There's a new brewer in town, and they have perfected the art of blending tradition and innovation to provide Champaign-Urbana with a destination that exceeds expectations and never fails to please.
On Thursday, June 30th, I was lucky enough to be on the first official tour of the Riggs Beer Company in Urbana. Smile Politely's Food & Drink editor Jessica Hammie wrote a SPlog about the taproom/Biergarten before, and I decided I couldn't pass it up.
I'll start by saying that I wasn't sure I'd like the beer at Riggs. Generally, I prefer darker, heavier, sweeter beers, and that's the antithesis of Riggs' ideology. Their beers (some made with up to 24% corn grown on the Riggs' Family Farm right down the road) are crisp, dry, and have a pronounced (but artistically balanced) hop profile. I was gloriously surprised by how much I liked them.
The sugars found in corn are more easily digestible by brewer's yeast than the sugars in other grains. This means that during the brewing process, more of the sugar is converted to alcohol, and there is less auxilliary sugar floating around in the beer once the breweing process is complete. This is why the beers are a bit "drier" – they don't feel syrupy or overly sweet on the tongue. To fully exploit the corn they use, Riggs is set up with an American Double Mash, and as far as I know, they're the only regional brewery that uses one. And to be honest, it really does seem to make a world of difference in flavor.
The taproom of Riggs Beer Company is really quite beautiful. Inside the bar area, there are beautiful round and square tables (which are made in Champaign, chairs, a cowhide rug, and luxurious sofas. In the daytime, sunlight filters through the glass doors that lead out to their 200-person Biergarten, flanked by test crops of barley and hops and featuring not only tables with umbrellas but also a quaint playground that kids seem to absolutely love.
To use a single word, the place is inviting. Matt Riggs, the brewery manager (among other roles) led our tour and was personable, knowledgeable, and friendly. The location feels more like a family-friendly destination than a bar or brewery, and although I've complained about people taking kids into bars in the past, there's something about Riggs that makes bringing the family there seem natural.
Perhaps that's because the brewery is a family affair itself. It is owned and operated by Darin and Gail Riggs and Matt and Caroline Riggs. The two brothers, Matt and Darin, are both UIUC alumni, so it's safe to say that they're hometown folk who care about this community and legitimately want to contribute to and improve it. And considering that both of them are well-trained as brewers, I'll bet they know how to do it with beer.
A great thing about Riggs is that they're working hard to make sure they have food trucks available every day they're open. This means you won't necessarily have to order in food or leave whenever you start getting a little bit of the "drunk munchies." Furthermore, they have a full food truck schedule on their website so you can coordinate your visit with your favorite truck.
If anything can be a testament to the company, it's that I was so enchanted by my first visit that I visited them on the 4th of July (when they were open from 3 to 10 p.m.!) and somehow left even more enamored by this plucky bunch.
I realized that Matt's genuine personality and dedication aren't specific to him: the rest of the the Riggs Beer Company team are just as honest and friendly. Spending time there, I felt more like I was hanging out with my close friends than at a place of business.
If beer isn't your thing, never fear. Riggs offers not only Illinois wines, but also coffee (including a nitrogen-infused cold brew on tap), tea (hot and iced), sodas, and a couple of interesting German soda blends (I tried the Spezi and can recommend it).
In the future, the company hopes to have music and festivals at the brewery. Due to already being a destination rather than a place where one just "drops in", they want to host music and festivals and add even more value to the experience of going there. If they're able to book regular music and festivals, keep up the food truck system, and continue making great beer, I might start getting pretty good exercise biking there. Then again, I'll probably just have to move closer. When you're not feeling up to the trip, you can check to see if one of your favorite places carries them with a handy tool at the bottom of the beer page on their website.
In conclusion, if you enjoy a good beer and you're looking for a place to relax and unwind, take the short trip out to Riggs and just maybe you'll find a new favorite place to hang out and grab a pint or a Maß.
Riggs Beer Company is located at 1901 High Cross Road, Urbana, and is open Thursday and Friday, 3 to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.
Photos from the Riggs Beer Company Facebook page.