The Daily Parker

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Flossmoor Station, Flossmoor

Welcome to stop #21 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Flossmoor Station, 1035 Sterling Ave., Flossmoor
Train line: Metra Electric, Flossmoor
Time from Chicago: 54 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 200 m

This unusual place took over Flossmoor's historic 1906 railway depot in 1996 (but, ironically, it's not directly accessible from the railway). Flossmoor natives Dean and Carolyn Armstrong rescued the building from demolition and built out a pretty decent restaurant. Inside they have a four-room restaurant plus bar, and outside they have a beer patio, mini dog park, and because of course, a caboose.

I popped down there two weeks ago, ordered a pulled-pork sandwich and a flight of beer, and got to work:

From top to bottom, I had: Zephyr Golden Lager (5.0%, 24 IBU), a light, slightly-bitter, slightly-citrusy lager; Rail Hopper IPA (7.0%, 67 IBU), a grapefruit, hop-forward ale with a long finish and good balance; Pullman Brown Ale (6.7%, 26 IBU), with chocolate, coffee, and molasses notes; and Shadow of the Moon Imperial Stout (8.6%, 85 IBU), a big, beautiful beer, with chocolate, toffee, coffee flavors and not as bitter as the IBU rating would suggest.

The pulled pork also tasted great, and the fries were perfect.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes, outside, in the summer
Televisions? Two, in the bar area; avoidable from everywhere except the bar
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? Yes

Oppidan Spirits and Nightshade & Dark's Pandemonium Brewing, Waukegan

Welcome to stops #19 and #20 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Nightshade & Dark's Pandemonium Brewing Co, 216 W Clayton St., Waukegan
Distillery: Oppidan Spirits, 220 W Clayton St., Waukegan
Train line: Metra Union Pacific North, Waukegan.
Time from Chicago (Ogilvie): 75 minutes, zone H
Distance from station: 800 m

Nightshade & Dark's and Oppidan occupy the same space in central Waukegan in an arrangement that benefits anyone looking for good spirits and good beer.

When I went all the way up there late in the afternoon on Leap Day, I arrived just as they opened: 4pm. That gave me a good bit of time to get to know both of them.

Oppidan started distilling in 2013, but didn't open the tasting room until shortly after Nighshade & Dark did on September 13th last year. They've already gotten good notices in the press, so I expected visiting wouldn't disappoint. It didn't.

I first got a flight of half-ounce pours from the distillery:

From left to right, the American Botanical Gin (86°), with a grapefruit note on the nose and cardamom, ginger, and elderflower on the back end; the Barrel Reserve Old Tom Gin (90°), a ginger-juniper delight with a hint of maple from cold-smoked barrels; the Four-Grain Bourbon (100°), with vanilla and malty-sweet notes that you wouldn't expect from such a hot spirit; and the bottled-in-bond rye (103°), aged 4 years and 5 months with a hot-pepper finish that the distiller admitted means he should have left it at cask strength instead of taking it down to 103.

Sliding over a few feet I sampled a few of Nightshade's brews, poured by Mrs. Nightshade herself:

Many of their beers follow a Ray Bradbury naming scheme. But they named the two I started with, the Besley's Waukegan ESB (4.7%, malty, really great, close to a proper English bitter) and the Besley's Waukegan Porter (7%, dark, complex, chocolate and caramel notes), after Waukegan's first brewery, which existed from the 19th century through Prohibition.

I also had their Veldt Steam Ale (5.3%, malty, tasty, not too hoppy), which reminded me of my training beer, Anchor Steam Beer, and the Mr. Pale dry-hopped IPA (7%, mosaic hops, really great flavor).

The owners brew only 30 gallons of beer at a time, meaning almost all of the beer they serve is less than 11 days old. Often they only make one batch, and they don't distribute, so you'll have to go there to try them.

I will be back. I understand the place really looks cool at night. And hey, they're right off my train line.

