From 1996 to 2010, Flossmoor Station Brewery was one of the most decorated breweries in Illinois and the craft beer movement nationwide due to its world class beers and signature tap room - its beautifully refurbished namesake, the Flossmoor Station. Since then, awards have been few and far between, distribution of their beer has been spotty and many smaller breweries have surpassed their storied reputation. How could this have happened to a brewery like Flossmoor during the height of the craft beer boom?
One answer may lie in a noticeable absence from social media. Flossmoor Station stated that their big upcoming changes include a more active online presence, so I contacted the new head brewer, Eymard Freire, on Twitter to see if he would talk to me about the past, present and future of this old Chicagoland brewery and he obliged with an hour of his time.
His story reads more as a Carmen San Diego adventure than that of someone in the beer industry. Most of his youth was spent in Brazil where he picked up a love of cooking from this family. Later on, he became a cook and worked at a Michelin starred restaurant in Dublin. "Imagine Hell's Kitchen (TV Show) but 100 times worse," Freire recalled. He had picked up a love of the science behind home brewing while in Minnesota and decided that he was just as passionate about brewing beer as he was about the culinary world. He cultivated this passion at the world-famous Siebel Institute, where he combined all of the things that he loved to do - cooking, technology, science and brewing. After additional stops at breweries in Indiana and Chicago, he found his home as the head brewmaster of one of the older breweries in Illinois.
Freire’s enthusiasm for the brewery’s future is apparent from the moment he begins talking. He grabs two snifters, starts to pour a copper colored beer, and begins to describe the notes that I should able to detect in its flavor. I was told to imagine citrus notes at the beginning of the beer, guava in the middle of the taste, and candied pineapple at the end - and it was exactly how he described it. Maquinista, a Double IPA, is his first beer released as head brewer. Although it is just the beginning of Flossmoor Station’s transformation, the new brew was a clear source of pride.
The plan is to release a new beer, a new style, or a new barrel-aged beer frequently and have a release party to accompany each new offering. "Look at my messages," as he shows me some hate mail of the social media variety. There are two types of people sending him these messages: old fans of Flossmoor who don't want the beers to change and new craft beer lovers who have had bad experiences with Flossmoor. For his changes to be successful, he has to get both types of people to love the re-imagined brewery.
"There is a fine line between novelty and gimmick," Freire suggests as we take a stroll through the brewery, the cellars, the offices and every other nook and cranny of Flossmoor. The next beer we taste is directly from the tanks of the 20+-year-old brewing equipment. This beer still has about a week left to ferment and then to carb. It is candied lemon peel saison with fresh rosemary. "This isn't a gimmick of a beer. I was thinking of what would pair well with a fish and then I started to think of all of the seasonings that you use to cook it and this is the creation." It isn't a gimmick, yet you would be hard pressed to find anything similar to this style in the BA history pages of Flossmoor Station, which is littered with common ales, English Milds and other beer styles that have fallen out of favor with many customers looking for the next new version of hops, adjuncts or souring bacteria to purchase. Freire also plans for fresh approaches to those styles of beer but not only because they are what customers want. Though he is very mindful of the traditions of Flossmoor, he also tends to brew what he likes to drink. "We will begin a sour barrel program soon (barrels and bacteria have already been purchased) and we will start to lager more beers; it just takes time."
Time and patience are two essentials in brewing but as a brewery you don't want to fall too far behind. As Freire was getting hired, other people were telling him of some of the plight of Flossmoor: "too far from the city," "carbonation issues," and "too much history to change," but these have not stopped him; they have only motivated him more. "The history of Flossmoor Station within the craft beer movement is one of the reasons I wanted this position," Freire stated. He pointed to the walls; there were very few knick-knacks or pictures on the walls, only medals, ribbons and "Best Of" awards. He is planning on using the styles and history of "Old Flossmoor" and mixing it with the new flavors of "New Flossmoor" to create a brand new brewery with 20 years of history as a backbone.
He pours another beer - the BA Shadow of the Moon, a barrel-aged stout. Pitch-black in color, the Woodford Reserve barrels deliver a satisfying singe to the nostrils. As you drink, you get a plethora of flavors: oak, vanilla, coconut and dark pitted cherries. This beer is a carryover from the previous regime and it is great. I have been to small breweries in Chicago that hold a special event to release a beer that is half as good as this beer but here it is: readily available at the source on tap and in bottles almost every day with no recognition or fanfare. This is part of the history that Freire will attempt to merge with his new beers and maybe someday, it too will get recognition.
Until that day comes, take the 30-minute train ride from Chicago to Flossmoor, sit back and enjoy the transformation happening to one of the quintessential Chicago breweries in person.