A great way to experience local along the Great River Road is to sample the liquid bounty. There are 24 breweries, 5 distilleries, 23 wineries and a handful of small batch root beers available along the byway, so you're sure to find a beverage that suits your taste.
Craft beer is all about flavor; whether it's chocolate, coffee, citrus, florals or pumpkin, the possibilities are endless. The dizzying number of brewing techniques and ingredients means it's possible to get a truly one-of-a-kind beer, and a true taste of place, around each curve of the mighty Mississippi.
A newcomer along the Great River Road is White Rooster Farmhouse Brewery in Sparta. Its traditional brewing methods, barrel aging process, and rotating selection of beers, continue to boost its popularity. It also helps that White Rooster was named one of the "50 Best New Breweries in the U.S.," by BeerAdvocate.
Another recently opened brewery, Quincy Brewing Company, brings the flavor of craft beer to historic Downtown Quincy. Housed in the 1886 Reliance Tea & Coffee building, the brewery toasts landmarks and local history with its aptly named Villa K IPA, Bayview Blonde, and crowd favorite Wichman Sisters Wheat.
Established breweries serve tried-and-tested brews alongside new flavors, with a few accolades of course. Uncommon Stout, made by Bent River Brewing Company in Moline and Rock Island, is a coffee-infused oatmeal stout that landed on Thrillist's "23 Illinois Beers to Drink Before You Die!" When visiting the Alton area, try the Porter at Old Bakery Beer Company, where this chocolate-infused, nutty, black ale can be paired with locally sourced menu items. Be sure to check out its full selection of brews, as Old Bakery Beer Company is a USDA-certified organic brewery.
Galena Brewing Company is reviving the local brewing scene in Galena. Local favorites include Anna Belle’s IPA and Uly's Dark Oatmeal Stout.
Hopskellar Brewing Company in Waterloo is the venture of a one-time home brewer whose product was so popular that local business leaders requested he open a brewery. Influenced by beers in England and the Pacific Northwest, Hopskellar favorites include the Pale Mild Ale, Raspberry Ale and the Northern English Brown Ale.
Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro is considered by Thrillist, and locals alike, to be one of the "Best Craft Breweries in Illinois." Try the Pumpkin Smasher; this autumn-inspired brew is made using pumpkins and savory pumpkin pie spices, resulting in hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Scratch Brewing Company in Ava has been called "America's Coolest Microbrewery" by Men's Journal and one of the "Most Beautiful Places to Drink Beer in the World" by All About Beer. Devoted to foraged beers, its brews feature ingredients like nettle, juniper, mushrooms, pawpaw and dandelion, which are harvested from its farm or surrounding woods. The resulting brews are a little daring, providing a taste you can only get in southern Illinois.
Following on the heels of the craft brewing boom, small batch distilling is making headway along the byway. Just like other craft beverages, craft spirits owe their flavor to the quality and variety of ingredients. Stumpy's Spirits sources its grain and water from an eighth-generation family farm in Columbia, making it a true grain-to-glass operation. Try Old Monroe Single Barrel Select Bourbon Whiskey or the honey, pecan pie and lemon drop-flavored whiskeys.
Bluestem Vodka in Bethalto uses an all-in-one mash, fermentation, distillation process resulting in a cleaner vodka. Enjoy the flavor of their trademarked signature cocktail, The Stemcell®. Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. in Galena serves everything from Lead Mine Moonshine, delivered in a mason jar, to a spicy vodka, Blaum Bros. Hellfyre. Made from soaking jalapeños, habaneros and black peppercorns in vodka, this spirit mixes one hot Bloody Mary.
As craft beer and spirits make their mark, Illinois wine is undergoing a renaissance. The state’s rich history of wine making goes back to 1691. Prior to prohibition, Illinois was ranked the fourth largest wine producing state in the U.S. with almost 4,000 acres of grapes. Today, Illinois is home to more than 100 wineries, 1,100 acres of grapes, 2 American Viticultural Areas and 7 wine trails. From the oldest Concord vineyard in the state, at Nauvoo State Park, to the largest American Viticultural Area in the U.S., a trip along the Great River Road uncorks your journey into Illinois’ wine country.
Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery was awarded “Best Winery in the State of Illinois,” by Yahoo! Travel, and winemaker Christine Lawlor-White was twice named “Winemaker of the Year,” by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance. Taste the fruits of her labor while overlooking the rolling hills of northwest Illinois, or stop in at the tasting room on Galena’s quaint Main Street.
Nauvoo is home to Baxter’s Vineyards & Winery, the oldest operating winery in Illinois and part of the Mississippi Valley Wine Trail. Originally opened in 1857, it reopened after prohibition in 1936, becoming Illinois’ first bonded winery. Order ahead to have one of Carol’s famous pies baked fresh. Pair it with a glass of Baxter’s wine while relaxing on the patio.
Enjoy a glass of Leon Millot at Fergedaboudit Vineyard & Winery. Made in the Tuscan style, it may be the closest thing you can get to a Chianti made from 100 percent Illinois-grown grapes. One of the youngest wineries along the Great River Road, The Pour Vineyard in Red Bud, was established by a family that’s farmed the same land for the past 150 years.
Head to southern Illinois to experience wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Relax with a glass of red wine on the wisteria-covered deck at Hickory Ridge Vineyard in Pomona. Just a mile down the road, nestled amongst the trees, is Pomona Winery. Specializing in wines made from locally grown fruits other than grapes, taste the award-winning Strawberry Dessert Wine. This sweet wine received “Best Illinois Non-Grape Wine” honors in the 2017 Illinois Governor’s Cup and silver at the 2017 Indy International. Sip a glass of Rosato at the region’s oldest and most award-winning winery, Alto Vineyards. Selected to be an Illinois Bicentennial Rosé Wine, its Rosato is 100 percent crafted from southern Illinois’ flagship grape variety, Chambourcin.
If you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, try the craft root beers and sodas on tap along the Great River Road. In Galena, Root Beer Revelry offers dozens of root beers, cream sodas, ginger beers and more. Sample the on-tap assortment with a root beer tasting or indulge in a root beer float.
Head to the southern part of the state, where Mini Corral Hamburgers in Alton offers homemade cream soda and root beer that will delight your taste buds with notes of vanilla and maple syrup.
Whatever your favorite flavor, the Great River Road serves up beverages for all tastes.