On a recent Thursday afternoon, light pouring in from a wall’s worth of west-facing windows lit up the Roaring Table taproom in Lake Zurich.
Cleverly masked with translucent film to block strip-mall views, the windows keep patron focus inside, on the creative beer roster, today including everything from Apricot Puckerlemon, an American Wild Ale, to Lighted Windows on the Snow, a Tripel, made with peppery spices, candied orange, and floral hops.
At the back, co-owner Lane Fearing was head and shoulders in the mash tun, finishing a batch of kettle sour beer (a Gose, an old-fashioned German wheat beer that will have fruit added to it) that will be ready for enjoyment in June.
“After the sour?” he says, “I’ll be making a raw ale, a Russian stout, and a couple different IPAs.”
Fearing opened the cheerful, craft beer taproom two years ago with wife and partner, graphic designer Beth May. With a location that’s essentially hidden in a strip mall, it’s an unexpected (but very welcome) addition to the Barrington brewpub/taproom scene, joining Flesk Brewing, Lucky Monk, and the granddaddy of them all, the 16-year-old (22nd in brewing) Onion Pub & Brewery.
Featuring a constantly evolving selection of a dozen-plus, house-brewed beers plus a thoughtful list of wines, ciders, hard seltzers, and snacks, the Roaring Table taproom is an unexpected oasis of cool.
Spacious, high-ceilinged, and elegant, Roaring Table is decorated in muted grays, greens, and whites—with long, blonde communal tables, modernist light fixtures, and a bar beautifully crafted from one ancient ash tree down one side. Just beyond looms a gleaming row of fermentation tanks, and in front of those, an enormous foeder (one of the only ones in the Chicago suburbs), which is used to make sour beers.
May designed the space herself, partly out of enjoyment (she studied interior design along with graphic design,) and partly to keep the budget down. The decision to open in a strip mall was budgetary, but also, because the space had a workable infrastructure and size. The couple, Barrington residents for the last 14 years, spent two years looking at locations, hoping to find a quaint, free-standing building for their project.
“But all the freestanding locations we looked at were either too costly, or would have taken massive renovation,” says May. So, when the former home décor space they now occupy came on offer with good bones and lots of natural light, they signed the lease.
Roaring Table joins a growing list of brew pubs and tap rooms in the Barrington area, part of an evolving trend of small batch craft brews that have reinvented the concept of beer.
Onion Pub & Brewery was among the first, opening a bustling brewpub with a rustic lodge-esque bar, and a banquet hall that hosts more than 80 weddings a year. Featuring timber frame construction with timbers from the Pacific Northwest that pre-date the American Revolution, this is a place to sit back and relax.
“We began as the Wild Onion Brewing Company in 1997, brewing on a system I engineered out of used dairy tanks, located down the street from our current location,” explains John Kainz, who owns the pub with partner Mike Kainz. “Paddy Pale Ale was our first flagship beer, and we still brew that style on tap at the pub. We purchased our current property in 2000, and broke ground on our brewpub in 2002.”
In 2003, Kainz and his team opened the doors to The Onion Pub & Brewery as an extension of the brewery—tapping into the trend to provide a taproom for the different styles of beer they brewed. It was expanded in 2006 and now has 128 seats in our main bar/dining room, and the capacity to accommodate up to 200 guests in the banquet hall. “We named our brewery Wild Onion in honor of the origins of the word Chicago … it is Potowatomi for the land of the wild onion,” Kainz explains.
Lucky Monk of South Barrington was next to follow, about a decade ago., checking all the boxes for craft beer (12 on draft) and pub grub. “When you name your restaurant after Trappist monks who spent centuries perfecting the craft of beer making, you’re serious about your beer,” explains marketing coordinator Nichole Bajko. “Our Certified Cicerone Brew Master Anthony Carollo constantly experiments with new seasonal beers in addition to brewing our signature beers in our 10-barrel brewhouse. Depending on the time of year, you could be sipping on a Barrel Aged Stout or a Belgian Seasonal, along with our core lineup. This summer we are releasing our New England IPA, HAY-Z and a Double IPA, The Longest Day, for hot summer nights on the patio.”
Among the latest entries is Flesk Brewing in Barrington. With a laid-back collegial vibe, plenty of comfy couch space, and a peaceful location facing the tracks behind the Ice House Mall, Flesk Brewing’s taproom is a low-key spot to sample a wide assortment of brews made by brothers William and James O’Brien.
And if you’ve ever doubted the talent and skill of the “masters” behind the beers, one of the worlds best brewing schools—the Siebel Institute of Technology, focusing on brewing education and brewing services since 1868, is located in Chicago and trained several of Barrington’s best. Flesk co-owner/brewer James O’Brien went there as did Roaring Table’s Fearing.
After receiving an international diploma in brewing technology from Siebel, Fearing spent nine years as assistant brewer at Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville before Roaring Table was born. But his love for brewing started long before that. “I started brewing in my garage, and fell in love with the creativity of home brewing. I was free to brew whatever I wanted, from stouts to saisons, lots of IPAs, anything that caught my eye. I’m always amazed at the flavors you can conjure from a few simple ingredients.”
So Fearing’s decision to go full beer, full-time with Roaring Table was a natural one.
From the start, the beers on offer at Roaring Table have embraced the spectrum of craft brew styles. There are Pilsners, Kolsch beers, Helles lagers, Irish stouts, American pale ales and wild ales, and both New England and West Coast IPAs—and more. Fearing likes them all, but is adamant about always including a solid “beer flavored beer,” on the menu.
