Step one foot intoChain-O-Lakes Brewing in McHenry, Illinois and there is no doubt that the owner is a veteran and proud Marine. Abbreviated COL, the tap room at the brewery is adorned with flags, photos and Marine Corps memorabilia everywhere. So proud is he that on Friday night, anyone wearing a red shirt gets a dollar off their beers.Owner Curt Ames retired as a Colonel from the Marine Corp after 30 years of service. His passion for brewing quality beer started back in 1987 with small batch home brews. After 15 or so years in the Corp and home brewing he started thinking that brewing may be what he wanted to do after retirement. Constantly threatening his friends with opening a brewery they finally put him up to it and he delivered.
Prior to his retirement in 2010, he volunteered at breweries in Virginia to better learn the trade and how to brew on a larger scale.“There was never a fear of failure. I knew that my business model would work. The hardest part was raising the capital to get started, so I bounced around for a while, learning what I could, “Curt said.
Then in 2012 he secured a historic location, bought some used brewing equipment from a closed brewery in California and had it shipped to its present home in Illinois. And Chain-O-Lakes Brewing came to life. The site for the brewery was formerly the McHenry Brewing Company that operated from 1868 until closing the doors in the 1940s.
While Curt loves his life as a brewer and entrepreneur it is hard to completely walk away from a life lived for 30 years. When asked if he misses the Corp at all he said,“Yes, I do. But I have been doing some consulting lately so I am able to see some old colleagues and share some stories, to interact still for a few days a month.” That combined with the veterans that frequent the tap room should fill the void.As for the beer, they offer 4 varieties nightly and usually have a guest beer from another micro-brewery on tap. The barrel aged double bock is fantastic and their most popular draft is the Fox River Scotch Ale. They don’t bottle their beer as of now so everything is draft. Five bucks a pull was not a problem for the Friday night crowd in the tap room. They also do seasonal brews as the calendar dictates.
If you want something to go they offer 32 oz. grumblers, $7 for the bottle and $7 for the fill and also half gallon growlers that run $9 for the bottle and $13 for the fill.Stop at the tap room and sample everything they have. From the Colonel’s WIPA, at 7.1% ABV to the Scotch Ale at 5% ABV they have lots of flavors with enough punch to make sure you leave feeling good.