than later. Finally, if you’ve had enough to drink for the day, you can also redeem your ticket for a sample of the housemade root beer or cream sodas.


If you want to stay for a meal, Two Brothers Tap House offers a full restaurant menu. The offerings run the gamut from fish tacos to burgers to Cuban sandwiches. We started off with an order of the nachos, which came on a heaping platter, covered with black beans, pico de gallo, cheese, chimichurri, sour cream and tomatillo salsa. At this point, stomachs were growling, but the nachos arrived in a zip and hit the spot.

The pulled pork sandwich caught my eye because it was billed as Lexington-style bbq, which features a thin vinegar-based sauce, rather than classic tomato-based bbq sauce. I hadn’t seen that on a menu since my last trip to well, North Carolina, so I gave it a whirl. The heaping pile of pulled pork was tender and juicy, though I wish there had been more acidity to it. Proper Lexington bbq coleslaw should also be reddish, since it incorporates the vinegar sauce instead of mayo. All in all, a solid Lexington-influenced pulled pork sandwich. For sides, you have the choice of fries, sweet potato fries, vegetables or rice and beans. I opted for the sweet potato fries, which were also pretty good, and adept at sopping up excess bbq sauce.

Two Brothers Brewery conducts tours every week on Saturdays at 1 and 2:30 pm. The tours are free and last about 45 minutes. Unlike Goose Island, there is no reservation process and no cap to the tour group size (today’s tour included about 75 participants). There is an adjacent shop where you can pick up Two Brothers swag, all manner of malts, and other supplies to get your home-brewing project off the ground. The brewery is located in Warrenville, IL. Have your GPS handy because the brewery is notoriously difficult to find, located in a nondescript building with no signage, marked only by a curiously full parking lot. The journey from Chicago takes about 45 min, driving west along I-290 and I-88. We made a day out of the trip by visiting nearby Fermilab beforehand. Beer and boson particles, a natural pairing, no?

30w315 Calumet Ave
Warrenville, IL 60555
(630) 393-BEER

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