Lil Beaver Brewery Creating a Buzz in South Bloomington
There are a lot of things craft brewer Chad Bevers loves about beer, including sharing it.
Now that he and longtime friend Dale Thomas own their own brewery and taproom, Lil Beaver Brewery, Bevers has the best of both worlds.
“Not only do I get to share my beer with anyone who wants it, but they pay me to try it.”
Bevers--whose name is pronounced just like the dam-building critter’s--took up homebrewing 17 years ago after trying a beer called “Porter from Hell’ at the now-shuttered Illinois Brewing Company in Downtown Bloomington.
“I took a drink and it just instantly changed my entire perception of beer.”
What started as a hobby led to Bevers running the “brew” side of the Bloomington-Normal Jaycees’ annual charity event, Bruegala, helping it grow to what is now the largest downstate beer festival in Illinois.
Bevers said he was satisfied with homebrewing until one of his beers took him to the final round of the 2015 Sam Adams Longshot national homebrew competition.
He didn’t win, but the level of national enthusiasm for his creation convinced Bevers of what locals had been saying for years. With his wife Amy’s blessing, Bevers made Thomas his business partner and set out to open a brewery.
With Destihl in full swing and White Oak Brewing having just opened in Normal, the two launched a Kickstarter campaign to gauge the level of interest for what would be the community’s third brewery. In just a few days the campaign met its $20,000 goal, ultimately raising $35,000.
Two years later, Lil Beaver Brewery started production at 16 Currency Drive in Bloomington, with the taproom opening for business in January 2018.
Since starting production Bevers said he’s received an overwhelming number of requests to put Lil Beaver brews on tap. Around ten Bloomington-Normal restaurants and bars, as well as one Chicago venue, currently serve Lil Beaver beers, keeping the crew plenty busy.
“We’re not really going out and pushing new accounts,” said Bevers. “We’re still trying to keep up with the beer, refining our processes, things of that nature.”
For now, the taproom is only open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
“We all still have day jobs,” said Bevers, who is also the executive director of Bloomington’s Midwest Food Bank. “It’s a literal moonlight gig for us at this point, plus Dale and I both have kids at home. So we’re growing as quickly as we can, but we do have some limitations as to how we can grow.”
There could be change on the horizon for the brewery when the facility’s lease is up in less than a year, but Bevers said there’s still time to decide whether to renew or relocate.
“We kind of like this location. We’ve got a lot of compliments from people that there’s nothing like this in this part of town whatsoever.”
Bevers said before opening the brewery, South Bloomington was a bit of “a beer desert--there was nothing down here for quality craft beer.”
Repeat customers make up about 65% of taproom sales at Lil Beaver, pointing to a strong base of area supporters. Bevers also sees business from State Farm employees and others taking advantage of happy hour before heading home from work.
Despite the perks, the brewery is producing and selling more beer than Bevers anticipated, meaning Lil Beaver may someday outgrow its Currency Drive home.
Even frequent visitors would be hard-pressed to keep up with the taproom’s rotating ten-brew lineup. “Most of the time, if you come two days in a row you’re going to see at least one or two beers change,” said Bevers.
That level of variety is possible thanks to a unique brew system at Lil Beaver that can produce two small batch brews at once. Bevers uses it to create his Mad Beaver Series, experimenting like a “mad scientist” with new flavors and ingredients.
“Sometimes we’ll have three different beers on that one tap in one day, just because it’s always really popular.”
For Bevers, brewing is a creative outlet more fulfilling than any other hobby.
“My artistic talent, when it comes to pen and paper...my four- and five-year-old daughters do a better job than I do. When it comes to beer, it really seems like it’s become a great medium for me.”
Bevers does delegate one part of his creative process to his two young assistants--he uses his daughters’ quips to name nearly every Lil Beaver beer. Some highlights for Bevers include “Line Leader,” “Erg is a Silly Word,” “Wainbows” and “I Got Forgot.”
The names are a perfect conduit for one of Bevers’ favorite activities--sharing a lighthearted story over a cold craft beer.
As the lingering winter chill gives way to sunnier weather, Lil Beaver will begin introducing more light-bodied, season-appropriate brews to its taps. That said, Bevers’ aim is still to have “something for everyone” year-round, including his own personal favorite style, the stout.
To stay on top of what’s on tap, Bevers recommends following the brewery’s Facebook page.