METAMORA — After five generations, the Sommer farm has switched its agricultural focus. For more than a century, the emphasis was corn. Now it’s hops.
That’s the vision of Adam Sommer, an electrician who wanted to become a math teacher but instead became a brewer. He and his family have turned the Sommer homestead into Evergreen Farm Brewing.
“This wasn’t really planned at all,” said Sommer, 40.
Alas, his change in careers not only is keeping the family’s farming legacy alive but allowing him to still follow his passion for teaching. He hopes that by offering innovative beers, he can connect customers to the farming process involved in brewing, an educational but tasty lesson underscored by Evergreen’s motto, “From Ground to Growler.”
George Sommer – Adam Sommer’s great-great grandfather – started farming about two miles south of Metamora in 1858, the same year Abraham Lincoln did his last legal work at what is now known as the Metamora Courthouse State Historic Site. The Sommer farm’s precise address is 1179 Douglas Road, along what is more commonly known as the Metamora-Washington Blacktop.
George planted on what would eventually grow to become a 225-acre operation, mostly corn. The family always tried to stay apace with innovations. The farm was one of the first in the area with indoor plumbing and electric lights, the equipment for which is still evident today.
An early brewing effort came at the hands of Adam Sommer’s grandfather, Albert Sommer. He eyed the first outbuilding on the property, a wash house boasting a gas-powered washing machine. The cellar, long used for storage, seemed to Albert Sommer like a fine place to brew beer, so he did.
Adam Sommer grew up on the farm, soaking in the rich heritage. From his dad, Clint Sommer, he learned of the hard work needed to keep a farm running. Often, he would ride along when his father worked fields in his tractor.
“I had grown up watching my dad work a full-time job and be a full-time farmer at night,” Adam said. “I remember many nights as a little kid, falling asleep in the tractor and waking up every time we hit a bump big enough to bang my head on the window.”
Just before Sommer hit his teen years his dad realized he could no longer compete in the modern world of megafarms. So, in 1994, he sold off most of the acreage but kept the family home and several outbuildings.
Eight years later, Adam Sommer married Melissa Keogel, living first in Creve Coeur before moving to Peoria Heights. Two children then came along — Houston, now 13, and Zoey, 12.
Meantime, Adam had a solid career as an electrician. After 14 years of that, he got the bug to teach, so he enrolled at Illinois State University to study mathematics with the goal of becoming an educator.
But then, “our whole world changed,” Sommer said. His mom, Gresha, died in 2015, prompting Adam and Melissa Sommer to move the family to the farm. In 2019, he got his degree. But as his wife took a job selling window treatments, work that would require her to travel during the day, he decided to jump off the teaching track.
“With the changes, I started thinking about what would work best for the family, but also to continue our 150-plus years of family farming,” he said. “My wife and I have always enjoyed destination breweries and wineries, so we decided to give it a shot.”
With some advice from Bearded Owl Brewery in Peoria, Sommer started experimenting with brews in the outbuilding cellar where his grandfather had done the same decades ago. Upstairs, where the wash machine once rumbled, he created a tap room with a small bar.
To accommodate more visitors, he fashioned a tasting room from the old, nearby shop building. There, on a long workbench, his ancestors would cut timber into boards to construct and maintain the farm’s structures. The building also served as the storage area for farm tools, many of which remain hanging on the walls, serving as an informal ag museum. Pitchforks, scythes, fans, vises and all sorts of mechanisms dot the wood-slat walls, as does a flat screen TV that flashes with historic photos of the farm and the Sommer clan.
Near a wood-fire stove, hops hang from a wire, drying above the cracked concrete floor. At scattered tables and chairs, visitors can sip beers and wonder what those hops will taste like as a Sommer beer.
He works seven days a week, sometimes 15 hours a day. Surrounded by family, he doesn’t mind.
“Working all the time is just what you do on a farm,” he said. “I can work a 15-hour day and it doesn’t feel as long as a nine- or 10-hour day working as an electrician, just because it’s home.” Plus, he has help in what has become a family operation.
The brewery is open from noon to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Melissa Sommer helps out after work on Friday and all day Saturday. There isn’t enough room for a dishwasher yet, so all the glasses get cleaned by hand, a chore the kids help with. Plus, Clint Sommer, 64, is always at the ready, usually as a smiley greeter.
“My dad covers PR, hanging out in the tasting room and telling the farm history stories,” Adam said.
He plans to expand soon. Outdoor seating is to be added this summer, and grain bins will be repurposed as additional tasting rooms.
“We want people to feel like they can spread out, have their space, and enjoy being outside on the farm,” Sommer said. “As progress allows, we also have another building drawn up that will house a much larger brewing system and resemble an old chicken coop that was on the farm.”
He also plans to experiment further with beer recipes, following the motto of “From Ground to Growler.”
“We are already including a lot of specialty ingredients grown on the farm and plan to expand those,” he said.
Phil Luciano is a senior writer/ columnist for
Peoria Magazine and content contributor to
public television station WTVP