Excel Bottling Company (488 South Broadway, Breese, Illinois; 618-526-7159) started churning out bottled soda in Breese, Illinois, after Edward "Lefty" Meier caught a bank robber on the lam and invested the reward money wisely. Last year, with the changing times, owner Bill Meier believed it was the right moment for the family business to get into the beer brewing game (though, rest assured, the company will continue to bottle their more than 10 flavors of old-fashioned sodas including "Ski") -- now, a year later, Excel Brewery is celebrating its first year anniversary in style.
The anniversary party is set for this Saturday, September 14, from 2 - 4 p.m., with sample packs of the all beers, and barbecue provided by the Breese Fire Department. And then there's the release of "Ryeday the 13th," a barrel-aged behemoth that's been patiently sitting these last six months in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels. A high-gravity beer, Ryeday should offer plenty of flavors, like caramel and vanilla mixed with a nice oaky char. Excel will also be releasing a wheat India black ale, "Darkside," which should be pretty awesome, too.
The gathering is a celebration of the brewery's first year and its and success at entering the world of craft beer. "It truly has been a ride," says Bill Meier. "The year has gone by fast." Excel's decision to transition part of the business to beer brewing was rooted in practicality. "We had the bottling infrastructure," Meier explains, "and in the last ten years the craft beer industry has really taken off and there's just a lot of excitement to be a part of the industry."
Of course, there's been a learning curve, especially trying to figure out what styles will please both local beer drinkers who enjoy traditional light lagers and the hop-heads who want their IPAs. But Excel is doing well on both fronts thanks in large part to the efforts of the brewmasters Tony Toenjes, chemist and longtime home brewer, and Alton native and former Stone Brewing Co. brewer Rod Burguiere. In the near future, Excel plans on increased distribution throughout the region, kegging for convenience, and new styles including an Irish Stout, plus the possibility of joint ventures with other local breweries who could take advantage of Excel's extensive bottling line.
With the momentum building, now would be a good time to check out this up-and-coming brewery. Tickets for Saturday's celebration are $30 and include a 750 ml bottle of Ryeday the 13th, a commemorative glass, 10 four-ounce beer pours, plus food and music. Tickets can be purchased in advance here. Designated driver tickets will be available at the door for $10 and include food and soda. The event will cap out at 200 customers; participants are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance to ensure admittance.