3954 Central Point Rd Cantrall, Il 62625
It was a surprisingly beautiful Saturday in late January, sunny with the temperature in the mid 50’s. I was worried I was going to be late and showed up at the end of the road, right at the entrance to Rolling Meadows, at 12:53. Phew, I somehow got there with 7 minutes to spare. I didn’t see anyone so I sat in my car pulled to the side of the road. Right at 1pm Chris Trudeau, the founder, showed up in his truck. I followed his truck onto the the Rolling Meadows property.
Upon entering it becomes evident why they chose the name Rolling Meadows. The property is set right on the bend of the Sangamon river. The brewery and farm contain the highest point in the county as well as the lowest point, at the river basin. The meadows truly roll along to the eye. This also creates a great wind tunnel which Chris hopes to harness in the future by setting up windmills to generate power for the brewery. Along with the windmills he is looking to install solar panels. This is all several years down the road, but he is thinking long term on how to make the brewery and farm a truly self sustaining and even more environmentally friendly enterprise.
We walked into the brewery building. At this point you either need to pay a trivial $6 tour fee or hand over a free tour ticket. Chris has been handing out free tour tickets at Rolling Meadows tastings at local grocery stores and beer emporiums recently. I was fortunate enough to have a free tour ticket. He mentioned that there were two other people who were scheduled to show up for the tour. While we waited on them he said “Let’s start things off right. Want a beer?” I of course answered in the affirmative. We walked over to the small taps and I had two choices, the Abe’s Ale or the seasonal brew, Wet Hop Slam Dunkle. While I’m a huge fan of the Abe’s Ale, I had never tried the Wet Hop Slam Dunkle so had to go with that one.
Just as I was starting to drink my beer the other tour participants arrived. Chris immediately offered them a beer. They also had the Wet Hop Slam Dunkle, mentioning how much they had enjoyed that beer at a local bar. One of the best things I like about Chris is the pride he takes in his work. Whenever anyone compliments him on his beer he always replies “Thank you” in the most genuine way possible. He really appreciates it when people like his art, his work, his beer.
Now that everyone had arrived and had a beer in hand the Tour began. Chris gave us some background info on how the whole idea of Rolling Meadows formed. He was at college in Vancouver for design school. During one of his classes, a guest speaker from a local Vancouver brewery talked about the most important aspect of a brewery being “branding.” Chris thought that it’d be really cool to do designs for a brewery. The seed was planted and no one had any idea it would blossom into Rolling Meadows.
His brother had dabbled with the idea of home-brewing some beer and had left a homebrew kit in their parent’s basement. Chris and his mother decided to use the homebrew kit and happened to have some blood oranges handy and used that in one of their first experimental batches. That experimental beer and recipe is now the yearly spring seasonal beer, R.M.B. Blood Orange, which is incredibly tasty. You can read about my full thoughts on that brew tomorrow.
Chris and his brother discovered a passion for homebrewing. With some financial backing from their family, they decided to build a microbrewery in the Springfield, Il area, where they grew up. They were just about done with getting the building set up and all the equipment in place when AB InBev sued the state of Illinois, stating that the Illinois law allowing self distribution for breweries was unfair to their business. Seriously AB InBev, this giant multinational conglomerate, was acting like a five year old whining “It’s not fair.” While the argument sounds ridiculous AB InBev has deep pockets and was able to spend a lot of money lobbying the state of Illinois1. This all was happening about 30 days before Rolling Meadows was to open up operations. The only nice thing about all of this for Chris is that Springfield is the state capitol. So Chris was able to go directly to the Capitol and become a lobbyist talking with different representatives. You can read a more in depth piece about all this written by Andy Brownfield of the State Journal-Register.
The cliff notes version is that Chris was able to talk with a Senator who agreed with him and they were able to strike a compromise with distributors that small breweries could self distribute. House Bill 205 passed just in the nick of time for Rolling Meadows. Thanks to the passage of the bills, Rolling Meadows is able to use their own refrigerated truck to deliver their beer directly to bars and stores. Their entire operation consists of 5 people. They brew, bottle, label, and deliver the beers all on their own.
The reason they have a refrigerated truck is because they do not pasteurize their beer, so it needs to stay cold. That is why you will only find Rolling Meadows in the cooler section of stores.
After going through the story of Rolling Meadows’ origins, Chris took us out to see the hop fields and the llamas and goats they have on the farm. As mentioned at the beginning, Chris is a big believer in sustainability and being eco-friendly. Every brewery produces spent grains as part of the brewing process. Many breweries will give these spent grains to farmers to feed cattle, like Schlafly for instance. Rolling Meadows being their own farmers use the spent grains to feed their llamas and goats. What’s great about llamas is that their poop is a perfect fertilizer, with no alterations necessary. So they simply scoop llama poop and spread it over the growing area of the hops and other vegetation. The hops grow, are harvested, and then used in the brewing of the beer, which in turn produces more spent grains to feed the llamas. It’s a wonderful life cycle.
Rolling meadows grows as many ingredients as possible on their farm. They will also use ingredients from other local farms. With the Rolling Meadows Cherry Wit for instances they used cherries from Jefferies Orchard which is right down the road from them. They are looking into planting some grains on premise in the near future to go along with the hops and other ingredients they harvest on the farm. They even have bees that they get honey from to use in some of their beers.
The most important ingredient in beer is water. Most breweries have to spend a ton of money on procuring water from municipal sources. Rolling Meadows uses their own artisanal well water. This not only saves them money but provides a higher quality of water to help make a higher quality beer.
After seeing the llamas and where they grow their hops, we went back inside and I asked if we could go down to the lower level of the brewery. The tour at this point was basically over and we all chatted while I took a number of pictures.
Chris was a great tour guide, obviously knowing everything possible about the brewery. He is a gracious and generous host and loves talking about everything that goes into the beer he makes. If you have a free Saturday coming up, call Rolling Meadows ahead of time and make an appointment for a tour. It’s a beautiful facility and will be an entertaining and informative trip. Best of all you get to drink some of their wonderful beer.