Opening weekend a success for Beer Garden at Independence Grove Forest Preserve
Swimming is history at Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville, but a new amenity in its place has been greeted with gusto by craft beer fans.
The Beer Garden at Independence Grove opened Saturday with eight taps in the former beach house, a seasonal fixture since 2002.
Memorial Day weekend had been the target for opening the new venture. But with details to be finalized, a firm date hadn't been announced.
That changed quickly, and despite short notice, visitors over the holiday weekend were plentiful.
"It was very well received. We had about 550 transactions," said Daniel Stearns, chief business development officer for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Memorial Day is traditionally when the marina, bike and boat rentals and other facets of the Independence Grove open for full operation. Except for last year due to the pandemic, swimming at the beach on the centerpiece 115-acre lake was part of the mix. But because of declining use and operating costs, forest preserve officials in March opted to close the swimming beach permanently.
Instead, the beach house and immediate area was converted to a beer garden featuring locally brewed beers, nonalcoholic beverages and snacks.
Libertyville resident Frank Honold stopped at the beer garden with out-of-town visitors Saturday afternoon after a walk around the lake.
"New tables, plenty of room, plenty of sunshine, good beer, chill atmosphere. We'll be back," he reported.
The beer garden is open from 1 p.m. to a half-hour before sunset Friday through Sunday. Starting June 22, it also will be open Tuesdays for the Concerts in the Plaza series. Music will be piped into the beer garden.
Once the concept was finalized, Stearns created a business plan emphasizing support for local businesses and a good selections of products focused on craft beer.
The tap system was limited to eight to start, Stearns said. That restricted the number of brewers to be featured at any given time, but the plan is to change the menu from time to time and next season potentially expand the number of taps.
About half the beer is secured through a Lake County distributor. The other half is purchased directly from brewers, like Larry Bloom, owner of ZumBier Brewery in Waukegan. His Liberty Call India pale ale was a hit as a half barrel (15 gallons) went quickly.
"We sold out on the first day," said Bloom, who resupplied with two more barrels. Bloom said the exposure is good for him and other brewers.
The beer garden is categorized as a revenue facility in the district's budget and is meant to be self-sustaining. The district also is investigating opportunities to rent the beer garden during nonoperational times.
Stearns said the beach house conversion wasn't extravagant.
"We should be able to cover that (cost) pretty quickly," he said.