They had the knowledge, the staff and the passion to open a new craft brewing company. What they didn’t have was a name.
“A friend asked (founder David Yob) a very simple question: ‘What are you trying to do? Why are you getting into the brewing industry?’” says Ken Henricks, president of Alter Brewing. “And he said, ‘Well, you know, we really have a passion for craft beer. We’ve got an accomplished brewer. So we’re really just trying to alter our career paths.’ And the light bulb went off right there.”
After its first location opened in Downers Grove in late 2015, Alter Brewing’s model switched to “growth through A-plus location, hospitality and brand awareness outposts,” Henricks says. Hence, the brand expanded with the May opening of a second spot, Alter Brewing and Kitchen, which has a spacious patio and taproom situated along the Fox River in the heart of St. Charles. A-plus location? Check.
The new location also added a food menu, which executive chef Eric Klekamp compares to doing covers of songs — taking traditional bar and comfort food and, well, altering it.
Klekamp says his team was “very conscious of being inclusive” when developing the menu. “There was a lot of thought given to making sure we had a breadth of vegetarian and gluten-free items,” says Henricks. “That particular segment of the menu is really resonating.”
The vegan mushroom banh mi and ever-changing burger of the week have been hits so far. “We tend to be pretty bold,” Klekamp says of the seasonal flavors incorporated into the burger of the week. “People in St. Charles have been overwhelmingly accepting,” he says. “People are getting it, which is fantastic.”
Heavy Squeeze — an unfiltered lemon wheat beer similar to a shandy and described on Alter’s website as “a lemon square in a can” — has dominated the Alter drinking scene. It was originally intended to be a seasonal offering but is now a year-round option after being so well-received. It “flew off the shelves,” says Mark Hedrick, director of brewing operations at Alter.
An informal team names the beers — Hell Hazed Over (New England-style India pale ale), Hopular Kid (Extra pale ale) and Alterior Motive (IPA), among the fruits of its labor.
Festbier, a traditional German beer, is the next planned seasonal offering. “This year’s version is super clean, very well-balanced,” says Hedrick, who started brewing beer as a hobby more than 20 years ago.
In late October or early November, the outdoor patio area will be enveloped in a 900-square foot “heated enclosure,” which Henricks says has panoramic glass paneling to still allow for those river views. In keeping with the cold weather, around this time the company will release Swedda Wedda, an oatmeal stout geared toward winter.
Everyone at Alter highlighted the culture of teamwork. Klekamp says it’s great to be a part of a place where everyone is genuinely happy to be there. “I’ve never seen a team come together like this,” he says.
“You can’t just have good beer, you can’t just have good food, you can’t just have a cool space to hang out,” Hedrick says. “You really have to have the complete package.”