The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

An iconic Chicago brand comes home

I'm not sure how I feel about CH Distillery buying the Malort wormwood liqueur brand:

Since the 1970s, Malort has been distilled in Florida, though its primary market has remained Chicago. Many Malort enthusiasts would agree that the liquor’s powerful aftertaste assaults the taste buds, a phenomenon that’s ironically helped grow the brand’s popularity on social media and in Chicago bars.

Why would Tremaine Atkinson, founder of CH Distillery, want to purchase Malort?

“Oh my gosh, why not? … I love everything about it. I hate everything about it. It’s such a great iconic Chicago thing,” Atkinson said Thursday. “It fits at the psychic level, the business level and the cultural level.”

Atkinson, 54, said he first tried Malort when a friend bought him a shot after moving to Chicago some 20 years ago. His reaction was not atypical.

“I drank it and said, ‘Why did you do that to me?’” Atkinson said.

Atkinson compared the flavor to taking a bite out of a grapefruit and then drinking a shot of gasoline, then acknowledged that’s actually a fairly tame description compared to some found on the internet.

That sounds about right. I've had precisely one shot of Malort in my life, which is approximately the correct number. I say "approximately" because the correct number is, in fact, zero.

But like the Cubs choking in October, it's very much a Chicago thing. And now it's coming home.

Not much going on today

The day after hosting a big party is never one's most productive. My Fitbit says I got 5 hours and 18 minutes of sleep, which turns out to be better than last year, thanks in part to Parker's forbearance this morning. Usually he's up by 7; but today he let me sleep until 9:15. Good dog.

Regular posting should resume tomorrow. I'm betting on getting to bed around 9pm tonight...

Party time! Excellent!

I'm getting ready for my annual Prez Day Bash, which I inherited from a very talented and very funny Andy Ball back in 2004.

This is the 13th Bash—the Fillmore—so I hope less goes wrong than in previous years. The first ten ran from 1995 to 2004, then the 11th came back in 2015. (I suppose that means the 21st will be in 2035?)

I'll post more if I get a lull in preparations.

Expert tips on going dry for January

I will not be doing this (though I am taking it easy this month):

After a week or so, I’m sleeping better and have noticeably more energy. However, because my job is literally to go to bars and clubs, I can’t board myself up in a room, “Trainspotting”-style, to avoid temptation. I still go to cocktail bars and check out DJs and bands — I just don’t drink while doing so. Thankfully, with the explosion of the District’s drinking scene, more bars are putting an emphasis on house-made sodas and fresh juices, which can usually be consumed on their own, without alcohol. The Columbia Room2 Birds 1 Stoneand Hank’s on the Hill are among the best at this, though I’ve noticed more bars and restaurants adding nonalcoholic sections to their menus.

While approaches may vary, there are some general tips:

  • Drinking a soda water with lime looks makes it look like you’re drinking a gin and tonic, which may help avoid questions.
  • Tip your bartenders for sodas and water the same way you would for a beer or cocktail.
  • Talk to people.
  • Remember: There are other places to have fun in January outside of bars, too.

Most of all, don’t worry if you slip up, or decide to change the length of your hiatus. I know I’ve ended a few days early because there was a beer tapping I really, really wanted to attend. “It doesn’t matter,” [Columbia Room owner Derek] Brown says. “It’s not a religion; it’s a practice.”

I'll drink to that. But just a little bit.

Where did the day go?

Usually when I work from home, I get a lot done. Today...not as much. I've run errands, had two meetings outside the house, and (to Parker's horror) vacuumed.

Now I'm off to another meeting, with half the house un-vacuumed and many emails unread.

Articles also unread:

Now, time for a board meeting.

Bias in science?

Two stories today about science, one implicitly about how money influences reported outcomes, and another about how people don't really understand science.

First, the New York Times reported Monday on a $100m National Institutes of Health clinical trial that is getting $67m indirectly from five major alcohol producers:

[T]he mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.

Five companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease. “This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said.

“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever — no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.” But Dr. Koob, like many of the researchers and academic institutions playing pivotal roles in the trial, has had close ties to the alcoholic beverage industry.

Keep in mind, funding does not automatically create bias. But it does make people wonder about the study's legitimacy. (This is an enormous problem in elections, too.)

When people start doubting the legitimacy of a study—or an entire body of research—we can get into real trouble. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, climate scientist Ben Santer explains how he's fighting back against ignorance:

After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” the causes of climate change. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environment Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting against climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data show “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is due to “ocean waters, and this environment in which we live.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.

I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate-change problem, and that human actions must be part of the solution to this problem. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.

People are attacking truth on several fronts. We've got to keep fighting.

Monday evening reading

Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:

Time for a martini, clearly.

Craft distilleries expanding this year

Crain's lists five Chicago-area distilleries, including Few (my favorite), that have run out of room:

  • The West Loop's CH Distillery plans to build a 20,000-square-foot distillery in Pilsen on the site of the old bottling building of the long-defunct Schoenhofen Brewery. It aims to boost capacity to more than 100,000 9-liter cases per year, up from about 8,000 in its current distillery and tasting room. The two-and-a-half-year-old distillery, whose top products are vodka, rum and two types of gin, produced 5,000 cases last year, up from 2,900 in 2014.
  • Few Spirits in Evanston is seeking its fourth expansion in five years to meet demand for its barrel-aged products. The company doubled the size of its warehouse two years ago and is again running out of space. With production doubling last year, led by sales of gin and whiskey, Few is looking to expand again.

Local booze-makers are riding a boom in sales of craft spirits, which jumped 35 percent in 2015 to about 2.4 million 9-liter cases from 1.7 million in 2014, according to the American Distilling Institute's annual survey. That's after 42 percent sales growth in 2014 and a 50 percent spurt in 2013.

While figures aren't available for Illinois, the breakneck growth of CH Distillery, which distributes only in-state and has no immediate plans to do otherwise, offers a clear indication that the local market is just as robust.

I love Few's barrel-aged gin, which is as much a sipping spirit as a good Scotch or Bourbon. CH doesn't make all of their own stuff yet, so them opening their own distillery is good news.