Is nano-brewery in the works for Oak Park?

Village resident also eyes Berwyn as possible location for beer production


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Back in the mid-1990s, Oak Parker Brian Keyes bought his first make-your-own-beer kit. Since then, it's become a preoccupation, one he hopes to take to the level of occupation by opening his own brewery right here in his hometown.

Keyes, 38, is calling the venture Off Key Brewing, a play on his last name, and plans to brew unusual beers.

He and his business partner, St. Charles resident Jon Freedlund, hope to offer some of their signature homebrews, including Harry Knuckle Rye (described as spicy and floral with hoppy notes) or Mr. Hyde (a "breakfast stout" with hints of coffee, oats, chocolate and vanilla).

There's not a ton of money to be made in microbrewing, Keyes said. It's more about the love of beer for him.

"Nobody gets into beer for the money," he said. "I'm a family man. I've got three children and, ultimately, I need to do what's best for them, not what's best for me as far as starting a company. The reality is that it's a huge financial risk to put everything on the line like that."

So, Off Key Brewing is starting off small, what Keyes calls a "nano-brewery," looking for a storefront location where they can brew about 300 kegs a year. Bottling is expensive, so they plan to just sell kegs or 64-ounce jugs called "growlers" for walk-in customers. They already have a logo designed, a website in development and a business plan completed.

Realistically, Keyes believes they're 12-18 months from opening. Right now they're scouting locations in both Oak Park and Berwyn. His preference is to keep it local, but real estate has proved to be expensive.

It's not 100-percent certain that the brewery will come to fruition, said Keyes, who works by day as a computer programmer for an investment firm in Chicago.

"I'm not quitting my day job yet," he said. "It's something I want to do. I do feel like I'm standing on the side of the pool looking in, trying to figure out how cold it is. But I know once I'm in that pool, the swim's going to be great."

Freedlund will focus more on the business side of Off Key. The 38-year-old marketing company owner gives the brewery an 85 percent chance of opening, with the main hurdles being legislation and finding an affordable location. If and when they get off the ground, he thinks Keyes' watermelon brew and other "drinkable" recipes will help build a following.

"Brian is the artist here," Freedlund said. "He really can form a beer that isn't so scary or isn't on the periphery of beer drinkers."

The small, "boutique" beer makers are gradually becoming the rage, said Beejay Oslon, who is opening Pipeworks, which he believes to be the first nano-brewery in Chicago, by the end of this summer. According to the 29-year-old Humboldt Park resident, a nano is loosely defined as brewing up to 2,000 kegs a year (in contrast, Goose Island Brewery in Chicago brewed 260,000 kegs in 2010).

"As you see more home brewers wanting to take the plunge to make this a profession, the nano-brewery model makes a lot of sense just because it's a lot cheaper," Oslon said. "Opening up a full-scale microbrewery can be a very expensive endeavor."

Virginia Cassin, 87 — the Oak Park village clerk from 1973 to 1993, who helped oversee the community's transition from a dry town in the early '70s — worries that a brewery might not fit Oak Park's image. Back then, the village was careful and tasteful in crafting its liquor ordinance, making sure that only businesses that serve food could sell alcoholic beverages.

"I don't know that [a microbrewery] fits the image of Oak Park," she said.

But members of the village board and village staff have expressed enthusiasm for seeing a brewery open here. Village Manager Tom Barwin thinks such a business fits with Oak Park's efforts to become a greener community.

"Anybody who wants to open up a quality microbrewery we will meet with at the drop of a hat and do everything we can to facilitate that kind of investment here," he said. "It's the most sustainable beer. You don't have to truck it in. You don't have to recycle bottles and cans. We're hoping to see this kind of investment here in the not-too-distant future."

Reader Comments

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Terry Ingram  

Posted: April 21st, 2013 10:38 AM

I am in the process of starting a Local Mobile Craft Beer Canning service in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. This service provides a very low start up cost alternative to purchasing a bottling or canning line. Canning will open up the door to new distribution options such as selling cans out of your brewery / tap room location and or and getting your beer out to the local markets. I would like to discuss any interest you would have in Canning Your Beer at Your Location.

Mitch from Berwyn  

Posted: May 12th, 2011 5:44 PM

This article made me thristy! If anyone can make this work, it's you guys! Remember, free labor in Berwyn.

Francis Mullen from Oak Park  

Posted: May 12th, 2011 4:43 PM

Please consider Roosevelt Rd. I believe it's a TIF district and is undergoing redevelopment. There are plenty of empty storefronts on both sides of the street. Fitzgerald's has had the lonely job of providing a cool destination to this dreary stretch for too long. If it doesn't work out, the re-dev. should provide a hedge against the property becoming an albatross. Besides, it's close enough for me to walk to. And from.

Carolyn Cullen from Oak Park  

Posted: May 12th, 2011 8:16 AM

Awesome news, I really hope you can make it work. I've been a craft beer fan for 20 years and would love local growlers. Perhaps you could plan how-to brew classes like bev-art does (on the far South Side)?

