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Penrose Brewing Company taps into Kane County craft-beer market

Penrose Brewing Company cofounders (from right) Eric Hobbs and Tom Korder talk about freshly harvested hops at Empire Hops Farm and Orchards in Empire, Mich., with farm owner Dan Wiesen (far left).
Penrose Brewing Company cofounders (from right) Eric Hobbs and Tom Korder talk about freshly harvested hops at Empire Hops Farm and Orchards in Empire, Mich., with farm owner Dan Wiesen (far left).

GENEVA – Saying that Penrose Brewing Company founders Eric Hobbs of Geneva and Tom Korder of Batavia are eager to open their Geneva tap room and brewery is a drastic understatement. 

After three years in the making, and having since bypassed the brewery’s initial summer and early fall opening dates, the former Goose Island alumnus are now predicting Penrose to be operational by the week of Thanksgiving. 

“We’re doing everything we can to provide the information that is requested of us to do the work that we need to do in a timely manner,” said Hobbs. “We are still hopeful that we are able to meet that.”

After a painstaking process of paperwork and permits, Penrose is making strides toward a late November opening, having received its Illinois state liquor license Oct. 4.

However, the government shutdown has caused further delays. The brewery is awaiting TTB approval of two formulas – the Navette, a Belgian-inspired black ale, and Devoir, a French-style saison. 

“We were under the impression [the formulas] were close to approval before the shutdown, so we’re hoping they come through quickly once it reopens,” wrote tap room manager Jeff Cagle in an email.

The government shutdown shouldn’t affect the opening of the brewery, however, Cagle added.

Hobbs, who brings more than 10 years of beer sales and marketing experience to Penrose, said the brewery is "losing money every day it’s not open."

In the meantime, Korder and Hobbs, who currently clock in 60- to 80-hour work weeks to meet their projected opening date, look forward to the moment when they can serve their Belgian-inspired brews to Kane County patrons.

“It’s going to be the most rewarding and gratifying experience when we can finally see people drinking our beer,” Hobbs said. “I can almost guarantee that the first time I take Tom … to see his beer poured, the man will probably weep in his beer. It’s been over three years of work.” 

The Penrose duo also is behind a new craft-beer-related concept in the Tri-Cities – a tap room that solely serves beer.

“When we tell people that we’re not going to have food at the tap room, most people are astounded by that,” Hobbs said. “They're like, 'Why are people going to come?' and the simple answer is, 'Because there's beer here.' ... It’s going to be a great [place] for people to come in and see what craft brewing is all about.”

Having worked with the Chicago-based Goose Island brewery for about 10 years collectively, Korder and Hobbs have played a significant role in the birth of the sweeping craft-beer scene in Chicago, and they are excited to be a part of the Kane County craft-beer movement.

“We’ve had a hand in helping Chicago become a very craft-centric area over the past five years … since we’ve introduced people to craft beer for the first time,” Hobbs said. “... I think that’s why we want to do it for ourselves.”

Even though Hobbs grew up in Geneva, graduating from Geneva High School in 1999, he said that setting up shop in the town had more to do with the supportive culture of locally-owned, independent businesses than for his roots.

“This is a really unique business community,” Hobbs said. “It’s nice knowing that we’re settling into a place that is a pretty great craft-beer community already, and I think the brewery will be another reason for more and more craft-beer drinkers to come visit Geneva.”

Penrose's 14,000-square-foot facility located in a strip mall near Wheeler Park (509 Stevens St., Geneva), will house a 40-barrell production system and a 63-seat tap room, designed with “rustic industrial” flair, using repurposed wood and piping to accentuate the fact that the tap room is located in a warehouse, Hobbs said. 

The tasting room bar will have 10 tap handles for rotating test batches and new recipes, said Korder, the facility's brewmaster. He expects to produce 30 to 40 different brews over the course of a year, which will include barrel-aged brews using wine and spirit barrels to "impart different flavors into the beer."

In addition to the pending Navette and Devoir formulas, Penrose will serve two other year-round, "requisite" beers – Proto Gradus, a Belgian-style single with a subtle floral hop layered with a fruity aroma; and P2, a Belgian-style pale with a resiney aroma and layers of tropical fruit and clove.

To describe Penrose's brand of brew, Korder said, it's "the perfect balance between art and science" – a phrase that he also uses to describe the mathematically-inspired work of his favorite artist M.C. Escher, which greatly influenced the brewery's name and logo.

"[Escher's] patterns revolve around tessellation ... which led me to these penrose patterns and how they are created," Korder said. "They all have to fit together because of the math and angles behind it. There are formulas you can use to create them, and I thought that was a really great tie-in to what brewing is."

Regardless of "great packaging and design," once the tap room opens, Hobbs and Korder both agree that the key to their success will be the beer.

"If we don't have quality beer – if our beer isn't great – nothing else we're doing matters," Korder said.

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