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Home brew: New pub taps into regional beer and wines

The owner of a new pub is raising her glass to regional brewers and vineyards.

Cork & Tap owner Carrie O’Neil, 32 of Oregon, and general manager Nicole Pecen eschew national brands of beers in favor of wines and brews by regional craftsmen.

“We are serving unique cocktails and featuring regional Midwest wine and beer,” Pecen said. “We have wine from Cedarville, Bollingbrook, and North Utica. Supporting local craftsmen makes us unique.”

Drink selections include wines such as August Harvest Winery’s August Infusion and Sweet Catawba and ISC’s Brut Ombre Rose and Demi Sec Rose.

Brew connoisseurs can find Pig Minds Brewing’s Vanilla Slap, Lakefront’s River West Stein, Wisconsin Brewing Co.’s Chocolate Lab porter, and Potosi’s Cave Ale amber ale among the 14 on tap.

Not sure which draft beer to pick? The bar offers a flight of 9, which is a sampler of some of its selections – and what’s on the flight deck will change based on season and availability. Sometimes a brewer will run out of a batch, or a vineyard will have a bad year, limiting certain supplies.

That’s OK with them.

“This gives us a chance to rotate the selection and try something new,” Pecen said. “Spring selections will include light and fruity selections and the heartier wines and beer will be available in winter.”

The business, in a historic downtown building on Washington Street that once housed a department store, has a rustic yet contemporary decor. It features a bright, two-story open space with the original tin ceiling on the main floor, a couple of intimate seating areas on the second floor, and space for an art gallery and events on the third floor.

“There is nothing like this in Oregon,” said O’Neil, whose father, Merlin Hagemann, 64, of Byron – owner of Merlin’s Greenhouse in Oregon – bought the building and fixed it up over the past year.

“We do not want a bar atmosphere. We want a space to come out, relax, and socialize with friends,” she said.

That’s evident by what’s missing: The only TV in the business is used to display the drink menu. Bar games include cards, checkers, and chess – just don’t look for no darts or billiards.

“We hope people will come here for the experience and socialize,” O’Neil said.

An appetite for partnerships

For non-brew lovers, the Cork & Tap offers soda. No food is sold on site, but Hazel’s, the former Conover Coffee and Chocolates, recently opened next door – it’s connected through a set of French doors – and food from Hazels, or other establishments, can be brought in, O’Neil said.

Conover Coffee and Chocolates originally opened in 2003 and was purchased by one of its employees, Candace Rivera.

“It is bittersweet to have this location,” she said of moving from the coffee cafe’s longtime location, but the “downtown is changing and I wanted to be a part of it. I am recreating and making the business my own, while embracing partnerships” – like the one with Cork & Tap.

Hazel’s still sells the coffee and chocolates that customers know and love, while offering an expanded menu, including bruschetta, flatbreads, soups, a variety of sandwiches, and burgers made with local beef.

“Working with other local businesses is the key for small towns,” said Rivera.

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