HIGHWOOD – The concept for Highwood’s Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. began over a beer, when Chris Bradley and Brendan Watters came up with the idea of naming craft beers after English royalty and the convicts who were sent to Australia.
“Every beer has a story, and the best stories involve characters that really stood up to authority,” said Watters, who co-owns Kings & Convicts in Highwood with Bradley.
For example, Teddy Roosevelt once called Highwood “the toughest town in America,” so Kings & Convicts Brewing Co.’s very first beer, Toughtown IPA, paid homage to Highwood. An Italian immigrant woman from the underground during Prohibition is pictured on the Toughtown IPA beer can.
“Teddy Roosevelt is one of our heroes — and the unofficial mascot of our brewery with that anti-authority, in your face, toughest president in American history, as he would’ve fit in very well with Australian convict culture,” said Watters.
Watters explained that he and Bradley learned about Roosevelt’s relationship with Highwood from the Highwood Historical Society.
Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. began brewing beer at 523 Bank Lane in late 2016 ago, and it opened its taproom about six months months ago.
Watters said the taproom gets packed on Fridays and Saturdays, so he and Bradley are working on trying to fit more people in, or possibly moving to a larger place.
All of the people that manage the bar and the taproom know the stories about the beers, and the stories are also displayed on all of the beer cans.
“Everyone looks at our cans and the names resonate,” said Watters. “All of our beer names have a common theme and a common thread, and we’re just retelling these stories.”
Some of the beer names are quite … colorful. Watters recalled when a Highland Park woman in her 80s giggled as she ordered a beer. “I could only say that word in here,” she said.
Names include Roo Puncher, a play on Australian kangaroos, and Old Nosey Imperial Stout. Watters explained that the Duke of Wellington had some Russian in his background, and Old Nosey was his nickname.
Ned’s Dead was named for Ned Kelly, an Australian convict who formed a band of outlaws and bushrangers. Watters said the police caught him and took him back to Melbourne for a public hanging.
“Ned’s Dead is a dark and silky stout that has a bit of tart red cherry in it. One of his sayings was, ‘such is life’ which appears on the cans,” said Watters.
Kings & Convicts offers seasonal beers. December included a Russian Imperial Stout, a 12 percent alcohol beer. Watters said the bigger, darker beers are ideal for winter, and that Kings & Convicts will serve Pilsner in cans for the warmer weather.
How do bartenders respond when customers ask what is the best beer on draft?
Watters replied, “We do get that a lot and we say ‘which one of your kids do you like most?’ ”
In addition to having its own taproom, Kings & Convicts distributes beer to 10 Binny’s Beverage Depots and to Sunset Foods grocery stores, and it is on tap at 80 different accounts. Some of the Highwood establishments include The Wooden Nickel, The Toadstool Pub, Lucky Fish, The Art of Beer, El Burén Caribbean Cuisine and Ballard.
Buffo’s will deliver pizza directly to Kings & Convicts., and Watters added that customers are welcome to bring in their own food from other Highwood restaurants.
Both Bradley and Watters live in Lake Forest; Bradley hails from England, and Watters is from Australia. What brought Watters here?
Watters said he won a green card in a green card lottery in 1997-98, so he decided to come to Chicago, where he ran a hotel business. Then Watters met Bradley three years ago.
“Our wives introduced us to each other and they’ve regretted it ever since,” he joked.
Watters added, “The whole idea of beer is that it brings people together. That’s why we love it. Kings & Convicts is a community place where people get together, shoot the (breeze) and talk over a beer.”
Kings & Convicts Brewing Co. is located at 523 Bank Lane, Highwood. For more information call: 224-707-0117.