The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

BiXi Beer

Welcome to stop #93 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: BiXi 鼻息 Beer, 2515 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Blue Line, Logan Square
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes
Distance from station: 400 m

Yesterday I brought a friend along to visit three Logan Square breweries, starting with BiXi (pronounced "bee she") and ending with the granddaddy of the region, Revolution. We planned well, because BiXi has really great beer but also very tasty food. Plus, it's got a cozy vibe where I can imagine hanging out for a while.

Because we joined forces, we could try twice as many beers—plus some delicious Szechuan peanuts (very spicy!), pot stickers, and mushroom egg rolls.

From my notes and their menu:

  • Nectar 7G Nectaron IPA (6.5%): "This collaboration with Pipeworks Brewing features a tropical juicy twist brewed with Nectaron Hops from New Zealand." Really good, excellent balance, clean finish, would take home.
  • Unicorns in the Mirror hazy IPA (8%): "Packs 7 different types of hops including cryo citra, citra, mosaic, idaho 7, amarillo, simcoe, and columbus as well as tropical fruits, smooth sweetness, and low bitterness." Banana, apple, long finish, really good.
  • BiXi Bitter Kölsch (4.5%): "A classic style extra lagered brew with a silky smooth brilliantly bitter bite." Light, crisp, malty, hoppier than a regular Kolsch.

My friend adds: "Jeju island Mandarin witbier (4.6%): the Mandarin gave it a punchier flavor than a typical witbier, but the banana aroma that typifies a wit still stood out the most. Well balanced, good representation of the style, wouldn't order it again because it's not my preferred style of beer."

Our favorite was the Unicorns in the Mirror. Since neither of us really likes amber ales, and since we had two other breweries to visit, we skipped the Broken Walk-In Amber Lager (5.3%).

I'm already making plans to go back with some other friends who live in Logan Square.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? Yes
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Howard Street Brewing

Welcome to stop #91 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Howard Street Brewing Co., 1617 W. Howard St., Chicago
Train line: CTA Red and Purple Lines, Howard
Time from Chicago: 25 minutes (Purple Line)/45 minutes (Red Line)
Distance from station: 100 m

Sadly, the brewery will close on Sunday. But I had the opportunity to visit last night, so the Daily Parker can preserve its memory.

I'm sorry I didn't go before. It's a cute place, and the beers I tried were quite good. I had a pint of the Better Late than Never Pilsner (5.4%), and tastes of the Dark Link Stout (6.5%) and the Sex Panther Kolsch (5.5%). All were quite serviceable and I would have them again.

So what happened? According to Block Club Chicago:

The tight space and business regulations made it hard for Howard Street Brewing to meet consumer demand while adapting to shifts in the craft beer industry, [Owner Chuck] Patella said.

Howard Street Brewing didn’t have space to produce nitro beers or hard seltzers, two popular products. There also wasn’t space for a kitchen, and its license prevents it from offering cocktails or wine, Patella said.

The closure is another loss for Howard Street, which has struggled to retain businesses and has seen violence in recent years.

Sol Cafe, which briefly expanded its hours to offer food service for the neighboring Howard Street Brewing, closed in July after 10 years. Its owner cited floods in the building and nearby shootings as reasons for the closure.

Howard Street Brewing is at least the fourth craft brewer to close in Chicago recently.

Metropolitan Brewery in Avondale will close Sunday after 15 years in business. Lo Rez Brewing closed in Pilsen this summer after seven years, and Rock Bottom Brewery left River North in January after more than 20 years in business. Empirical Brewery closed its Ravenswood facility late last year after being evicted over unpaid rent.

Yes, Howard east of the El has struggled with violence and poverty for, oh, 60 years or so. I admire Patella for trying to change that, but even I didn't visit for almost its entire 18-month run. The area around the Howard Street El just isn't great.

