Beer and bicycles have much more in common than the first letter of their names. Over the past several years, bike trails and breweries have been popping up all over the country, often in close proximity to one another. This is no accident. There is an undeniable affinity between biking culture and craft beer. Maybe it’s the adventurous spirit they share, the camaraderie of a common interest or the fact that a good craft beer is a welcome, and carbohydrate replenishing, reward after a long ride.

Whatever the case, bike clubs and brew pubs are kindred spirits, and now Southern Illinoisans can tap into this kinship at the new St. Nicholas Brewing Company, which is housed in the old building by the same name in Du Quoin.

The St. Nicholas Hotel has been a landmark at 12 S. Oak Street since the 19th century. After 125 years of operation, the historic hotel closed in 2005, and the ensuing years were not kind. One of the oldest buildings in Southern Illinois, the St. Nicholas was in danger of being demolished when local biking enthusiasts saw an opportunity to combine their love of both pedals and pubs. Ted Wichmann, founding board member and one of the original architects of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, explains the origin of the idea:

“A group of us who bike together wanted to save the building somehow and create a viable business that is unique, affordable and comfortable that the community could enjoy.”

So far, the group has restored the first floor of the building, where the brewery and restaurant are located. The next phase of the project is to restore the second floor to be used as a meeting and event venue. Eventually, Wichmann says, “the third floor would make a terrific hostel for bicyclists traveling through the area” on one of the state bike trails that runs through Du Quoin.

The brew pub restaurant offers a wide range of upscale pub fare, ranging from appetizers to burgers, pasta, pizza and even root beer floats -- including an adult version infused with Irish cream liqueur. The atmosphere is comfortable and casual, offering a broad appeal and family-friendly environment for young and old alike. Where the beer is concerned, St. Nicholas’ brewer James McCoy believes variety is a key to the brew pub’s success.

“I’m trying to keep a good balance of beer styles, from malty to hoppy, and everything in between. This allows us to get a feel for what people like,” McCoy said. “Eventually, I will begin to brew variations of standard beer styles and even look to recreate some old, historic beer recipes to tie in with our historic building.”

For the time being, though, beer enthusiasts can enjoy a house-brewed blonde ale, brown ale, pale ale, rye IPA and scotch ale available by the glass, sampler flight or growler.

Don’t want to drive after sampling the beers and biking isn’t your thing? Why not use another form of locomotion to visit St. Nicholas.

“You can take the Amtrak from Carbondale to Du Quoin, and we offer a discount for visitors who show us their ticket stub,” Wichmann said. For those who might be on a two–wheeled tour, bring in your bike helmet and you’ll get a discount as well.

St. Nicholas Brewing Company offers a unique combination of good food, good beer and a good deal of fun for the whole family. Whether you love bikes and beer, one or the other, or just appreciate a good meal, St. Nicholas Brewing Company deserves a mark on your map as a destination worth the ride -- no matter how many wheels you use.

SHAWN CONNELLY writes for Beer Connoisseur magazine, is a craft and specialty beer retail consultant and an award-winning home brewer. Read his blog at beerphilosopher.com.

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