Beer in the Burbs: My Eulogy for Tribes, Mokena.

(This requiem was scribed June 2019, abandoned, and resurrected to witness the light of day November 2020.)

Shooting arrows at a wall and then painting targets around those embedded arrows. I had no basis in my twenties. I thought I had entered the highest possible plane of existence when I shifted from Sam Adams Boston Lager to Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. Everything worth figuring out is plotted on a growth curve. As far as beer, my true understanding was sparked at Tribes Alehouse on Lincoln Highway at Wolf Road in Mokena, Illinois.

Ranging back as far as 2009 I became a somewhat regular since I worked around the area quite frequently. My education began to take course after my shifts. I worked my way through Tribes’ varying tap lists, memorized the tin signs on the walls, conversed with strange beer geeks in-the-know, and started comparing atmospheres with other places I’d stop in to. I slowly began to realize how special Tribes was in relation to beer bars everywhere else across the south suburbs (and for my money I’d argue the west and north burbs as well at the time).

Tribes knew exactly what they were doing for the one decade the original tap room existed. Appropriate glassware, clean glassware, clean tap-lines, ultra-knowledgeable staff…these were things on par with Map Room or Fountainhead or Hop Leaf. Though I was spoiled living in the city, as I came to find, these qualities were extremely rare in the suburbs. It was jarring at first, and the more craft beer places that opened in the suburbs, the more I realized how legitimate Tribes actually was.

Existing in an unassuming, standard, cookie-cutter plaza next to Walgreens yet innovative with new glassware styles I’d never even seen before in the city. Niall Freyne was a visionary and he was way ahead of his time. I used to end up at Tribes during the day sometimes, alone at the bar with a pint of Founders Porter and a Firehouse Chicken sandwich. I would see the evolution of new bartenders he hired as they became more and more educated over time in terms of breweries, regions, styles, and overall jargon. I’d usually see Niall on his laptop at the corner of the bar figuring shit out. Which keg from Surly he could wrangle from Minnesota, and what would go on tap as soon as Pride & Joy kicked. Dream job. Dude was fuckin set.

Throughout the decade I made my way over to be in attendance for various tappings of KBS verticals and Bourbon County variants. I saw his paper menu beer list morph in to giant flat screen tv menus flashing the continuous updates and Untappd check-ins.

I was able to visit Tribes the final night they were open, May 31st, 2019 and ironically it was the first time I ever built up the nerve to talk to Niall. I learned that his lease was going to expire and the landlord wanted him to re-sign at an insurmountably high price. He wouldn’t. I got to reminisce about my first time ever visiting his taproom, and he recalled every detail of that particular night as well…

To rewind, one night in late 2009, Tribes held a tasting competition called Ultimate Beer Bout, between Stone Brewing and Three Floyds. The latter won every round. I remember someone in the crowded bar area pointing out Nick Floyd walking around Tribes, and though I didn’t yet recognize him as deity, I knew there was a mystical element. I can’t even be sure it was actually the great yeti himself, but in my memory I’ve sort of decided shadowy figure was in deed him. Either way, at the time I assumed that I’d see this apparition of Keyser Soze around a lot. I haven’t.

Anyway, at Ultimate Beer Bout, Stone really thought they had ‘em beat with their imperial stout. It was kind of adorable, this assumption. Then of course, out of nowhere, Barnaby Struve, without a care in the world, sauntered in with a one-sixth barrel of Dark Lord over his shoulder and hooked it up to the tap. That night was the only time Dark Lord has ever been served outside of Dark Lord Day, and Stone didn’t stand a chance.

Billed as “Dark Lord’s little brother”, I got to bare witness to Hell’s Black Intelligencer that night. Forever staying in my heart, a hope-bringing and wonderment-inspiring oatmeal coffee stout brewed in collaboration with Intelligentsia coffee. My friend – I remember chewing it like a wad of glorious coffee infused tobacco, and it was life altering. Of course, same as the idea that I might be seeing Nick Floyd appear in public on a continuing basis, I also assumed I’d see Hell’s Black Intelligencer again. I didn’t. If I had only known, I’d have gotten a few more glorious pours of it.

Over the years Niall expanded his footprint over the Will County area. He expanded Tribes, Mokena in to a brewery and got into production, starting out with an ex-brewer from Haymarket. He opened a huge, second taphouse in Tinley Park, and then ultimately opened a larger production brewery in Mokena, sights set on his own beer.

Tribes Beer Company exists as a brewery and taproom now, though the Lincoln Highway and the Tinley Park location have both closed. My heart lies buried with the OG Mokena location and the passion and interest in beer culture that Niall Freyne helped to stir up in me shall never be forgotten.

2 thoughts on “Beer in the Burbs: My Eulogy for Tribes, Mokena.

  1. The OG Tribes held a special place in my heart as well. They had so many great special tapping events and the best pub food in a 30 mile radius. My dad and I made the long journey up there at least once a month. I remember seeing you there more than once too.


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