Do you enjoy sampling unique craft beers and spirits? Are you up for a challenge? If you answered yes to both questions, there’s a prime opportunity for you: the McHenry County Craft Beverage Trail Challenge.
The goal is to visit all 11 participating craft breweries and distilleries – and you don’t have to live in McHenry County to enjoy the experience. Of course, you don’t have to do it all at once, either. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach the finish line. The challenge is ongoing and has no expiration date. Naturally McHenry County, the region’s visitors bureau, wants you to drink responsibly and use designated drivers when needed.
This is how it works: Go online to mchcraftbev.com, download the app and sign up for the challenge. The website contains a list of local taxi companies, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for those who want to make a night of it. Each time you visit a stop on the trail, ask the bartender or other staff member for the check-in code and enter it on the app. Once you’ve completed the challenge, notify Naturally McHenry County on the app to receive your prizes. Those who finish take home a branded sticker and T-shirt that shows all 11 stops.
Nearly all of the breweries and distilleries on the trail are exclusive to McHenry County, and each offers craft beer and spirits you can’t find elsewhere. The trail begins and ends in any order.
All of the establishments are family friendly and host special events each week, from food trucks to live music or trivia nights.
Browse each company’s social media or webpage to find out what’s on tap. If you don’t want to leave your dog behind, it can join you on the patio at More Brewing Co. in Huntley. Are you a trivia buff? Kishwaukee Brewing in Woodstock hosts Trivia Wednesdays. Do you have an idea for a new craft beer recipe, one that hasn’t been done before? Submit it on Holzlager Brewing Co.’s website and it might appear on the menu of its Woodstock taproom. If it’s a unique atmosphere you crave, head to Sew Hop’d Brewery and Taproom in Huntley. The brewery shares space in an early 1900s building with a manufacturer of industrial sewing machines.
While two stops on the trail have restaurants on site – More Brewing and Cary Ale House & Brewing Co. – the other nine don’t. Those are Crystal Lake Brewing, Holzlager Brewing Co., Kishwaukee Brewing, McHenry Brewing Co. in McHenry, Rush Creek Distilling in Harvard, Sew Hop’d Brewing, Spirit Water in Cary, and coming this fall, MobCraft Beer in Woodstock. Those that don’t have a kitchen typically invite patrons to bring their own food, and they offer take-out menus from nearby restaurants. Many also host food trucks on particular nights.
The idea for the McHenry County Craft Beverage Trail Challenge came about last March at an event celebrating the rebranding of Naturally McHenry County. The handful of brewery and distillery owners in attendance brainstormed ways they could work with the visitors bureau to bring more traffic to their establishments. After meeting a few more times, they decided on the Craft Beverage Trail Challenge.
“This is an example of how our organization can synergize with local businesses to help promote more visitation to our communities,” says Jaki Berggren, president and CEO of Naturally McHenry County. “It’s a true partnership. We were able to work together to leverage even more of our advertising spend and provide the prizes and everything else that went along with it.”
The challenge began in September 2022, and within three months there were 3,697 check-ins at local brewpubs and distilleries, says Kristine Austin, sales and marketing manager at Naturally McHenry County. By January, at least 130 people had completed the challenge. Several winners picked up prizes at their favorite stop on the trail while everyone else chose to receive prizes by mail.
The challenge continues this spring, just in time for the busy tourist and summer festival season.
“As the weather gets warmer, we’d like to see people take the opportunity to pick back up, if they’re in the middle of the challenge, or to start so they can experience all of the tastes and atmospheres throughout our county,” Austin says.
For more information, go online to mchcraftbev.com. Naturally McHenry County is located at 11879 Main St., in Huntley, (815) 893-6280.