Nestled between the golden corn fields of Illinois and rich forestry sits Big Thorn Farm, a magical treehouse for grown ups where crisp beverages are poured as woodland creatures tromp around. And when the weather gets a bit frosty, the off-grid brewery in Georgetown invites guests into its heated indoor greenhouse bar.
My husband and I first discovered Big Thorn as we planned out a hike at Kickapoo State Park. One of the best ways to reward yourself after a day spent outside is with a belly full of carbs and grains, so we always scout out those potential options on a day trip. Big Thorn’s website, beer selection, and commitment to sustainable practices had us hooked. Only about 25 minutes away from the hike, and not technically out of the way back to Champaign, we committed to the stop.
Big Thorn can be mapped out on Google Maps, but pay attention to the signage in the area, and drive slowly. The brewery is not visible from the main road, but well worth the 10mph drive down the dusty gravel road. The weather was perfect for our visit so our Prius had no issues navigating the roads, but I could imagine if there is snow on the ground, you might be best visiting with a more robust vehicle.
The outdoor treetop bar was closed for the season, but is an impressive construction. The brewery sits on fifteen acres of land owned and operated by the family that brews and staffs the place. The land between the treehouse bar and the greenhouse was lined with picnic tables and outdoor games. When we entered the greenhouse bar, we were kindly greeted by the brew-tender and offered information about their beer. They were eager to help and make recommendations based on our different tastes.
The greenhouse bar provides a unique brewing experience, unlike any other I’ve experienced in Illinois. It’s tastefully done, and large, but gives off a homey-feeling. Both the tree and greenhouse bars are dog-friendly, so we brought our pooch in for our pints. The available draft menu offered a wide variety, and we appreciated that their unique flavors included ingredients grown on the farm.
We started with a flight that included four fun-sized pours. There isn’t one set flight price, but you pay about $2 to $3, depending on your selection, for seven ounces. A 16-ounce pint ranged from $5 to $6. There were bottle options, and for those that are gluten-free, a cider in cans is available.
To maximize our taste range, we got their freshly tapped Cherry Wood Wheat, Chinook Sour, Farm Red, Mad Coffee Porter, and Coffee Cream Ale. The Cherry Wood Wheat was a table favorite. This might seem like a silly disclaimer, but it doesn’t taste like cherries (it’s wood, not the fruit), though it does have a subtle earthy sweetness overall. It goes down quickly, and easily. The Chinook Sour delivers. It’s brewed with half wheat and half pale malt, but the tartness of the grapefruit rings through on this, not the hops and grains. Fans of sours won’t be disappointed. The Farm Red is billed as a malty amber ale and crowd favorite. This fall-colored beer is a balance between the delightful fizziness of a traditional farmhouse ale with the hop-infused warmth of a traditional red. There were several coffee-infused menu choices, so if you’re trying to decide, start with the Coffee Cream Ale. It’s reminiscent of the way people initially drink coffee — sweeter, flavored with hazelnut and vanilla, and dressed up to mask the bitterness of the coffee. The Mad Coffee Porter is a traditional porter: dark, chocolatey, and with a coffee kick at the end it’s perfect for a cool fall day.
After our initial sampling, I opted for a full pour of the Cherry Wood Wheat. My husband switched ordered the Michigan Copper Pale. Brewed with ingredients from nearby Loda, it’s an IPA without the fuss. It’s straightforward hop flavor only sticks with the sip, but not in the aftertaste.
Growlers are available for purchase and fill-up, which we decided to do so we could bring some local flavor to an upcoming holiday gathering. There are small snacks for purchase, and occasionally they host food trucks (check their social media or website), but visitors are allowed to bring in their own food. Big Thorn uses compostable cups with plenty of signage to keep you eco-responsible. Since it is a more "rustic" experience, they only have porta-potties instead of traditional bathrooms. However, these were the cleanest ones I have ever used, and honestly, cleaner than indoor bathrooms I’ve unfortunately patronized before.
Though the weather is starting to ice up, Big Thorn Farm remains open as long as it’s safe for folks to venture out that way. Since it’s off the beaten path, make a day of it.
Big Thorn Farm
14274 E 600 North Rd
F 3 - 9 p.m.
Sa Noon - 9 p.m.
Su Noon - 8 p.m.
Photos by Jordan Goebig