As so many of our latest finds have been, we discovered Hairy Cow Brewing Co. purely by happy accident.
While browsing through Instagram’s endless feed of craft beer photos, accounts and hashtags, we came across a photo from a brewery we’d never heard of — Hairy Cow Brewing Co.
Hairy Cow Brewing, it turned out, was — or at least would be — located in Byron, Illinois not far from where Adam grew up! At the time we stumbled across their account, they were just a matter of weeks out from their hopeful open by Christmas. Sure enough, by the time we drove down for the holidays they had posted their hours and were officially open for business!
We met Adam’s parents and youngest sister at Hairy Cow Brewing on a Friday night just three days after they had opened. Needless to say, Adam was over-the-moon with excitement — after all, this was where he had grown up for most of his life. While he had been too young to drink, he was excited to see the craft beer industry make its way into the community he still called home.
From the get-go, we were impressed. Located on the Rock River, we would later learn that Hairy Cow’s location would be prime estate for summer boaters coming in off the river.
From the outside, the building was large and unassuming. Inside, however, the taproom was spacious and full of life. We immediately noticed and fell in love with features like the hanging lights — reminiscent of one of our favorite Minnesota breweries Pryes Brewing — the fireplace on one wall, the hops mural on another, and the large light-up Hairy Cow Brewing logo hanging on yet a third wall.
Bars and tables offered sitting and standing space, and a large open kitchen-space revealed the wood-fire kiln for house-made pizzas. According to one of the local papers, over $1 million had been invested into the building — built from the ground up — and it showed. For a small-town, northern Illinois community Hairy Cow Brewing, we thought, was easily comparable to anything we’ve visited and enjoyed in highly brewery-populated Minnesota.
There were six beers were available on tap — four of Hairy Cow’s own and two additional guest stouts from Bell’s Brewery and Founders Brewing Co. which we thought was a wise choice. We were incredibly impressed with the amber ale and cream ale and — though we didn’t try the Pale Ale or IPA — saw plenty of both being poured. We got to chat with the headbrewer Jon, and learned that he’s got another couple beers in the fermenters including a vanilla coconut porter. He’s also hoping to add a smaller brewing system for experimental beers down the road.
While we only intended to stop in for drinks and a first-look at Ogle County’s first brewpub, the wood-fire pizzas coming out of the brick oven looked far too good to pass up. The gourmet, handcrafted pepperoni, sausage, BBQ chicken and parma chicken pizzas we ordered were easily comparable to the Twin City’s finest, and — against the five of us — didn’t stand a chance.
Just before we left, Adam’s dad asked to speak with an owner or manager. A tall, warm man came over and introduced himself as Todd.
“I just wanted to say, we really enjoyed our experience,” Adam’s dad told him. “The beer was great, and the pizza was fantastic! We’ve got some friends we’d like to come back with; they’d love this!”
“Thank you,” Todd replied with a humble nod, “we’re still working out some kinks, but that means a lot.”
As beer bloggers, we know our words can carry weight. But sometimes the words that mean the most are the ones from the community, the patrons, the men and women like Adam’s dad who will keep coming back and help a place like Hairy Cow succeed. In any case, we’re thrilled to add our first Illinois brewery to our Adventure Map and look forward to visiting in the future. Here’s to coming home for the holidays, indeed!
Here’s our full review (categories are rated out of five ):
- Beer Selection (number and styles available): (Obviously, there will be more to come, though we appreciated the guest taps to begin with)
- Beer Taste (expected of style): 🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Location (find-ability/accessibility): 🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Atmosphere/Venue: 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺
- Service (of staff): 🍺🍺🍺🍺🍺
Adam & Katie