Chris Trudeau’s family bought Rolling Meadows Farm in Cantrall, Illinois, just outside of Springfield, when he was only 7 years old. Some of his earliest memories on the farm include tooling around on a small four-wheeler, taking turns too fast and singing “Born to be Wild” while speeding across a small patch of the 1,000-acre plot of land. Over the years, the Trudeaus raised some produce for personal use, but their focus was corn and soybeans.
About 20 years ago, Chris’ mother, Caren, discovered a wild hop vine growing on the farm. Initially she and a friend, Connie Regan, experimented with the hops through homebrewing projects. On a trip home from college, Chris saw the opportunity to expand their brewing into commercial production. By 2011, the Trudeau and Regan families had opened Rolling Meadows Farm Brewery on the property; it was the first production brewery to open in Springfield since Prohibition.
“It was really nice – my mom and her friends were juicing fresh blood oranges and it had a nice color,” Chris says of the blood orange hefeweizen. “I came home on that one visit and said, ‘Well hey, I’ve been doing some homebrewing, and I can do graphic design [for our labels and branding],’ so I asked if they wanted to do a little family brewery. As we went along, it went from a small thought to a larger idea gradually.”
Being located on a working farm proved to have its advantages: A blend of organically grown wheat and hops and native hops, plus water from a well on the property, are used to brew Rolling Meadows' beer. Chris has experimented with growing several non-native hop varieties over the years, including some classic English and Pacific Northwest varieties. He says the Pacific Northwest hops, including Cascade, have grown best in the central Illinois climate and soil. “Now we mainly do Cascade and the wild hop; that’s what does the best out here,” he says.
Wheat and hops aren’t the only crops grown on site for the brewery; Chris says produce and herbs have made their way into beers, like the thyme used in a recent blueberry-thyme ale. What they don’t grow themselves is sourced from other local farms; for instance, the blueberries for that ale came from nearby Jefferies Orchard, which also supplies Rolling Meadows with apples for its apple ale. “They've had an active farm for over 100 years now,” Chris says of the orchard. “Any time we can source something from the farm, or we can grow it, we’ll give it a try, make a small test batch and scale [the beer] up.”
The location of the brewery is unique – few breweries operate on working farms – yet the surrounding area is also part of its story. Rolling Meadows is located along the Sangamon River, which President Abraham Lincoln lived near and traveled along during his young adult life. In tribute to Springfield’s most famous former resident, two of the brewery’s first three beers were named for Lincoln: Lincoln’s Lager, a light-bodied lager, and Abe’s Ale, a maple syrup brown ale (the third is Springfield Wheat, a bottle-conditioned wheat). Chris says he even sometimes mixes a 50:50 ratio of the Lincoln’s Lager with the Abe’s Ale to make an "Abe Lincoln."
“It’s nice because the Abe’s Ale has a higher alcohol content and is heavier with the sugar content, and the Lincoln’s Lager is a nice light-bodied lager. Together it’s a beer you couldn’t brew because of the yeasts; lager yeast is cold and ale yeast is room temperature.”
The brewery has expanded its offerings significantly over the years, releasing session lagers, a white IPA, porter, dunkel and seasonal beers like the blueberry-thyme lager as well as a white IPA weisse, and Coffee Break, a coffee porter made in partnership with Springfield roaster Custom Cup Coffee.
Rolling Meadows' latest release was Coffee Break bottles on Feb. 28; in early March, the brewery will debut bottles of its apple ale made with fruit from Jefferies Orchard. And in April, the brewery will celebrate another milestone with the release of its first stout, The Big Old Stout.
To learn more about Rolling Meadows' upcoming beer releases, check for updates at facebook.com/rollingmeadowsbrewery.
Rolling Meadows Farm Brewery, 3695 Central Point Road, Cantrall, Illinois, 217.725.2492, rollingmeadowsbrewery.com