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Business hopping for breweries in Aurora area

May 6, 2016
In The News

Brewing is a growing business in the Aurora area that is beginning to get some attention.

In fact, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) recently took a fact-finding mission to two burgeoning businesses that are part of the growing industry – all within about a 2-mile radius of his far East Side Aurora office.

In visiting the Solemn Oath Brewery, 1661 Quincy Ave., Naperville, and the Hopvine Brewing Co., 4030 Fox Valley Center Drive, Aurora, he managed to see two distinctly different operations that are both emerging successes in the craft beer brewing industry.

Solemn Oath, for instance, which is about to celebrate it fourth year, grew some 700 percent in a three-year period, according to John Barley, president and chief executive officer. The company started with four employees, and now has 17.

"And we still cannot make enough beer," Barley said.

They are looking at expanding to Rockford, Champaign and Bloomington.

The company is primarily a brewery with growing distribution to taverns and restaurants. It also has a small, no-frills bar open to the public burrowed in one end of its brewing operation.

"It's basically two products," said Doug Isley. "It helps having both sides, especially when it comes to pairings. It used to be pairing with food was just done with wine, but now there are beer pairings."That's in stark contrast to Hopvine, which is as much a restaurant as a brewery. Owners Doug and Jan Isley refer to it as two businesses in one that, for the moment, only serves the beer Brewmaster Ken McMullen makes at the restaurant. They are looking at expanding into distribution that could take their product to other taverns and restaurants.

In the 11th District alone, which covers portions of Aurora and Naperville, parts of southern DuPage County, northern Will County and eastern Kendall County, there are five craft breweries and two brewpubs. Statewide, there are 103 craft breweries that account for 17,000 jobs.

That's why Foster has joined the Small Brewers Caucus in the U.S. House, and why he took his tour to see some of the operations first hand.

Right now, the caucus is interested in pushing House Resolution 2903, which would cut taxes for brewers making 60,000 barrels of beer or less a year. That would include both Solemn Oath and Hopvine.

Meanwhile, both businesses continue to be successful and looking to grow.

Perhaps more importantly, the business owners and employees have fun at work coming up with new ideas for beer and how to market it.

Right now, it's a business that has multiple ways to enter it – from being self-taught to taking college classes.

The traditional way to become a brewer was to be an apprentice to another brewer. As the brewmaster at Hopvine, McMullen has formal training, but he acknowledges his is a labor of love.

"It's a hobby that got out of control," he said, chuckling.

At Solemn Oath, Barley acknowledges that he gets comments all the time about his name – close to the infamous John Barleycorn, the name in the iconic Robert Burns poem from which Solemn Oath gets its name.

"It's real, it's my family name," Barley said, smiling. "I often tell people I didn't choose this business, it chose me."