CHAMPAIGN – Chris Knight said he's been thinking about opening a microbrewery in downtown Champaign for five years.
"You couldn't have a city more suited to having a microbrewery than this one," said Knight, owner of the Blind Pig tavern in downtown Champaign. "It surprised me there isn't a brewery here, particularly given that you've got a sophisticated beer-drinking crowd in Champaign-Urbana."
Trouble was, Knight hadn't brewed a batch of his own beer for about 30 years, or as the native of England puts it, since "before the Boer War."
Joshi Fullop, president of the local home brewing club, colorfully named the Boneyard Union of Zymurgical Zealots, was having the same thoughts about opening a microbrewery. For him, brewing experience wasn't a problem; business experience was.
The software author keeps seven of his different home-brewed beers on tap in his basement and knows his way around hops and malts.
"Joshi is one of the best brewers in the United States," Knight said. "His beer tastes like one of our fancy $15-a-bottle beers."
One day last spring, Fullop came to the Blind Pig and suggested to Knight that they pool resources and start their own microbrewery. Knight didn't hesitate.
"I knew of him," he said. "He has a very large reputation in the beer world because he's very serious about his beer."
"I thought it might be easier if we combined efforts," said Fullop.
The two men are now planning for a 2007 opening of what will be called the Boneyard Brewery. The brewery will be at 111 N. Market St., between the WEFT radio station and Mike & Molly's beer garden, in a three-story building Knight owns.
Fullop will be the brewmeister and vice president of the corporation that owns the brewery. Knight will be the president.
As the two envision it, the microbrewery would be capable of brewing 15 barrels at a time (30 kegs). The brewing process would take about five to seven hours per batch, and Fullop would, at least initially, do his brewing on weekends. During the week, he works at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
The business would focus mostly on selling its craft and boutique beers to other bars and liquor stores, at first locally and later regionally. But Knight is also looking to open a "tap room," where only beers brewed on site would be offered and which would be the ending point for brewery tours.
To get the tap room, Knight and Fullop will need a liquor license from the city. Knight said he's asking the city to create a new microbrewery category for liquor licenses that would allow him to offer a tap room. The request is now before the city's liquor advisory commission.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said he thinks Knight's request will get serious consideration from the city council.
"It's something different for downtown and that's what we're about," said Schweighart, who is the city's liquor commissioner. "It would fit in with that alley (North Market), which is kind of artsy."
Knight emphasized that the microbrewery tap room will not be a "brew pub" where food and other beers and liquors are sold. It would simply offer the beers brewed at the microbrewery, he said.
Microbreweries are popular at many university towns throughout the Midwest and elsewhere, said Knight, who said the cities of Bloomington, Ind., Lawrence, Kan., Boulder and Fort Collins, Colo., all have two or more microbreweries each. Microbreweries often become popular tourist spots, he said.
Fullop said the microbrewery will use natural grains and avoid shortcuts. Fermenting will take between two days and two or three weeks, depending on the type of beer. He said the beers will be served at temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees, and that some beers are tastier when they are a little warmer.
He said the tap room will typically offer three beers that will always be available, two or three seasonal beers and one or two specialty or experimental beers.
"In five years, we hope to have our product around the Midwest," said Knight.
"We're very close to Chicago, Indianapolis, Peoria, St. Louis and Evansville, (Ind.)," said Fullop. "There's a lot of markets we could end up getting into."