By Anna Lothson
There's quite a difference between a microbrewery and a home brewery, but with the help of brew master Brian Buckman, the two will form a union.
What's better though is that his vision could help brew up some fresh activity in central Oak Park.
Buckman, a Chicago resident and owner of Illuminated Brew Works, is working to bring the first ever brew pub to the village. As early as next spring, as long as the village approves and equipment comes in, the brewery could open its doors. Currently, the village is in the process of drafting a new liquor license to allow for the brew pub.
The location isn't finalized, but after Buckman visited multiple locations around Oak Park it was determined The Avenue district, likely near South Oak Park Avenue would be the ideal location due to its neighborhood feel and proximity to the CTA.
Chicago seems to be the hot spot for breweries, so the question remains, why Oak Park?
"Oak Park had expressed interest in a brewery. Everyone is very excited and supportive," Buckman said. "It's a big decision to not do it in Chicago because it's my home, but it's really hard to argue with the excitement."
He isn't looking to simply open a business; instead Buckman hopes to immerse the business into the community. He's got a few unique plans he thinks will create a sense of community and ownership for Oak Parkers who want to dabble in the brewing industry.
The brewery will open first, but within 12 to 18 months he expects to open an adjacent facility that will allow for brewing classes and a community brewing space. In fact, each month Illuminated Brew Works will feature a homemade brew from one of the customers.
"This is the perfect synergy of the home brew and the personal experience," Buckman said. "People expect more personalization in their experience. People don't just want to be told how to drink."
He also plans to offer a mug club program that involves gathering fees from members that would later be matched by the brewery and donated to an organization in Oak Park.
"It's important to me to not only be a good neighbor," he said, "but important to be an invested member of the community."
Buckman compared the brewing revolution to the surge of social media, explaining that everyone wants to get their hand in the game. Like social media, beer and brewing can spark conversations and connect people with similar interests.
The concept for a community brewing space came from Buckman's own start in home brewing just more than four years ago when he and a friend tried to concoct their own beer at home. He knew his home wasn't an ideal condition for making quality beer and wondered why more spaces weren't offered for people who want to practice brewing.
"Brewing is a hobby that is difficult to retain," Buckman said. "You either get sick of it or indulge in it."
He leaned toward the latter and decided to stir up the concept that continues his passion. Brewing to him is like an art, one that is a result of personal taste and can be shared with others. The brew pub and community brewing space he hopes will create a sense of community and encourage others to get creative.
"It's driven by community and driven by community feedback," he said. "[Oak Park] is certainly a community that's interested in creativity and interested in beer."
Bringing those two factors can spark engagement and activity in an Oak Park neighborhood where Buckman sees room for growth. There's open space and he's excited about bringing new life to the community and watching it grow.
"I'm pretty excited we'll give more exposure to more recipes," he said. "Home brewing is more exciting because people are talking more. People love the idea that you're not really limited by anything. I'm excited to see what people come up with."
Buckman said the pub itself will be designed in a coffee-shop motif to encourage more conversation and offer a relaxing atmosphere. It will serve locally brewed coffee and baked goods in the early morning and day hours for commuters. Plans are also in the works to offer small plates, various meats and upscale sandwiches.
The venture, albeit ambitious, is one Buckman has been tossing around for years and one he's ready to tackle.
"It appeals to my proclivity to jump into the unknown a little bit," he said. "It's not the easiest way to go about things, but you can't argue with the desire to be part of the changing nature of Oak Park."