Going with the Flow

September 2020 View more

For all the off-the-wall creativity and wide-eyed mad science behind most craft beer concoctions, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the one elemental ingredient that many brewers believe to be the most crucial to the ultimate quality and taste of any new offering: the water. In fact, the importance of water to the brewing process was stressed repeatedly by Alter Brewing Company head brewer Matt McCowan in a discussion we had for a story on the science of craft beer in the magazine last July.

So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that Alter again looked to the water when it undertook an ambitious plan to expand upon its tucked-away taproom in Downers Grove with a full-blown brewpub and kitchen in a prime St. Charles location (12 S. First St., 331.901.5949, alterbrewing.com).

With an expansive patio perched on the west bank of the Fox River (complete with a heated seasonal enclosure for the chilly months ahead), Alter is indeed embracing water in a whole new way as it looks to become a key component of the bustling dining and nightlife district of First Street.

“The riverfront location in St. Charles speaks for itself and literally checks every box a restaurateur could ask for,” says Alter Brewing president Ken Henricks. “We have an amazing community of people, the vibrant energy of a downtown business district, and a fantastic natural ambiance and setting adjacent to one of the most gorgeous stretches of the Fox River.”

Brews and Views

The solid first impression of the location in St. Charles doesn’t start and end at the river, however. Just as in its original Downers Grove location, Alter maintains the theater of a production brewery as an integral part of the aesthetic here with the brewhouse acting as something of the heartbeat of the room. The massive tanks can be viewed from nearly every corner of the restaurant, creating a distinct design theme throughout and providing a definite awe factor—particularly for those who truly appreciate the craft brewing process.

For an operation that most local beer aficionados can agree already has the brewing piece of the puzzle well in hand, the question then is largely a matter of whether Alter can match that level of accomplishment in a restaurant operation. Henricks says he and his team had the awareness to realize early on that they had a skill-set gap in branching into hospitality that needed to be filled, which is how experienced pros like director of hospitality Bart Vivian and executive chef Eric Klekamp came to join the St. Charles operation.

“We really like our product and our processes are pretty good,” Henricks says, “but we absolutely nailed the people side of this equation.”

Wash Down Your Beer…

Alter’s beloved beers are complemented on the drink menu by a well-conceived cocktail program, featuring potential soon-to-be craft favorites like Pepper in the Rye, a rye whiskey and (brace yourself) jalapeño recipe. The food slate, meanwhile, features an eclectic mix of salads, sandwiches, and entrées, rounded out by popular one-night specials like fried chicken Sundays and barbecue rib Tuesdays.

We kicked things off with the crab cake bites, a quorum of hush puppy-like spheres accompanied by a tangy ale-infused rémoulade, and an order of the soft pretzels with beer cheese fondue—a brewpub classic here rendered exceedingly well. From the sandwich lineup, the caprese melt was a fresh mess (in the best way possible), with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic on perfectly toasted sourdough. And the bacon-wrapped scallops represented a step up from typical brewpub fare, served alongside roasted baby potatoes, peas, and pearl onions.

In a rare change of form, a dessert of apple pie puff or marshmallow fondue was simply not in the cards for us on this balmy evening. Even so, just a few more postdinner moments of blissful contemplation along the flowing waters of the Fox was a sweet enough capper on our night out in St. Charles.

Photos courtesy Alter Brewing