“A lot of small breweries focus just on two or three categories or just what’s trending, but we do everything,” he says. “Yes, we do the beers that are kind of hype-y and buzz-worthy, but I think it’s important to do beery beers too. We have a Kolsch on right now, for example. No one’s going out of their way to find a Kolsch, but when they taste it, they’re very pleased. It’s a very sessionable, easy to drink beer that tastes like beer—not chocolate or fruit.”
While the Roaring Table isn’t a restaurant, it does have snacks available. Alternatively, they encourage patrons to order in from any of unique local restaurants in the area. On Saturday’s Roaring Table partners with food trucks in the parking lot or pop-ups in the taproom.
Members of Roaring Table’s Fellowship of Fools club, which is limited to 125 beer aficionados, are just the sort of folk you’re likely to see wearing the Roaring Table swag May has designed—T-shirts, hats, hoodies, etc. “Yes,” laughs May. “We even have an assortment of Roaring Table posters that you can buy.”
But Fearing emphasizes that offerings constantly evolve. “People are much less interested in flagship beers than they used to be,” he says. “Beer culture today is all about what’s new.”
The good news for Barrington is that there are a lot of new, seasonal craft beers to enjoy at all of these brewpubs and taprooms this summer.
SUMMER BEER GUIDE
Ready to start tasting? Here are some tips and recommendations at the area’s top brew pubs and tap rooms.
Roaring Table, Lake Zurich
Featuring a constantly evolving selection of a dozen-plus, house-brewed beers plus a thoughtful list of wines, ciders, hard seltzers, and snacks, the Roaring Table taproom is an unexpected oasis of cool. Current customer favorites include the IPAs (three different styles are available at all times). Beers aged in Roaring Table’s row of six oaken whiskey and wine barrels (such as barrel-aged stouts) also do well, as do trendy dessert beers such as pastry stouts and milkshake IPAs. Roaring Table’s Imperial Candy Squeeze, for example, is an IPA flavored with mango, apricot, vanilla, and milk sugar. And the Sunburnt Mirth Dessert #2 has milk sugar, toasted coconut, vanilla beans, chocolate, and almond. With mobile canning of 4-packs about to start, making take-home beer options more shelf stable than growlers, and plans to sign on with a distributor, Roaring Table beer’s will soon be more visible outside the tap room. Husband-and-wife team Lane Fearing and Beth May may also enter some of the concept’s beers in competitions this year. Beyond the “something new” with the beverages, Roaring Table keeps things fresh nightly with a calendar of events. There is live music every Friday, monthly bingo nights, trivia, and board game nights. Look for pop-ups and food trucks bringing ramen, donuts, dumplings, sliders, pizza, and more this summer.
Roaring Table, 739 IL-22, Lake Zurich, 224-662-4562, roaringtable.com.
Flesk Brewing, Barrington
Wear your flip-flops and come in for “Light and Easy” choices like “What’s in the Bocks!”, a German style lager, or the “Hoppy/Fruity” and trend-forward Beast and the Broadsword,” a pineapple upside down milkshake IPA, or the pucker-licious “So-Crates” blueberry sour ale. On the dark side, “Other Brother” amber ale will have you thinking “toasted biscuit” and “Dr. Worm” is a creamy, dark oatmeal stout. Summer features include “Patio Party,” a raspberry sour, and warm-weather favorite “Moro” a blood orange IPA. Swing by the second Thursday of June, July, and August when Flesk shuts down the parking lot to bring live music, food trucks, and fun activities for the kids. Before you leave, grab a couple of four packs for the beach (So-Crates, Haze Ten, Other Brother, Dr. Worm or Beast, and Broadside) or better yet, bottles of Pinion for the backyard barbeque. Flesk’s barrel aged imperial stout comes plain, or with Mexican Chocolate (with cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and hot pepper.) Check Flesk’s Facebook page for updates on food trucks and food pop-ups happening this summer. Flesk Brewing Company, 200 Applebee Street, Suite E, Barrington, fleskbrewing.com.
Lucky Monk, South Barrington
On the cusp of its 10th Anniversary, The Lucky Monk Burger, Pizza & Beer Company has 12 craft beers on draft, and also features a bottle/bomber menu of 40 seasonal craft beers and ciders. Brewmaster Anthony Carollo brews Lucky Monk’s signature beers in the establishment’s 10-barrel brewhouse, this summer featuring HAY-Z New England IPA, and The Longest Day Double IPA. To sample six of his offerings at once, get the sampler. And to go with? Lucky Monk is known for its prime beef burgers, so big they actually come on a plinth (really!). Over-the-top options include the King—topped with caramelized banana, bacon, and bourbon peanut butter cream. And to finish, there are massive Monk Shake milkshakes. Lucky Monk’s Thursday night “Live on the Patio” series brings live music to the patio from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. through August 22. Lucky Monk, 105 Hollywood Blvd, South Barrington, theluckymonk.com.
Onion Pub & Brewery, Barrington
The Onion brews its beers—both ales and lagers, with many seasonal variations, on two separate systems, (one a small 17-barrel, the other a large 50 barrel) both located in the brewery next to the restaurant. The 17-barrel system gives The Onion flexibility to do small, experimental batches of beers. The larger system puts out the bigger production beers, including bestseller Misfit IPA. The five-ounce pours of four different beers that come to you on the Onions $8 Sample Paddle give you the chance to try a lot of them. Recent options from a 17-item list ranged from “Crazy Fingers,” a new pale ale from the brewery featuring Mosaic hops, to the Pineapple Misfit, a juicy, hoppy American IPA. Food offerings lean to the comfortable classics side of dining, with fish and chips and gourmet burgers holding the best-selling spots. Onion Pub and Brewery, 22221 N. Pepper Road, Barrington, onionpub.com.