When you visit the new Keg Grove Brewing Co. in Bloomington, the first thing you notice is the location.
Unlike the other three craft-beer destinations that have opened in the Twin Cities in the past year, Keg Grove is in the heart of the city. It’s on Empire Street, just steps from Constitution Trail, near Illinois Wesleyan University, and right between Downtown Bloomington and Veterans Parkway.
The entrepreneurs behind Keg Grove, which opens in May, say they chose the location for a reason, part of their “Beer First, Community First” mantra. That’s no surprise considering Jeffrey Mroz, Mike Hoff, and Tyler Cox all live in the same neighborhood. Mroz and Hoff live on the same block, and they struck up a friendship—and now a business partnership—based on the power of proximity and a shared love of brewing.
“The rest is history, and here we are,” said Hoff, sitting inside his new brewery.
Keg Grove is the latest entrant into a growing Bloomington-Normal craft beer scene. And while its owners love being part of that mix, there are also a few things they hope will set them apart.
They’re now building out their new brewery and taproom, inside the former Bloomington Cycle and Fitness store at 712 E. Empire Street. It’s spacious—not quite as spacious as the giant Destihl beer hall—with a main bar, publicly visible brewing tanks and equipment, as well as a unique upstairs mezzanine level that overlooks the whole place.
The buildout has been challenging, Mroz and Hoff say, but they’re still on track for May's opening. (The name, by the way, is a nod to Bloomington’s original name, Keg Grove. That traces back to a legend about early settlers leaving behind a keg of booze—likely rum or whisky—that was discovered by American Indians.)
“We want a beer version of a coffee house,” Hoff said of the vibe they hope to create.
The local craft beer scene is now feeding off itself. When GLT asked Mroz to name more established brewers who he aspires to be, the first name he mentioned was White Oak Brewing, the brewery and taproom that opened in west Normal in 2017. White Oak co-owner Bryan Ballard previously ran a well-known local homebrewing store called the Hop Shoppe, where Mroz used to shop for his ingredients. Ballard was a supportive teacher and problem-solver, Mroz said.
Mroz himself has been homebrewing for eight years. When did it become more than a hobby?
“It was people that tasted it. People who were over, hanging out with us (at their home and garage). It was their reactions. It was their responses,” Mroz said.
Beer as a community-builder is a thread that continues for Keg Grove today. They’ve been appearing at community events for several months, starting with the Bruegala fundraiser last summer. They’ve also participated in the West Bloomington Revitalization Project Tool Library’s Bed Blitz last fall, among other nonprofit events, and Mroz said that will continue as they open.
“We really want to be a part of this community. We want to work intricately with this community,” said Mroz, who is also a Unit 5 teacher (when he’s not making beer).
That same community is emerging as a serious destination for beer tourists who like to tour breweries and visit taprooms. In addition to Destihl, White Oak, and Keg Grove, Lil Beaver Brewery recently opened in south Bloomington. And several local bars and restaurants are carrying local brews.
Being part of that Twin City beer tour is exciting, Mroz said.
“That’s part of our drive,” he said.
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