Beer and wine

Kinslahger Brewing Company: Come for the Lagers, Stay for the Kinship

Author’s note: I recently sat down with Keith Huizinga, co-owner of Kinslahger Brewing Company, to discuss the Oak Park brewery. As the brewery’s business lead, Keith spends his days telling the brewery’s story to potential customers, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the background of each of Kinslahger’s beers. I’d like to thank him for his time, as well as the chance to sample Kinslahger’s selection.

At Kinslahger Brewing Company in Oak Park, apparent limitations are, in fact, deliberate choices. The intimate taproom is simple and straightforward: white walls, dark ceilings, and no televisions. Co-owner Keith Huizinga explained to me that Kinslahger uses the minimalist setup to encourage conversation and community among the patrons and staff. In fact, he went on to say that the kin in the brewery’s name is a nod to the broad notion of kinship that the owners believe a shared beer can foster.

Lahger, meanwhile, refers to the lager fermentation style that the brewery uses for all of its beers. All beers are either lagers or ales, and the difference is based on the type of yeast used to make the beer. Lagers ferment at a colder temperature than ales and, most important to a budding craft brewery, take longer to make. The decision to focus exclusively on lagers is a notable departure from the craft brewery movement at large, which is saturated with ales like IPAs. That differentiation has certainly benefited the brewery economically—a year after opening its doors in 2016, it was already expanding from its original four-barrel brewing system to keep up with demand. It’s also the source of the Kinslahger’s creativity. By remaining within the bounds of lager fermentation, head brewer Steve Loranz is forced to be innovative with the factors he can control, resulting in novel recipes.

This creativity is most evident with the Chicago Common, one of the brewery’s two flagship beers. Named for the plain bricks that adorn the city’s back alleys, it’s a red, hearty beer that matches the character of its namesake. According to Huizinga, the Chicago Common does not fit into any established beer style. Rather, it’s Kinslahger’s ambitious attempt to create a distinctive Chicago beer.

“Traditional, but also not”

It’s the willingness to venture outside the lines of traditional beer styles, but within the arena of lagers, that caused Huizinga to say that they’re “Traditional, but also not.” Take the Prohibition Pilsner, the brewery’s other flagship beer, as a prime example. It’s an attempt to recreate “what it would’ve been like” to try an early 20th century pilsner, before what Keith describes as the “homogenization of flavors” that turned pilsners into the equivalent of white bread and American cheese. Prior to that, he explained, pilsners had maintained much more of their German and Czech heritage, resulting in more distinct and flavorful beers. Kinslahger’s own creation is far more hop-forward than I expected, all while maintaining a crisp and clean lager finish. I describe Prohibition Pilsner as a bit like drinking lemonade—a quick rush of flavor that quenches the thirst, but doesn’t linger. I love getting it with a burger when playing Thursday night trivia at Scratch Kitchen on Lake, one of several Oak Park establishments that carries Kinslahger beers on tap.

The clean finish of the Prohibition Pilsner is a lager characteristic. Huizinga described the difference between ales and lagers by way of analogy: when you cut a piece of wood, you leave unfinished edges that can be worked and smoothed over. Ale yeast leaves these unfinished edges untouched, leaving distinct fruity flavors. In fact, he explained that the distinct banana and clove flavors of wheat beers are not due to the wheat, but to the yeast. Lagers remove these residual flavors, leaving a cleaner finish. The approachability of lagers, combined with Kinslahger’s belief that everyone who pours their beers should be an expert who can talk about them, makes Kinslahger a non-intimidating environment to bring budding beer drinkers who are eager to learn.

Planning your visit

Kinslahger is open Wednesday through Sunday, with full hours available on their website. The tap room doesn’t include a full menu, but it’s a BYOF establishment located on the Veltway—a stretch of Roosevelt Road along the border of Oak Park and Berwyn/Cicero that includes restaurants where you can grab n’ go. If you’re looking to try one of Kinslahger’s beers, but aren’t able to venture out to Oak Park, is a great place to find bars and liquor stores that carry them.

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