Beer garden? Planning to open rooftop this summer
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? None
Serves food? Taco stand on premises, BYO otherwise
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

FEW Spirits, Evanston

Welcome to stop #18 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: FEW Spirits, 918 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Ill.
Train line: Metra Union Pacific North, Evanston–Main St. (Also CTA Purple Line, Main)
Time from Chicago (Ogilvie): 20 minutes, zone C
Distance from station: 200 m (200 m from CTA)

Disclosure: FEW Spirits has been a contributor to the Apollo Chorus of Chicago for several years. I serve on the Apollo Chorus Board of Directors, and separately as the Chorus's Benefit Committee Chair. I personally solicited FEW's donations on behalf of the Chorus, and because of FEW's generosity, I directed that we will feature their products and branding at our Benefit next month. I also attended law school with founder Paul Hletko. Despite all of this, I have not received anything of value from anyone in exchange for posting this (or any other) review on The Daily Parker.

When FEW's founder Paul Hletko told me years ago he planned to get out of law practice and into distilling, I wished him a lot of success. Wow, did that wish come true.

Paul named his distillery after the 19th-century abolitionist and Evanston resident Frances Elizabeth Willard, whose house just up the road still serves as the headquarters of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. (This history also explains the name of an Evanston brewery that will not be on the Brews and Choos project because of its distance from Metra: Temperance Beer Co.)

The distillery gives tours on weekends and has a tasting room open during the week. They open up on the second Friday of each month from May through September, adding a food truck and a band to the mix.

On a recent Friday evening, I stopped by to the tasting room to get some tastings. The bartender had mixed up a delightful sazerac. She also shared a sample of their limited-edition Alice in Chains Whisky, a 101-proof spirit aged in tequila barrels, which, drunk straight, hits you with pepper and alcohol. The Bloodshot Two-Barrel (just a few bottles left at this writing) came out a bit smoother but still with the peppery notes Paul is fond of. I also recommend the Breakfast Gin, a complex, smooth, juniper-forward gin with a hint of bergamot that makes an excellent martini.

They also have excellent taste in swag. I've got a foursome of their super-sturdy and classic-looking rocks glasses at home, and I routinely give people FEW-branded Cairns glasses.

Beer garden? Alley is open in the summer
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? None
Serves food? Food truck in summer; BYO year-round
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Empirical Brewery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #17 on the Brews and Choos project.

Note: closed permanently on 23 October 2022.

Brewery: Empirical Brewery, 1801 W. Foster Ave., Chicago
Train line: Union Pacific North, Ravenswood
(Also CTA Brown Line, Damen)
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 800 m (1.4 km from CTA)

Living by the Ravenswood Metra stop is almost an embarrassment of riches. One of those is the Empirical Brewery on Foster. They have an experimental streak that produces some epic beers.

From left to right, Endothermic Baltic Porter, Proton "No Coast" American IPA, and Covalence Juicy Pale Ale:

All three were great. Endothermic (9.0%, 30 IBUs) is available through the end of March. It's smooth, full-bodied, chocolaty, malty, and delicious. Covalence (5.5%, 32 IBUs) is exactly what it says on the tin: juicy and pale, and less bitter than hop-porn IPAs you might get elsewhere. And when I visit Empirical on most of the time, I'll have a Proton (6.0%, 40 IBUs), their best pale.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? Two, avoidable, usually playing classic or nerdy movies
Serves food? No; order-in kiosk and menu pile, sometimes a food truck
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Ravinia Brewing, Highland Park

Welcome to stop #16 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Ravinia Brewing, 582 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park
Train line: Union Pacific North, Ravinia
Time from Chicago: 46 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 400 m

Actually, something does go almost as well with good beer as pizza: tacos. Ravinia Brewing in Highland Park has both.

I had one pint, one taste, and three tacos while up there:

The beer was their Steep Ravine IPA (7.2%, 22 IBUs), which had nice grapefruit (i.e., citra) notes, and it's not terribly hoppy for and IPA. I also sampled the Baldwin barrel-aged porter (6.5%, 35 IBUs), with delightful chocolate, rum, and rye notes, while not being too sweet. Really good.

