The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Oak Park Brewing Co., Oak Park

Welcome to stop #27 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Oak Park Brewing Co., 155 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
Train line: Union Pacific West, Oak Park
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 700 m

Oak Park Brewing Co. is the first brewpub in Oak Park since 1872, when the village went dry. Yesterday evening an old friend and I donned masks and sat outside in the perfect weather to have pub food and, in my case anyway, beer.

From left to right, I sampled: the Leprechaun Zombie (4.1%, 26 IBU), a smooth nitro stout that reminded me of Guinness if Guinness had flavor; London Britches English porter (5.6%, 33 IBU), a malty, complex brew with lots of different flavors as befits a porter; Helles Other People (4.9%, 18 IBU), a nice, light Munich lager; Baby Got Bock Maibock (7.0%, 23 IBU), an interesting bock I might have to have again soon; and finally the Mary Hoppins APA (5.4%, 38 IBU), a well-balance, not-too-hoppy pale ale that was so good I had another couple of pints.

Their wings were very good as well.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Sort of: the Village says no, but...
Televisions? Yes, 2
Serves food? Yes, full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Harbor Brewing Co., Winthrop Harbor

Welcome to stop #26 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Harbor Brewing Co., 811 Sheridan Rd., Winthrop Harbor
Train line: Union Pacific North, Winthrop Harbor
Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 28 minutes (Zone I)
Distance from station: 800 m
Biergarten is 800 m to the east

It turns out, one can get beer during a pandemic. Harbor Brewing has two locations: a brewpub, which is closed due to Covid-19, and a Biergarten, which is very open.

I tried three beers. The Harbor Light Ale (4.0% ABV) lives up to its name, having tons more flavor than an industrial light beer but still having the insubstantial feeling of it. The Hazy Afternoon NEIPA (7.4% ABV) was my favorite, and perfect for a hazy afternoon by the water. The Locoe NEIPA (7% ABV) had a similar flavor but more juiciness and citrus notes.

Since Winthrop Harbor is the farthest from Chicago I've gone on the project, and since I had a lot of time between trains, I took a walk from the Metra station all the way to the invisible energy field between Illinois and Wisconsin, the latter on the left in this photo:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Independent food tents, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Three cheers for a friendly fungus

As this 2017 article from National Geographic explains, humans and yeast have had a tremendously successful relationship for the last 9,000 years or so:

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”

Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?

The idea that’s gaining support...was first proposed more than half a century ago: Beer, rather than bread, may have been the inspiration for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to domesticate grains. Eventually, simply harvesting wild grasses to brew into beer wouldn’t have been enough. Demand for reliable supplies pushed humans first to plant the wild grasses and then over time to selectively breed them into the high-yielding barley, wheat, and other grains we know today.

Alcohol may afford psychic pleasures and spiritual insight, but that’s not enough to explain its universality in the ancient world. People drank the stuff for the same reason primates ate fermented fruit: because it was good for them. Yeasts produce ethanol as a form of chemical warfare—it’s toxic to other microbes that compete with them for sugar inside a fruit. That antimicrobial effect benefits the drinker. It explains why beer, wine, and other fermented beverages were, at least until the rise of modern sanitation, often healthier to drink than water.

Alas, the SARS-Cov-2 virus has made it nearly impossible to continue the Brews and Choos Project, which celebrates the ingenuity of yeast and the single-mindedness of humans.

Speaking of the B&CP, I may cautiously resume the project this coming Friday. Or tomorrow. It depends on the weather, because regardless of the state's official relaxation of distancing rules, I don't think going into a restaurant or brewpub makes a lot of sense until I can confirm my own immunity to and inability to transmit the virus. I have no idea when that will be, in large part because of the Trump Administration's endemic incompetence. But many brewpubs have outdoor patio space, and on a warm sunny day, risks seem to be lower.

Returning to normal, slowly

Finally, after 97 days and an hour-long webinar on Covid-19 safety precautions, I will finally get to work in my actual office on Monday. We're allowed 2 or 3 times a week, with masks, sanitizer, and no passing between floors. (This matters only because my floor doesn't have an ice machine.)

During the informative webinar just now, I scheduled walks for Parker and started rejiggering my meal plans. (We're discouraged from using the refrigerators, so I'll have to scrounge lunch downtown.)

I'm actually kind of excited about this. And today, the city allowed bars and brewpubs to open, so maybe...could it be...the Brews and Choos Project can resume this weekend?

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

The plan is to have no plan

So believes NYU media professor Jay Rosen about how President Trump will try to win this fall:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. ... The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

In other fun stories:

Oh, and 151 years ago today, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the Transcontinental Railroad.

