Crystal Lake Brewing preparing expanded beer garden

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Some creative forward thinking could pay off nicely for Crystal Lake Brewing Company.

Owner John O’Fallon petitioned the Crystal Lake City Council six weeks ago to expand Crystal Lake Brewing’s beer garden. The council approved that expansion two weeks ago, and O’Fallon and his employees started reconfiguration on Wednesday, when they heard the good news.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday that restaurants and bars could re-open on May 29 with outdoor seating. The COVID-19 pandemic had closed restaurants and bars to normal operations inside their buildings, forcing them to get by with deliveries and curbside pickups.

O’Fallon estimates that, by May 29, Crystal Lake Brewing’s outdoor section will be able to seat about 80 people safely. It currently seats about a dozen.

“You could kind of see this coming,” O’Fallon said. “They weren’t just going to flip a light switch and say you can put 120 people back in a taproom. That wasn’t going to happen. Occupancy was going to be limited. We’re taking our front parking lot and turning it into and expanded beer garden.”

O’Fallon and assistant brewer Tom Michalski were working on the project when they heard the governor’s announcement.

O’Fallon said they were taking old wine and whiskey barrels, used for their barrel-aged beers, and placing them about 12 feet apart to establish a perimeter around the parking lot. They were then putting up handrails from one barrel to the next.

“When we got to work on it, we thought we were ahead of the curve,” O’Fallon said. “We were kind of planning on May 29, but figuring it was going to be a couple weeks after that. We definitely have a plan to be open on May 29 for outdoor seating.”

O’Fallon posted some pictures on Crystal Lake Brewing Company’s Facebook page with the announcement and was blown away by the responses.

“In a half hour, we had 189 Likes,” he said. “It absolutely exploded. I’ve never had a post like this. When we won the World Beer Cup it was close, but people are just so happy to know there’s an end in sight.”

O’Fallon said Crystal Lake Brewing has managed to make it through two-plus months with deliveries and curbside pickups bringing in about 60% to 70% of its normal business.

“It’s painful, but it’s helped,” O’Fallon said of the deliveries and curbside business. “It’s not sustainable for the long term, but we’ve been able to get through it. Most of our product goes out to wholesale. Normally, we sell 50% kegs and 50% in cans. The kegs all go to bars and restaurants.

“We haven’t sold a keg of beer in eight weeks. It’s been all cans. People are still drinking. Our keg business went from 100 to zero, but our canning business has gone up 60 to 70% over what it normally would be. Our canning line has been pretty much non-stop.”