And the tacos were great.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes, on the sidewalk
Televisions? Ubiquitous, unavoidable
Serves food? Yes
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Begyle Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #15 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Begyle Brewing, 1801 W Cuyler Ave., Chicago
Train line: Union Pacific North, Ravenswood. (Also CTA Brown Line, Irving Park)
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 1.6 km (200 m from CTA)

Note: Begyle informed The Daily Parker in July 2021 that they ended their dog-friendly policy. (They still make great beer.)

But also note: As of August 2023, they've re-thought their dog policy. Dogs are once again allowed on the patio!

Begyle is one of my favorite taprooms in Chicago, and not just because it's (a) close and (b) dog-friendly. They also make really great beers.

For the Brews and Choos project, I dragged my bête noir all the way to the taproom and back, which, at his age, took quite a while. And then he was a bit overwhelmed, so didn't get any rest while there:

It was so busy they had a dog quota going (only 12 allowed at a time). Parker got the last spot available for a few minutes.

Because I know their beers pretty well, and because this was not the last stop for the day (though it was for Parker), I had three small tastes, including my favorite of their beers:

Megapixel is their latest IPA, crisp, light, and a bit maltier than you'd guess. Freebird, my favorite of their beers, is also an IPA with it's great balance, a hint of lemon and grapefruit from the citra hops, and its relatively low alcohol content (4.5%). Finally I tried Flannel Pajamas, an oatmeal stout with a great balance between hops and maltiness, though it does read slightly hoppier than most stouts.

Begyle's taproom is one of my favorite places to dog-watch and read. I heartily recommend it.

Beer garden? Sidewalk seating
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? No
Serves food? No, but BYO is fine, and sometimes there's a food truck outside
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes


A note on dogs. Begyle's Brett Knickerbocker reached out to The Daily Parker on 6 July 2021 with this sad news [which they updated in Summer 2023]:

Over the course of the pandemic we have lost our upstairs space, which was crucial for extended seating. We are faced with a much smaller footprint going forward and want to focus on saving space for humans wherever we can. We had days during The Before Times in which 50% of our taproom was occupied by dogs and it was simply overwhelming for our staff (and many of our guests). As much as we love our furry friends, we feel that being a dog-free zone is the right move for us.

Parker loved going to Begyle, and I'm sure Cassie would have does as well. But, hey, they have to make the right choices for their business.

Piece Brewery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #14 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Piece Brewery, 1927 W. North Ave., Chicago
Train lines: Union Pacific North and Northwest, Clybourn. (Also CTA Blue line, Damen)
Time from Chicago: 8 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 1.3 km (400 m from CTA)

Pizza. Beer. What's a better combination? Piece Brewery in Wicker Park makes both pretty well.

Piece opened in July 2001, so I've had lots of their pizza and lots of their beer. When I visited for the Brews and Choos project, I just had a pint of their new Astronaut Haus English Pale Ale, a 5.5% hoppy decent malty ale. (Note to self: would drink again.)

For some reason, I also ate an entire pizza:

And hey, they deliver (just not all the way to my house).

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Bar area only
Serves food? Pizza!
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Rhine Hall Distillery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #13 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: Rhine Hall Distillery, 2010 W. Fulton St., Chicago
Train lines: Milwaukee District North and West, Western Ave. (Also CTA Green line, Ashland)
Time from Chicago: 9 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 1.3 km (1.1 km from CTA)

I found visiting Rhine Hall on a weeknight in February odd for two reasons. First, I didn't realize that they distill from fruit, rather than grain, so I didn't prepare myself for the flavors of their spirits well. Second, I used to work in the same building from 1995 to 1996, so walking around the place brought back a ton of 25-year-old memories.

Nothing like this existed in the building back then.