I'm still going to give it a "would go back" rating, but on the map it'll show as "closed." Patella said he's going to try opening in a different spot later on. I hope he does.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? None
Serves food? No, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Olfactory Brewery, San Francisco

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Olfactory Brewery & Blendery, 2245 3rd St., San Francisco
Train line: Caltrain, 22nd St
Time from Chicago: about 4½ hours by air
Distance from station: 800 m

I really liked Olfactory Brewery, and though I'd never visited before, I really liked Dogpatch. The place has a chill vibe, good beer, and dogs whenever they stop by.

I tried three beers: the (checks notes) Más o Menos Bien Czech Pilsner (4.6%), great balance, malty, crisp, light, great summer beer; the Pearly Baker's Best Bitter (4.6%), not too bitter at all, lingering finish, very drinkable; and the Orange Sunshine West Coast IPA (6.6%), big nose, Citra forward, big flavor, fruit, orange, banana, apricot, long finish, great beer.

Mina from Mendocino poured my beers, and told me a bit about the place. Sadly, I just missed their first anniversary party the weekend of Thanksgiving. I'll be back, though.

Beer garden? Small but covered
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? Many, kind of avoidable
Serves food? BYO
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Fox Tale Fermentation Project, San Jose, Calif.

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Fox Tale Fermentation Project, 120 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose, Calif.
Train line: Caltrain, San Jose Diridon
Time from Chicago: about 4½ hours by air
Distance from station: 1.5 km

I hadn't intended to visit Fox Tale, because a different brewery was closer to my hotel. But that brewery closed abruptly in November, though no one had updated its Google page. I'm glad I went to Fox Tale instead.

Owners Felipe Bravo and Wendy Neff don't just brew really unusual beers, they also ferment all kinds of foods. The menu has a list of fermented spreads you can put on an order of "just bread." I spread on some garlic-lemon hummus made from parsley oil and sunflower seeds that was truly tasty.

I also tried two beers. The Meadowtate, a rustic pale ale (5.2%) made from fir tips and Hallertau Blanc hops, had a lightly funky nose, tasted more like a lager than an ale, but had a complexity with notes I couldn't identify from the plants they added. The Super Sonic Bloom double-dry-hopped IPA (6.3%) had a really interesting, complex flavor, again with notes that eluded my vocabulary. I would try both them again.

I travel to the Bay Area a lot, as longtime readers know, so I will stop in Fox Tale again.

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? No
Serves food? Yes
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Flying out tomorrow

Tomorrow I have a quick trip to the Bay Area to see family. I expect I will not only continue posting normally, but I will also research at least two Brews & Choos Special Stops while there. Exciting stuff.

And because we live in exciting times:

Finally, if you're in Chicago tonight around 6pm, tune into WFMT 98.7 FM. They're putting the Apollo Chorus performance at Holy Name Cathedral in their holiday preview. Cool! (And tickets are still available.)

Solemn Oath Brewery

Welcome to stop #90 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Solemn Oath Brewery, 2919 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Blue Line, California
Time from Chicago: 14 minutes
Distance from station: 700 m

When I visited Bungalow by Middle Brow last winter, I had intended to visit Solemn Oath as well, but my friend and I had a longer catch-up over food than we intended. After visiting Off Color on Saturday, I decided to correct the oversight, so I hopped on an electric Divvy (pictured above, lower right) and zoomed over to Solemn Oath.

What a great vibe. The bartender had put on a '60s "psychedelic" mix (e.g., the Mamas and the Papas, the Doors) and despite the arrival of a large party with over a dozen people, it never got too loud.

I put together a mini-flight of three 150-mL pours, starting with the Trail DIPA (7.7%), a big Citra, grapefruity, peary, appley, hazy beer that will sneak up on you. Second, the Mountains Like Clouds hazy IPA (6.5%), that went boom!—twice. It hit me with two citrus explosions and amazing balance with a nice finish. I would have taken home a 6-pack of this if I weren't on a Divvy. I finished with the clear one on the right, the Snagglejus (6.66%), their "monstrously dank West Coast IPA" that I would also have brought home.

