Mud and Beer in Illinois
I am not sure that everybody is aware (I wasn’t) that Illinois is separated from its neighbours, on its western border, by the great River Mississippi.
It runs almost the entire length of the state and has bought many economic and social benefits over the centuries. Paddle steamers ply their trade from New Orleans to as far north as Minneapolis/St Paul, enormous lime stone bluffs add to the vistas, local farm-to-table restaurants adorn the river’s edge and communities that have been around for hundreds of years give testament to the lasting power of the Great River.
From Galena in the north to Cairo in the south, the river meanders down the state border, and about two-thirds of the way down south lies Alton. Alton benefits from not one, not two but three waterways as it is where the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers converge.
Alton was home to heavy manufacturing industries in the late 19th and 20th centuries but has since faced a decline both in employment and residents. It is now established as a tourism destination serving, in the main, seekers of heritage, food and antiquities.
I, on the other hand, was seeking businesses that have been awarded the title of ‘Illinois Maker’ by Enjoy Illinois, the state tourism board; artisans who go above and beyond the call of their businesses to create something local and unique.
Appropriately named, Mississippi Mud Pottery was first on the list. Made with stoneware clay, by hand, daily, their finished pieces, whilst oven, microwave and neutron bombproof are stunning works of art. From practical dinner services and coffee sets to their signature fish pieces, all are quite stunning. Chad and Felicia, the owners, take great care in how they produce their wares, how they sell them and how they service their customers.
Anybody and everybody is welcome in the showroom come workshop to learn about pottery and witness the care, passion and skill put into every item. To add to the atmosphere, they even have a resident showroom chicken who struts around much to the amusement of the clientele.
Literally across the way is another young dynamic duo James and Lauren, who in two years have built the Old Bakery Beer Co. into a regional favourite, supplying bars across a wide area. However, the main outlet is their base at the historic Colonial Bakery in Alton, adjacent to the Mississippi River (Americans always put the word River after the name), hence the title of the company.
This heritage site has been adapted to produce a very cool, on trend facility which serves tasty food, good music and of course a wide range of excellent craft beers. An impressive business that puts a high degree of importance on sustainability, low energy use, recycled waste, local supply chain and, where possible, local personnel.
Mississippi Mud and Old Bakery are true examples of a young entrepreneurial spirit, which illustrates itself in local businesses for local people but with a national and international appeal. A model of uniqueness in an age of globalised clones.
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