Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Four Days, Four Microbreweries, One Wedding and Zero Pigs: My Weekend in Kewanee!

In an effort to get back to my small-town roots – I'm a product of Harborcreek, PA, after all – I made a trek to Kewanee, Illinois for a long weekend. Well, it wasn't so awfully long for me, but I suspect my host was mightily relieved when it was over. I arrived late on a Thursday afternoon and headed for the airport mid-morning on Monday. She didn't exactly push my car away from the curb, but neither was she standing on her front porch teary eyed waving her hankie good-bye. I'm an acquired taste.

The final tally: I was 2 pounds heavier, a couple of cases of beer less thirsty and the cost of three microbrewery t-shirts poorer. All in all I'd call it a successful outing.

If Kewanee sounds familiar to you, you have a pretty good shot at winning some money on Jeopardy.

“I'll take Small Towns No One Has Ever Heard Of for $500, Alex.”


(A hesitant ding) “Ummm...What is the hog capital of the world?”

“You are correct.”

Yes, the red dot markes Kewanee.

Yes, that's right; it's the hog capital of the world. Having said that, I drove around the region for four days and never saw my first oinker. The closest I came was a rack with bags of pork rinds at Menards. Incidentally, if you are unfamiliar with Menards, think of it as the love child of an Ace Hardware Store and a Krogers. There's fresh rhubarb over here and 2-by-4s over there. I did, however, see a lot of corn...a hell of a lot of it. Granted, Nebraska or perhaps Iowa seems to have bragging rights as the corn capital of the world, but western Illinois could present a solid argument in a court of law.

Joni and I dazzling the crowd as we danced at my friends Steve and Connie's wedding in Greenville a few years ago.
Ostensibly I was there to accompany my buddy Joni –born and raised in Kewanee – to a wedding. She did the same for me in Greenville four or five years ago. I was supposed to go there over Labor Day weekend for Hog Days. It's the town's big annual reunion/festival/beer drinking contest. I've been promising to go for years and this was to be the year. Sadly, by the time I had a car worked out in Chicago, the flights were way too expensive. So, the wedding a couple of weeks later was plan B.

I flew into Chicago from Greenville by way of Atlanta and then Cincinnati. If someone else had booked this flight, I would have reamed them a new one. But, nope, it was little old me who did it. I spent hours hanging out in airports.

Joni had tried to convince me to fly into Moline or Peoria where she would come get me, but I shrugged off the advice. After years of not paying any attention to anything she said, why start now? Boy, did I have egg on my face. The moral of the story: Don't fly into Chicago if Chicago isn't your final destination. I'll never do it again.

Nissan was kind enough to furnish me with one of its Rogues for the adventure. The vendor that moves cars around the Midwest for Nissan, drops cars off and picks them back up through the valet stand at the O'Hare Hilton that's attached to the airport. It cost $20 to retrieve the Nissan from the valet. This was just a fraction of the $52 it would have cost had the vendor not had a special arrangement with Hilton. Actually getting the car was a pretty simple process, but escaping the crazy spaghetti of ramps, streets and roads that snake around the airport was more adventure than I was interested in.

Fast and furiously barking out commands, the GPS could barely keep up with the exits. What seemed like every 50 feet or so was another toll booth and traffic slowed to a crawl. What a circus. Once free of the airport mess and the really heavy snarls of traffic, things went more smoothly. 

Arriving in Kewanee around 5:30, I whipped up a batch of margaritas for the two of us and another couple of friends we were scheduled to have dinner with. After my drive, I was ready to chug the bottle of Cabo Silver.

My first of three trips to Kewanee's landmark eatery and bar Cerno's during my stay was for dinner that night. It's sort of Kewanee's partying hub. A wonderful selection of draft beers and a decent menu no doubt keeps folks coming back. It has one of only five bars that Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer had built and installed in drinking establishments around the country. I was impressed.

Friday, Joni drove me to the Quad Cities that straddle the Illinois/Iowa border. Comprised of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois, Davenport, Iowa and some other little towns that no one seems to be able to agree on, the Quad Cities has five or six microbreweries. I was in hog heaven, so to speak.

Joni and I at the Bent River Brewery.

We managed to hit four of the area's breweries. I was really impressed with a couple of them: Bent River in Moline and Great River in Davenport. I sampled a couple of really good beers in each. I was particularly smitten by Bent River's Uncommon Stout. We discovered later that Uncommon Stout is the area's best selling beer behind Bud Light.

The marketing folks at Bent River are doing a bang-up job of moving this beer. It's in many restaurants and grocery stores.
  I'm not making this up. 

The usual suspects back at Cerno's: Joni, me, Lynn and Jerome Baker.
 Friday night we were back in Cerno's for round 2.

Saturday was the big wedding. Joni offered to let me off the hook by dropping me off at a bar during the ceremony and then retrieving me post wedding. I didn't think that was very good form. What, I can't sit through a 20-minute ceremony? I didn't want to look any more like an S.O.B. than I knew I probably would by the time the reception was over. I've seen me at wedding receptions. Historically, it's not pretty.

Some of the hardcore wedding gang fortifying themselves at Pioneer between the ceremony and reception.
Nope, I insisted on participating in the whole enchilada. I figured if the wedding couple was going to pony up the cash for me to eat and drink at the reception, the least I could do is suffer through the I do's.

Apparently I held the minority opinion on that.

At least twice as many people were at the reception as were at the wedding. I was astounded. It wasn't a fancy affair, but it was nice. Kewanee is a little short on party halls. I'm not sure exactly where we were. It was some sort of society's meeting hall. All I remember is the name of the society is close to “Fetish.” I can't imagine that's accurate, though.

As the evening wore on, more and more people seemed to wander in off the street. Whether they were invited guests who just got off work or crashers looking for a free beer is a mystery to me. There were guys in sleeveless shirts and John Deere caps strolling around with their cups of beer. At one point, there must have been 25 or 30 little kids running around. There were maybe a dozen at the ceremony. My theory is that people were just dropping off their kids and sending them inside. “Go play with your friends. Mommy and Daddy will be back in two hours to get you. Don't eat too much cake!”

Don't ask me; I don't know what the hell is going on here.

Once the parents all returned and picked up their kids, the DJ finally came to life and the place got rocking. I have to be fairly loaded to dance. I was on the dance floor for for 90 minutes or so. I'm sure there's a YouTube video out there somewhere. It was quite the party.

Sunday was basically a recovery day. After my $4 breakfast at the golf course – I'm not lying; four bucks for two eggs, four strips of bacon, a mound of hash browns and two slices of toast – we basically lounged around watching movies and football. 

For dinner we headed to Princeton for meat. The Prime Quarter is a four-store chain of steak houses. The hook is you grill your own steak. It's a nice joint with a no-frills menu. You choose your steak from the cooler – they are all the same price – grill it yourself, toss some slices of Texas toast on the grill, serve yourself in the salad/baked potato bar and there ya go. A server brings whatever your having from the bar and you're good to go.

I'm not sure when I might return to Kewanee. I still owe Joni a “Hog Days” trip. But it was a fun, relaxing, low-pressure outing.

But where are the damn pigs?

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