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B-N Beer Tourism Brewing As White Oak Takes Off

The new Destihl Brewery in northeast Normal has put Bloomington-Normal on the craft beer map. But another smaller but growing brewery is taking off across town—inspired in part by Destihl’s success.

White Oak Brewing is a small production brewery in west Normal that opened its taproom in February, at 1801 Industrial Park Drive. Its owners previously ran a home-brewing shop at that location but are now focusing on White Oak, brewing 40-50 barrels a month and selling across Central Illinois.

Their growth—from home-brewers to commercial brewers and now a taproom—prompts questions about what’s next for White Oak. Co-owner Bryan Ballard gets that a lot.

“We’re pretty committed to just doing the best we can to make sure we fulfill demand, to meet our own quality demands, and slowly scale that up as demand grows,” said Ballard, a Normal native who co-owns White Oak with Scott Scherer and Mark Reichert. “We’re committed to making slightly more beer than people want to buy.”

"We're committed to making slightly more beer than people want to buy."

The taproom—with its hard-to-find location in an industrial park in far west Normal—has been a sort of hidden gem among Twin City craft-beer lovers in recent months. It’s attached to a 2,000-square-foot production facility that’s strategically located with easy access to transportation, water, and electricity.

The taproom, with a relaxing outdoor patio space, features eight beers, many with memorable names like Seems Legit (Belgian IPA), Holla Atcha (blonde ale) and Bro … Do You Even IPA? (IPA). Their eclectic styles trace back to their home-brewing roots, where they were eager to try just about anything. In the past two years, White Oak has done around 30 to 40 different beers. (They now offer growlers to-go, by the way.)

“We just try and maintain our quality and make beers that are super approachable,” Ballard said. “We like to have some novelty in our items to stand out in our field, but we make sure we keep everything drinkable and really technically sound, which has sort of become our calling card.”

White Oak is the latest entrant into Bloomington-Normal’s craft beer scene, dominated up until now by Destihl. The $14 million Destihl brewery and “beer hall” opened in May. A well-known local homebrewer, Chad Bevers, recently obtained a liquor license and plans to open his Lil Beaver Brewer nano-brewery at 16 Currency Drive in south Bloomington.

Some see potential for a beer tourism industry in Bloomington-Normal. Indeed, Ballard said the White Oak crew would get frequent questions from out-of-towners asking if they could come visit. They had to say no—until their taproom opened in February.

These breweries add another destination for the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote, said Crystal Howard, the bureau’s director. Beer tourism is relatively new, but Howard said Illinois’ 150+ breweries makes it ripe for growth. (See a map of Illinois breweries.)

“It’s pretty much on par with wineries nowadays,” said Howard, noting plans to build relationships with the breweries. “We are partners with them to help them help themselves.”

Ballard sees that potential too.

“We think it’s exciting. It seems like the other communities in our area, like Champaign and Springfield, have quite a few breweries, and it’s exciting to see them create a beer scene in their market,” Ballard said.

Ballard says other Central Illinois breweries—like Destihl and Triptych in Savoy, where White Oak has bought some hand-me-down equipment—have been models for craft-beer success.

“The people that we admire, that we look up to, that set the standard that we try to maintain, it’s fortunate because they’re so close and we actually get to work with them,” Ballard said.

White Oak Brewing will be featured at the Bruegala beer festival on Aug. 18-19 at the Corn Crib.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.