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Whiskey Town not totally dry

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It may be corn and soybeans now, but when Peoria was founded, the key ingredients were grain mash, barley, corn again, rye and wheat.

Because that's what's needed to make whiskey.

And we made a lot of it, right here.

Along the banks of the Illinois, the work was almost always on.

From the time of the Civil War, whiskey drove growth and employment here.

"And yes, it was a bustling town. In fact, the income to the United States government from the whiskey tax made Peoria the highest contributor to the government's budget,"  said Renae Kerrigan, Vice President of programs at the Riverfront Museum.

More than 90 distilleries would pop up....the need for barrels and bottles creating other manufacturing opportunities.

"Peoria was the Whiskey capitol of the world before prohibition," Kerrigan said.  

Now, a rising entrepreneur's putting a new spin on Peoria's spirited past.

"It was, you know, beer all the way for me," said Travis Mohlenbrink. 

From 190 to 212 degrees, the chill is on at Industry Brewing Company.

"There never was a thought of changing this into a whiskey distillery," said Mohlenbrink.  

He's been brewing culinary success stories in Peoria for a dozen years.

Now, the product turned out here can end up in some of those restaurants.

"From the dark, rich colors of the coffee stout, the red amber, the IPA to the lightest beer, the Kolsch, the best-seller, all four of these beers - as different as they are - take about three weeks to finish, right here, on premises," Mohlenbrink said as he embraces the historical title. 

"Maybe people will pick up their phone or go to a computer and actually look up and see why we wrote that on there and they'll get a little history on why Peoria was the Whiskey City," Mohlenbrink said.

But, for now, the man with eight concept locations in Peoria says the green hops are cool enough.

"I learn everyday in this business, in general. But I'm still learning the whole process of making great beer. I'm going to stick to beer for the time being," Mohlenbrink said.  

He's not closing the door on making whiskey someday.

But the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council says J.K. Williams in East Peoria was the last and only distillery.

But they announced last month they will close in the coming weeks after four years in business.

Leaving whiskey town...with no whiskey makers.

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