Hill Brewing Company opened in April across the street from Cork. The name is a nod to local home brewer turned commercial craft brewer Ray Hill, who is no longer involved with the project. It is a spacious restaurant, with exposed brick and a view into the brewing room. (There is a second floor for special events.) The feel is of a standard bar and grill, loud, but not overwhelmingly so.
The beer lineup tries to appease both craft-beer aficionados and the casual beer fan. So while the India pale ale doesn't hold back on the brew's trademark puckering wallop of hops, the pilsner is made with corn in the mash so that it resembles a standard American lager rather than a true pilsner.
My favorite beers among the ten currently on tap were the pecan brown ale, nutty and lightly sweet, and the malty Munich dunkel. Other varieties seem like works in progress: The "St. Louis Pale Ale" doesn't have much character yet, and the promised citrus notes are buried in the Belgian white. The only brew that needs a total rethink is the chocolate stout. By design, this has a very light body. Unfortunately this renders it something like drinking chocolate soda rather than a proper stout.
(Beer is available in 12- or 16-ounce glasses as well as 64-ounce growlers to go and, for the temperate curious, a flight of four samples.)
Though a brewpub, Hill Brewing has no pretensions of being a "gastropub." The menu is comprised of conventionally beer-friendly foods: burgers and sandwiches, pizza, barbecue. Of course there are soft pretzels, four to an order and wonderfully chewy (though maybe needing a dash more salt). These are served with mustard and cheese sauce for dipping and make a nice snack for those sampling the beers.
Jambalaya is a satisfying entrée, chock-full of andouille sausage and small but properly cooked shrimp. The fish and chips, a brewpub requisite, is disappointing. The beer batter on the cod, made from the pecan brown ale, doesn't convey a strong flavor. The chips — French fries, in this case — are limp and, when I sampled them, lukewarm. A chicken sandwich is...a chicken sandwich, coated with generic barbecue sauce, and though the chicken is listed on the menu as smoked, it lacks a truly smoky flavor.
The beer is the star here. Is it good enough to appeal to an audience outside its immediate neighborhood? That, of course, is the ultimate question posed by our growing interest in wine and craft beer. As knowledge increases, so do our demands.