Katherine (Kat) and Chris Valleau, a retired teacher and insurance lawyer, have been dreaming of an ‘exit strategy’ for about two years – and it involves craft beer brewed right at home in Forest Park. The couple runs Exit Strategy Brewing Co, LLC.
Now Exit Strategy is about to take on a more public face as the couple plan to open Forest Park’s first brew pub. The exact location will not be confirmed until a lease is signed. But the couple is scheduled to appear before Forest Park’s Zoning Board of Appeals in August and a specially crafted brew pub liquor license will be researched once the lease is complete, said Mayor Anthony Calderone, who doubles as Forest Park’s liquor commissioner.
Chris Valleau, a home brewer, has been dragging home the trophies for his pale ales, stouts and pomegranate American wheat beers at local competitions.
Sunday, July 27, at Oak Park’s Battle of the Brews, Exit Strategy beers won “best in show” and seven other awards, including first place in both the people’s choice and judges’ choice categories.
The contest, held at Green Home Experts in Oak Park, pitted 10 brewers against each other to raise money for the Oak Park/River Forest Food Pantry.
The Valleaus entered both the dark and light beer categories and won with both: Exit Strategy American Pale Ale and Valleaudated milk stout.
Last year the couple was overjoyed to win the beer battle, but this year, they’ve got bigger plans. The pair has been working on opening Forest Park’s first brew pub at a not-quite-yet disclosed location.
“I won’t be comfortable until I prick my finger and sign that lease with blood,” said Kat.
The stand-alone brew pub will feature an open brew house, said Chris, meaning the brewing equipment like mash tuns, wort chilling tubes and fermenters will be visible to the public. Kat is working on the décor, which she describes as “an industrial farmhouse look” with lounge style seating and some tables and chairs.
Kat quit her job this year after nine years as a teacher for District 91 and head of the Forest Park Teachers Association.
“I did what I came to do there and I got my kiddos off to a good start,” she said. She’ll run the pub while Chris will be brewmaster.
Kat said there’s a new interest in craft beer because people like to eat local foods and buy from smaller producers.
The Exit Strategy menu will have “about 10 items” Kat said. “We’re a brewery that happens to have food.”
Kat said many of the food items sold will include beer as an ingredient, or be paired with special beers.
The couple has been married 14 years, but when they met Kat was “not a beer person.”
“About six years ago he told me I need to turn you into a beer snob,” Kat said. And it happened incrementally.
Chris makes the beer by fermenting grains – barley and wheat mostly – then adding hops to take away the sweetness. He creates his Persephone pomegranate wheat, for example, by adding organic pomegranate juice. Milk stout and dark English brown ale are other favorites created with a higher gravity and lactose added – in the case of the milk stout – which gives beer a higher sugar content. Cold fermenting takes about six weeks to create drinkable beer.
The brew pub will have to get a special liquor license, since they will be making beer on site, said Calderone. The brew pub will need a newly crafted classification that would allow for both the manufacturing and consumption on the premises, Calderone said.
“Once they have confirmed a lease on the property we will begin our research into the liquor issue and I would then bring it before the village council for consideration,” Calderone said.
The brew pub’s next step is a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Aug. 18. The couple has been “jumping through hoops” with federal, state and local permits and paperwork, Chris said. Facebook friends of the brew pub are asked to drop by and give some support for the new business.
Next year the Valleaus hope to have a whole booth for the Battle of the Brews based from their very own brewery in Forest Park.
This article has been updated to correct the number of years Katherine Valleau taught at District 91, the future role of Chris Valleau in the brew pub and the ingredients added to Exit Strategy’s pomegranate wheat beer.