Anyone who lives in Wicker Park, just let me know if you want me to bring Cassie to meet you at Solemn Oath. Two Top-10 breweries in one day!

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? None
Serves food? No, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Off Color Brewing

Welcome to stop #89 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Off Color Brewing, 1460 N. Kingsbury St., Chicago
Train line: CTA Red Line, North/Clybourn
Time from Chicago: 10 minutes
Distance from station: 600 m

I've actually wanted to stop by The Mousetrap (as Off Color calls their Kingsbury brewery and taproom) for a long time. It opened directly across the street from the Whole Foods Market that Parker and I used to walk to back when we used to walk there. I should have visited years ago instead of waiting until yesterday. The place has a super-chill vibe, friendly bartenders, and really good beer.

They don't do flights, so I contented myself with two 250-mL pours. First, the Beer for Lounging APA (5%), which I noted had almost a wild flavor, more like a sour than a bog standard APA. I asked about it, and the bartender explained how they use Belgian yeast, which imparts exactly those notes. No surprise they sell this beer at Hopleaf in Andersonville.

I also had a 250-mL pour of their flagship Scurry (5.3%), a "traditional" ale (actually a Kottbusser) their website describes as a "traditional German style specialty beer" with "Pils, Dark Munich, Wheat, Flaked Oats, Chocolate Malt, Honey, Molasses, Nugget and Hersbrucker hops." I tasted the chocolate and caramel, and the Belgian yeast, and I would taste it again.

In short, I have to rejigger my top 10 after visiting Off Color and Solemn Oath yesterday. And I have to stop in with Cassie next summer.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? None
Serves food? No, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Four medium walks = one big walk

As planned, my urban-hiking friend and I walked just under 21 km for four beers. She timed the entire trip, and I timed each segment, so we know that the total was 3:24:55 over 20.73 km, just about where we expected to be:

(Note that she uses the obsolete Imperial system of measurements and I use the International system, so the lap markers on her track are miles. Ugh.)

Her Garmin course isn't public, but mine are:

We had a really good day. The temperature stayed right around 10°C, so it felt a little cooler when the sun went down, but by that point we'd just arrived at Temperance.

If Metropolitan were staying open, and if Alarmist were anywhere near a train station, I'd rate them both "Would Go Back" in the Brews & Choos List. Alas.

Metropolitan has a beautiful taproom and patio right on the river:

And Alarmist has some delicious beers:

For part of the trip we walked along the Weber Spur Trail, a relatively recent and not-yet-improved former rail line through the Sauganash neighborhood:

Today I felt a bit tired, but in a good way. We did have one extra beer at Sketchbook, but we got 10-ounce pours where available, and we shared the flight pictured above (and the extra 5-ounce pour not shown).

So what's next? Holidays, unfortunately. But we're hoping for a very mild El Niño winter this year, so we might do another beer hike sooner than one might think.

Sunny Sunday walking

This may be the last warm (enough) weekend of 2023, so once more, I'm planning to go for a long walk. This time we plan to start at Metropolitan Brewing, which will close for good in 5 weeks. We then proceed up the river to Burning Bush, thence 8.5 km northwest to Alarmist, thence 7.5 km northeast to Temperance in Evanston. At that point we'll either head north to Double Clutch (2.4 km), or east to Sketchbook (2.7 km). Both Double Clutch and Sketchbook are along the Metra line that goes right past my house, so that's easy enough.

None of these will get a new Brews & Choos review, though. Even if Metropolitan weren't closing, it's too far from a train station (1.8 km from Belmont); so is Alarmist (2.7 km from Forest Glen). Sketchbook and Burning Bush are both on my Top 10 list, and Temperance and Double Clutch already have "would go back" ratings. But my walking buddy hasn't been to any of them except Sketchbook. So I'm game to go back.

I plan to get a couple of Brews & Choos visits over the next two weekends: next Friday or Saturday in Chicago, and the following week in the Bay Area.

Walk highlights and photos tomorrow or Tuesday. New reviews soon.