The owners, a husband and wife team, opened the distillery after returning from Germany, where he learned how to make eau de vie (fruit brandy). They have since branched out into a dozen varieties, including the ones I sampled:

From left to right, all 80-proof spirits: apple brandy, oak-aged apple brandy, cherry brandy, and Frenet Lola. The brandies had subtle characters reminiscent of their underlying fruit, and would make really interesting mixers for cocktails (which, incidentally, they serve at the distillery). The Frenet had strong licorice notes and, I imagine, tasted like a well-made Frenet. I have never had Frenet before so this was an experience.

This might be worth a second trip, to try their cocktails.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? No, but you can bring it in
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Tribune feature on the Southwest Chief

Freelance writer Alexandra Marvar took the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles:

I boarded the 2:50 p.m. Southwest Chief out of Chicago’s Union Station on a Friday. By mid-morning Sunday, we’ll arrive at another Union Station: Los Angeles. I could have flown between the two cities in roughly four hours. But as a frequent flyer all too familiar with the rush and stress of air travel, I was drawn to the idea of a long, slow journey across America by rail. Now, 15 hours into my inaugural long-haul train trip — a $146-dollar (coach class), 44-hour, 2,265-mile excursion through eight states — the experience hasn’t stopped surprising me.

Our reasons for being here are just three of a thousand. A young costume designer headed to a funeral in Topeka, Kansas, couldn’t afford last-minute airfare. Amish families are traveling to a hospital in Mexico for more affordable health care; four couples claim the last two booths in the observation car for a two-day marathon card game of Rook. A married couple who met in high school 50-plus years ago are on their way to La Junta, Colorado, to visit a recently discovered ancestor’s grave. They’ve ridden Amtrak together for decades. We talked about trains throughout last night’s white-tablecloth dinner of steaks cooked to order. We all shared our desserts.

It's a long way to go for a brew.

I've actually taken the Southwest Chief, and its predecessor the Southwest Limited, twice. I'd love to do it again. But like Marvar, I think I'd prefer a roomette to a coach seat.

Midwest Coast Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #12 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Midwest Coast Brewing, 2137 W. Walnut St., Chicago
Train lines: Milwaukee District North and West, Western Ave. (Also CTA Green and Pink lines, Ashland)
Time from Chicago: 9 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 1.1 km (1.3 km from CTA)

Now, this is a brewery. Dog-friendly, great vibe, excellent beers, friendly staff and owners—what's not to love?

They brew everything on-premises, rotating beers as their tastes change. They just opened in September, so they haven't yet got an outdoor space. They're opening their rooftop "soon" and converting an unused parking lot south of the building into a beer garden "by 2021." (The alderman still needs to approve it.) Of course, it's only the first day of spring, so this wasn't a critical lapse when I visited.

They love dogs so much they serve flights in dog bowls:

I liked all 5. First, the Golden Bro APA (5.1%, 36 IBU): malty, tasty, not too hoppy, clear golden color. #2: The Colonies ESB/EPA (5.3%, 35 IBU): excellent, clear Extra Special Bitter style, a little hoppier than you'd get in the UK but nice and malty for the EPA it also claims to be. #3: Throne of Bones Stout (6.3%, 60 IBU): hoppier than expected but didn't taste like 60 IBUs; nice finish, nice chocolate notes. #4: Elevator to Nowhere New England IPA (6%, 30 IBU): really good, grapefruit notes from the citra hops, hazy but not too much. #5: The Old Course Scotch Wee Heavy (7.4%, 27 IBU): Crisp for a wee heavy, definitely malty, apricot notes, clean finish.

The owner also gave me a sip of Escalating Dares Imperial Stout (10.4%, 60 IBU). Wow. He said they "got lucky" putting this one together, but fortunately kept the recipe. They've got two barrels aging in the back that they might tap this summer... 

I will definitely spend a lazy summer afternoon there this year. Or even a lazy spring afternoon.

Beer garden? Coming soon
Dogs OK? Yes, encouraged
Televisions? One, avoidable
Serves food? No; they have an order-in kiosk and menus
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes