- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) - As the craft beer industry continues to evolve, new business owner Mike Dallas of Scorched Earth Brewing Company said progress certainly has been made both near and far, but there’s still a long way to go.

There are now 3,400 breweries scattered throughout the nation, with an average of 1.5 breweries opening every day, said Katie Marisic, manager of federal affairs for the Brewers Association, an organization that works to promote independent American brewers. Those in the beer-brewing world have attributed the growth, in part, to recent and forthcoming legislative action, but local brewers also emphasized the importance of focusing on local attention alongside that.

In McHenry County, the three breweries - Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Company in McHenry, Crystal Lake Brewing and Scorched Earth out of Algonquin - are relatively new, all opening within the last year or two.

“I think the state of Illinois has been behind,” Dallas said, adding he thinks the state has made moves to help foster the craft beer industry into what it’s been for years in other parts of the country.

Illinois legislation sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk in early-June - in part upping the number of barrels of beer a brewery can produce a year from 30,000 to 120,000 - is not expected to affect the three breweries in McHenry County in the foreseeable future. However, the local brewers said it does bring to light the fact that state and federal rulings could play a significant role in the industry’s growth, in addition to local efforts.



“Everybody in this county is significantly under that (30,000 barrels) cap right now,” Dallas said of the recent legislation. “There’s not a major effect to us.”

President of the Illinois Brewers Guild John Barley, who called the craft beer industry a “permanent revolution” echoed the statement, adding there is actually a very small number of breweries it will directly affect right away. Still, he said the bill moves to keep the “modernization” of the industry going in Illinois.

With breweries opening more often, not just in the city, but in suburban areas like McHenry County, Barley said the legislation will give those fledgling facilities more options in the case of expansion.

“This would give them a lot more flexibility with growing the business the way they want to,” he said.

But for Curt Ames, owner of Chain O’ Lakes Brewing System, said it likely won’t ever become relevant to him.

“I opened up to always be a 500-barrels-and-below, one-site operation,” Ames said.

Similarly, co-owner John O’Fallon said Crystal Lake Brewing’s five-year plan calls for it to get to about 10,000 barrels.

“It’s just beyond the scope of our current business model,” he said, though he added expansion to a point where the potential law would become relevant is a good dream to have for the future.

What he and the other local brewers said would have a direct effect is a piece of federal legislation, still in its infancy stages.

The legislation is a combination of the previously discussed Small Brew Act and the Fair Brew Act, said Katie Marisic, manager of federal affairs for the Brewers Association.

A variety of provisions are included, but local brewers are most interested in a section that would lower the amount they pay in excise taxes.

“As it’s written, any brewery that produces less than 2 million barrels would go from paying $7 per barrel to $3.50,” Marisic said, later adding, “It would mean a big boom for them.

“It would allow them to reinvest in their breweries, expand if they want to and ultimately create more jobs.”

Both O’Fallon and Dallas said they have written to lawmakers, asking them to sponsor such legislation, which they both said they’re following fairly closely.

And while the brewers said they will participate in furthering the industry that way, meanwhile, Dallas said the focus as a new business has been to do what he can to further his brewery locally.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “There are still accounts (local restaurants and bars) that are not receptive. … We still see so many accounts out there that are still nervous and holding on to regional brands while not supporting local brands.”

Getting his brand integrated into McHenry County’s developing craft beer sector has been challenging, Dallas said, adding it’s about proper marketing and simply taking every opportunity to talk to people about Scorched Earth’s beer.

“For us personally, we really want to focus first on making quality beer and building our brand here,” he said.

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, https://bit.ly/1LyEOLa

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, https://www.nwherald.com

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