It all started with the Evanston Homebrew Club.

In many ways, the club led to the creation of Evanston’s two longest-running breweries: Sketchbook Brewing and Temperance Beer Company. In 2008, after Amy Wilkinson and Cesar Marron moved to Evanston from upstate New York, the couple met with other club members, including eventual Temperance founder Josh Gilbert, every third Thursday of the month.

They would exchange ideas for homebrewing techniques while taste testing one another’s latest experimental beers. Gilbert decided to open Temperance in 2013 as the first-ever Evanston brewery, and Evanston locals and homebrew enthusiasts Wilkinson, Marron, Shawn Decker, Alice George and several other partners followed suit shortly after, founding Sketchbook less than a year later.

“It [Evanston] was home for us, and we were a group of homebrewers, and everyone lived in Evanston,” Wilkinson said. “And we were just determined to make it happen.”

Sketchbook brewer Eric Morrissey with Amy Wilkinson, one of the brewery’s founders, at the Skokie production location. Credit: Duncan Agnew

More than eight years later, the brewery has an expanded taproom on Chicago Avenue in Evanston and a much larger, bulk production location and beer garden on Main Street in Skokie. To top it all off, Sketchbook took home a bronze medal in the American belgo-style ale category at the World Beer Cup, commonly referred to as “the Olympics of beer,” earlier this month.

The award went to one of the brewery’s newest beers, Beer for the Soul, a collaboration between Sketchbook and local barbecue joint Soul & Smoke launched in May 2022. The can design features an illustration of the Soul & Smoke food truck alongside Sketchbook’s own grain silo.

“We wanted to make a beer that paired well with their food, that didn’t detract from it, but complemented their food and worked well together,” said brewer Eric Morrissey. “I thought this was a style that could really play up barbecue, which has rich flavors, spices and also sweeter sauces. We did a test batch over in Evanston, scaled it up here [in Skokie], and they [Soul & Smoke] loved it.”

Food truck celebration

In honor of Illinois Craft Beer Week, which is well underway right now, Sketchbook’s Skokie location is hosting the Soul & Smoke food truck all evening Thursday, May 25, to celebrate Beer for the Soul’s big competition victory. Discounted pints of Beer for the Soul will be on tap all night as well.

That collaboration with Soul & Smoke is just one of a number of partnerships focused on shared marketing, philanthropy and social justice that Sketchbook has taken up over the years. Last year, the brewery donated profits from its Freedomish 2022: Pathways to Liberation beer to the Evanston reparations fund. In the past, special release beers have also supported the Evanston Development Cooperative, suicide prevention nonprofit Hope for the Day and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Two new beer collaborations that Sketchbook launched in May 2022. Credit: Sketchbook Brewing website

Eight years ago, though, just getting a brewery open in Evanston offered unique challenges. For many decades, Evanston was a dry town with a strong history of teetotalism connected to Frances Willard and the Temperance Movement, which sought to combat alcoholism-fueled domestic violence. As a result, when Temperance Beer and Sketchbook came to the table looking to open up beer production in town, Evanston simply did not have laws on the books governing those kinds of businesses, Wilkinson said.

Evanston vs. Skokie beer tastes

But over time, as brewery and pub culture has grown and evolved across the United States and the Chicago area, beer gardens, like Sketchbook’s Skokie location that opened in 2020, have become popular hangout spots for families and friends to catch up on weekends, enjoy a cold beer and bask in the sunshine, according to Morrissey.

Funnily enough, Wilkinson also said beers sell differently at the Evanston and Skokie locations. Hop heavy, more bitter India pale ales are much more popular in Evanston, perhaps because the space is more conducive to weeknight happy hours, she speculated, while in Skokie people tend to order lighter lagers and Pilsners, which might make more sense for a Saturday afternoon drink in a beer garden.

“The people are a throughway for me, the people who have gone with us through this, just these connections you make in the community,” Wilkinson said. “Before the pandemic, I mostly ran the taproom, so I spent a ton of time behind the bar. Half the people in Evanston, I swear I know them by sight. I still recognize faces from all those years ago.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. Great to see the recognition for Sketchbook!
    Don’t miss the opportunity to try their hazy IPA – Insufficient Clearance. An amazing beer and is the first thing I share with guests to our home/area.