An inside look at Winnebago County’s top beer makers | Special

For craft beer lovers, there’s nothing quite like a frothy brew straight from the utter, or rather, the fermentation tank, especially if the recipe used in the brewing process offers a unique take on an old favorite. We took a look at the three brewers in Winnebago County to find out what’s on tap, what’s new and what sets each brewer apart.

Combined, Carlyle Brewing Company, Pig Minds Brewing Company and Rockford Brewing Company serve roughly 300,000 drinking-age adults living in Winnebago, Boone, Stephenson and Ogle counties.

Carlyle Brewing Company

Carlyle, the oldest of the Rockford area’s currently operating breweries, opened in 2003 as the passion project of Don Carlyle, a beer enthusiast who had been brewing his own recipes at home for years. In 2001, he started planning his brewpub, and two years later, the tanks began to fill.

What sets it apart? Carlyle is a classic pub. It’s brick walls and wood tables give the brewpub a throwback feel. There are no TVs on the walls or bottles of hard liquor behind the bar. It’s dedicated to craft beer and conversation, but also offers pub-style foods like bratwurst, pretzels and hot sandwiches.

Most popular beers: According to Carlyle, the Humulus Lupulus IPA and Vanilla Cream Ale are the two most popular beers he has on tap.

Anything new? Carlyle will offer a Belgian Tripel at the end of the summer and a Black Walnut Stout in early fall. “Ideas sometimes hit me in the middle of the night,” Carlyle said. Sometimes different brews jump out at him on a whim, he said. He’s always on the look out for something new to brew.

Seasonals: Carlyle has a consistent rotation of seasonal beers. Don said the brewpub usually offers a Maibach, a strong and hoppy German lager, in the spring; hefeweissen, a German wheat beer, in the summer; and Oktoberfest, a full-bodied amber lager, in the fall. In the winter, Carlyle said he usually offers a strong, full-bodied ale with high alcohol content and a barley wine aged in bourbon barrels.

Information: 215 E. State St., Rockford; 815-963-2739;

Pig Minds Brewing Company

Pig Minds owner Brian Endl combined forces with his head brewer Carson Souza eight years ago. Endl, who has a design background, loved drinking craft brews and decided to take his relationship with beer to the next level. He recruited Souza, who had just left Carlyle’s where he had been working as assistant brewer, and started Pig Minds with the idea that their beer would be creative and different from start to finish — from the first day of the brewing process to the artistic label on the bottle.

Page 2 of 3 – What sets it apart? Since the Pig Minds brewpub in Machesney Park opened, more than 50 unique brews, each with its own name, have pulsed through the taps. Pig Minds has distinguished itself as the expert experimenter in the Rockford Area, and though Endl and Souza were originally opposed to having “flagship” beers that would always be on tap, five brews have established themselves as Pig Minds staples: Blue Collar, Southie Bitch Slap, Joe Daddy Imperial Coffee Stout, Seep the Leg West Coast IPA and Prunis the Bitter.

Most Popular beers: Blue Collar (6 percent abv, California ale), Southie Bitch Slap (6.8 percent alcohol by volume, Irish red ale), Joe Daddy Imperial Coffee Stout (8.2 percent abv), Seep the Leg West Coast IPA (7.5 percent abv), and Prunus the Bitter IPA (6.8 percent abv).

Anything new? Always. Souza is constantly searching for a new twist on stylistic beers. He spends four or five days a week brewing, he said, and Pig Minds puts out around two new and unique beers a month. Check the Pig Minds website for updates about what’s on tap.

Information: 4080 Steele Drive, Machesney Park; 779-423-2147;

Rockford Brewing Company

Plans for Rockford Brewing Company began to take form three years ago, and ever since the beer began to flow, Vice President and Co-owner Reed Sjostrom said the local brewing community has been very supportive.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “The brewing industry is so welcoming.”

So far, demand for Rockford Brewing Co. beers has exceeded expectations, Sjostrom said. The Brewhouse went through 12 barrels of heffeweissen in two weeks and they’ve been forced to increase production, he said.

What sets it apart? Rockford Brewing Company is a combination of classic and modern. Like Carlyle, the brewery offers more traditional brews, but its refurbished post-industrial Prairie Street Brewhouse home has an old-school look and a new-school feel. Behind the bar, beer is pumped through a traditional beer engine rather than a tap. Beer engines serve brews at a higher temperature and with a lower carbonation level than taps, which Sjostrom said contributes to a better taste.

Most popular beers: West Coast IPA, Hefeweissen, Nikolob, Screw City Light

Anything new? Sjostrom said Rockford Brewing Company has added a Berlinerweiss to the taps. He also mentioned something in the works he called a “secret weapon,” but wouldn’t describe in more detail. Sjostrom said that he, along with the two other owners and the master brewer, brainstorm ideas for new brews over a pint in “the brewer’s lounge,” an area above the fermentation tanks with chairs and a table located behind the brewpub’s bar. Rockford Brewing Company will also begin offering its own root beer in the near future, Sjostrom said.

Page 3 of 3 – Information: 200 Prairie St., Rockford; 815-277-9427;

Ben Stanley: 815-987-1369;; @Ben_J_Stanley

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