JACKSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Tourists have been following the wine trail for years but there's new business brewing in southern Illinois.
In Elkville, along U.S. Highway 51, a new brewery is in the works.
Chris Harris and his business partners are working to renovate the old Purcell's Flooring building on Route 51 into what will be Route 51 Brewing Company.
The new brewery that will offer a banquet hall, three hotel rooms and concert venue location won't open until late summer or early fall 2016. When it does, Harris says it will become a new stop on the growing Southern Illinois Beer Trail.
"I think we're really off to a good start with all the breweries we have with Scratch and Big Muddy and Abbey Ridge, and Little Egypt," said Harris. "It's a really good nucleus of what we already have. I think there will be more to come, but I'm just excited to have that in southern Illinois."
With the opening of Route 51, Jackson County will be able to boast of six beer breweries.
"We're a county of about 62,000 in population so we have more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the state of Illinois," said Chuck Stuhrenberg of Big Muddy Brewing Company in Murphysboro. "We're probably one of the most concentrated areas in the country for breweries, and that just brings more tourism to the area because of all the breweries in the concentrated area."
Stuhrenberg opened the Big Muddy Brewing Company at a very scary time.
"I opened this in the recession," said Stuhrenberg. "At the time my other business was really slow, and I figured I had to do something. It's been growing ever since."
Stuhrenberg is building a new brew house behind his current Murphysboro location to double his brewing capacity.
"We have 20 different distributors sending out our beer all over the country and that helps bring in money to the local economy too," said Stuhrenberg.
Stuhrenberg says those distributorships have helped draw in more beer tasting tourists.
"About half of our customers are from outside the area," said Stuhrenberg. "Many of them have never even heard of the wine trail, so we pass them along to the wine trail after they do the beer trail and they're discovering southern Illinois for the first time many times."
Eighteen months ago, Abbey Ridge Brewery and Taproom opened on Route 127 near Pomona as yet another stop of the burgeoning beer trail. Owner Terri Addison says the more the merrier.
"I think the beer enhances the wine trail that's already here, and I think that will bring new wine industry here too," said Addison. "I think the more we have coming in the more people, the more businesses, the more businesses are going to be looking at joining so that's a good thing for both industries."
Addison says southern Illinois' economy benefits from more breweries pop up along the trail.
"The industry that is in this region is very sparse, so anything that brings additional business, additional tourism, additional people to the area can only help," Addison said.