First Covid-19 casualty of Brews & Choos

I suspended the Brews & Choos Project after March 7th as the state closed restaurants and bars to slow the spread of SARS-COV-2. I had planned to continue the project as soon as things opened up again, knowing the economic pause would certainly change the roster. Sadly, it already has, with the permanent closure of Argus Brewing on the city's south side on March 28th:

Since launching in 2009 in a former Schlitz horse stable — a relic of when beer was delivered by hooves — Argus always hovered at the edge of the beer drinking consciousness, a curiosity few Chicagoans ever saw, tasted or even discussed.

While other breweries of its era grew into Chicago icons — Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution — Argus sat quietly at the city’s far south end, miles from both its competitors and the city’s best-known beer bars.

Argus founder Bob Jensen acknowledged that his brewery had long been teetering at the edge of collapse. It was never profitable, and in December, reduced head count from 16 to 11 employees. Jensen considered pulling the plug for months. The COVID-19 pandemic made him pull it.

Earlier this month, the Brewers Association said coronavirus may be catastrophic for the nation’s small breweries. Nearly 60% of surveyed breweries predicted they couldn’t survive three months of social distancing.

For Argus, the decision was made in less than two weeks. About three-quarters of its business was draft, an arena that dried up literally overnight after bars and restaurants closed March 16 to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

But Argus’ demise was rooted in years of not being able to turn a corner, even as a $29 billion craft beer industry grew around it. Argus grappled with its far-flung location in the Roseland neighborhood, questionable commitment from its distributors, growing competition, failure to open a taproom, buy-in from bars and stores and, most important, making quality beer.

On March 1st I went down to Flossmoor Station on the Metra Electric line, but didn't stop at Argus because they didn't have tours on Sundays. I had planned to go down there in warmer weather so that I could not only see their operation and taste their beer, but also so I could walk around the Pullman Historic District nearby.

I really hope brewpubs and taprooms can reopen soon.

Lunar Brewing Co., Villa Park

Welcome to stop #25 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Lunar Brewing Co., 54 E. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park
Train line: Union Pacific West, Villa Park
Time from Chicago: 36 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 900 m

Sometimes you find good beer in unexpected places. Lunar Brewing in Villa Park appears as any other dive bar off a suburban stroad, but they have brewed their own beer since 1996.

I didn't have a lot of time so I tried only one of the six house beers on draft, the Scottish Ale:

I liked it. It had good malty caramel flavors, with a smooth, sweet finish.

I asked about food and dogs. No to dogs, because the village only allows them outside. They have a BYOF policy but, if you want something cheap and quick, "the best frozen pizzas you can buy," according to a longtime patron who was rolling his own cigarettes with a small rolling machine at one of the tables.

I appreciate a good dive bar, but I'm not sure I'd hike out to Villa Park to visit this one again.

On my way out, I got a good shot of the local Metra station:

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? 2, unavoidable
Serves food? BYO, or frozen pizza
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? No

More Brewing, Villa Park

Welcome to stop #24 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: More Brewing, 126 S. Villa Ave., Villa Park
Train line: Union Pacific West, Villa Park
Time from Chicago: 36 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 1.5 km

In the suburbs, sometimes "concepts" take precedence over everything else. This bustling, family-friendly brewpub "concept" fits perfectly with the suburban ethos. They opened during peak brewpub in August 2017, and they seem to be doing well.

Still, they brew their own beer, and they're within 1500 meters of a Metra stop, so to Villa Park I went. At least the walk there involved a rails-to-trails project that worked:

I tried three beers, all of them a bit hazy, as is my recollection of them.

First was the K.I.S.S. IPA (6.5%), a hazy hoppy citrusy clean beer, more like a NEIPA. The Mozie IPA (7%) was fruity, juicy, and tastes lighter than the ABV implies. And the Hush of the Night Milk Stout (7.5%) had definite coffee, toffee, and chocolate flavors, as a milk stout should—especially one made with Dark Matter coffee.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes, in the beer garden
Televisions? Unavoidable
Serves food? Full restaurant
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Stockholm's, Geneva

Welcome to stop #23 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Stockholm's, 306 W State St., Geneva
Train line: Union Pacific West, Geneva
Time from Chicago: 67 minutes (Zone H)
Distance from station: 800 m

Penrose may have been the first pure-play brewery in Geneva, but Stockholm's, which opened on 5th July 2002, was the first place to brew beer there since prohibition. According to Mike Olesen, the owner, back in 2002 "it was hard to get people to try the beer," so he opened a restaurant instead of a tasting room.

He does flights of five for $9 and pints of some beers for $4. Plus they have excellent food. I munched on a French dip sandwich and fries while trying a cross-section of the current offerings.

Clockwise from the far left is the Pils (light, earthy nose, lots more flavor than I expect in a Pilsener), the Aegir's Ale (hint of sour from the cask conditioning with lots of malt—a proper English real ale), the Geneva Pale (really interesting, with caramel and malty flavors), the Brown Ale (intense, not too sweet, complex, lingering finish), and the Porter (subtle flavors, clean finishing, lighter than most porters I've had).

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