Cathriona from River Forest  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 8:01 PM

Hope this comes to fruition as the Keyes Family are the nicest people you could ever meet. Way to go Brian.

love it from oak park  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 9:27 AM

Brian, good luck, I hope the peoples republic of Oak Park makes this easy for you. And with all due respect to Virginia Cassin, is she the only person that this columnist could ask for an opinion on? "Former" village president who is 87 worries that it won't fit in with Oak Park's Image? Please, it could only help. What exactly does she want Oak Park's image to be? It isn't 1980 anymore. Again, Good Luck Brian, you'll need it in Oak Park. Watch Forest Park sweep in and make this happen.

Brian Keyes  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 9:15 AM

@Adam - Drop me a line(info at and I'll be more than happy to answer any brewing questions you have. @OP Resident - The current plan is to have a tasting room only. We are going to need to work very closely with the village to ensure that what we currently have planned meshes with village ordinances. @M - Ill be sure to give that area a good look, thanks for the tip.

PDT from Columbus   

Posted: May 11th, 2011 12:33 AM

This is a great idea !!!! I travel to Wisconsin every year for a beerfest and always break up the drive with a stop over night in oak park. It would be great to have a quality brewery to go to.

patrick Haavig from chicago  

Posted: May 10th, 2011 8:36 PM

I think it is a great idea. I would definitely stop in for a growler of fine home brew every so often.

Sally Gulde from Fort Worth, TX - former Oak Parker  

Posted: May 10th, 2011 8:25 PM

Thumbs up from me too. I'm not a huge beer lover and yet, have had and loved Brian's. He's super talented... and not to mention, nice guy too. Oak Parkers, support this guy. ;)

maitner from grand rapids  

Posted: May 10th, 2011 11:36 AM

Have had some of this guys brew before and I must put my stamp on the Vanilla Bourbon Porter!!!!!!


Posted: May 9th, 2011 1:54 PM

Add me to the count. No shortage of support here. I have no doubt this would be very sucessful in oak park. Lets get em!!!!

OP Resident  

Posted: May 9th, 2011 12:40 PM

Good call, M! Either of those locations would be ideal.

Alan Reed from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 9th, 2011 12:22 PM

This would be terrific! Big supporter here!

Steve Bankes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 9th, 2011 11:21 AM

Would love to see this happen. Count on my full support!

M on Ridgeland from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2011 10:51 AM

Would love to see this happen in Oak Park! Have you looked along Harrison St. Arts area? The Home Juice building near Ridgeland has been vacant for so long and is an eye sore. Or the building down by Harrison and Lombard that used to be a grocery store. Hope this happens in Oak Park!

Adam Salzman from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2011 10:34 AM

I am an amateur brewer myself, but something tells me that I am not as talented as Mr. Keyes. Maybe we can arrange for a lesson, Brian. Regardless, I look forward to adding this small business to our landscape . . . It would be a great addition.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 8th, 2011 10:30 PM

Carryouts only?

Brian Keyes from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2011 9:08 PM

Love these comments! Keep them coming. While Jon and I work to get the doors open and the beer flowing, keep drinking local! All the Best. bk

OP Dad from Oak Park  

Posted: May 8th, 2011 3:58 PM

How about the Comcast building... I hear it is for sale. Maybe a micro-brew on Madison would to bring some of the Forest Park gentrification back to Oak Park!

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2011 6:29 AM

All hands on deck to try to make this happen.

Beer loving OP Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 6:57 PM

This is a great idea, and the kind of business Oak Park needs! I will definitely support this!

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 5:25 PM

Thumbs up!


Posted: May 6th, 2011 5:09 PM

Really hope this happens. Maybe the village can kick in some incentives to keep it in Oak Park. The space next to the Book Table would be perfect.

epic lulz  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 5:04 PM

Nice to hear. Less nail salons and clothing boutiques and more micro breweries!

Matt C from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 5:03 PM

Yes! I will be a frequent customer. Hope it happens and they get an Oak Park location.

Papa Helmo from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 5:03 PM

Sign me up as a Mug Club charter member.


Posted: May 6th, 2011 4:54 PM

Sign me up! I can't wait to try the hoppy rye - sounds yummy.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 4:46 PM

Fantastic! We travel all the way to Two Brothers in Warrenville, and were just in Munster, Indiana at Three Floyd's last weekend, all in the name of good micro-brew. We will be first in line when you open!

Lisa Dodge from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 4:30 PM

Finally someone is opening a store in OP that I can relate to! I can't wait until this happens...until then I will keep my fingers crossed that he finds a great location...good luck!

Libbey Paul from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 4:27 PM

Love it! I sure hope it comes to fruition. Maybe you could increase your financial viability by partnering with an existing business? Marion Street Cheese Market comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others...

David Kindler from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 4:24 PM

I plan to do my part to help them succeed.

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