The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Day 71

It's a little comforting to realize that we've only dealt with Covid-19 social distancing rules about 5% as long as we dealt with World War II (1,345 days from 7 December 1941 to 13 August 1945). It's still a grind.

In the news today:

Finally, perhaps jealous of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's memes, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle put this out on Facebook recently:

Support craft distillers

The Covid-19 shutdown has driven people to buy mass-produced spirits instead of good spirits. The good guys are losing:

The coronavirus recession has left no industry unaffected, but the one-two punch of shuttered bars and mass unemployment has hit craft distilling particularly hard. In a survey of its members by the American Craft Spirits Association, more than two-thirds say they may have to close permanently in the next few months.

The crisis isn’t just threatening to decimate the industry; it is also reshaping its future. How can a sector that relies so heavily on bars, tasting rooms and face-to-face sales — not to mention customers willing to pay a premium for its products — move forward in an economy defined by social distancing and thinner wallets?

“There’s going to be a lot of dead distilleries coming out of this,” said Paul Hletko, the founder and distiller of FEW Spirits, in Evanston, Ill. “Even if you survive, the new normal is going to be punishing for small brands.”

“Starting a distillery is really hard. It takes a lot of capital up front — you’re in the hole for a long time,” said Maggie Campbell, the president of Privateer, an eight-year-old rum distillery in Ipswich, Mass. “If we were three years old, this would be a very scary time.”

This blossoming industry was therefore uniquely vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus crisis. To make things worse, the market for craft spirits is centered in large cities and among millennial and younger consumers — all of which have been especially hurt by the sudden economic downturn.

“We were poised for this awesome surge,” said Nicholas Jessett, a founder of MKT Distillery in Katy, Texas. “And now we can’t go anywhere. We’re stuck.” His distillery sold most of its products through its tasting room, and Mr. Jessett was in negotiations with a distributor to get MKT’s whiskey and gin into nearby Houston and other parts of Texas. But after the state shut down nonessential businesses, the distributor pulled out.

I have at least two open bottles of FEW spirits in my house at any point, and I'm also trying to pick up other local products, like CH and 28 Mile, when I can. But this could easily turn into the dystopian 1990s when the only spirits for sale came from giant companies and had no character.

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

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

£53,676 per pour

A single 750 mL bottle of whisky sold at auction this week for £907,500, the highest price ever paid for a bottle:

A European buyer [won] the 1926 Macallan Valerio Adami 60 year old on February 17, 2020, setting a record for Scotland’s most expensive whisky ever auctioned.

It’s also the sixth standard-sized whisky bottle ever to achieve $1 million at auction, and the third-highest auction price ever achieved for a bottle of whisky. Even with the lower premiums charged by online whisky auction houses, this sale unambiguously surpassed the previous record for the Valerio Adami bottle, set in 2018.

That works out to £1,210 per millilitre, or £46,537 per ounce, slightly more than the highest-priced whisky at Duke of Perth (Macallan 25, $73 per ounce, $110 per pour).

Note that the whisky was already 60 years old when it went into the bottle in 1926, meaning Macallan distilled it about a year after the American Civil War ended.

I wonder what it tastes like? If I had a million dollars, I might find out.

CH Distillery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #9 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: CH Distillery, 564 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Train lines: All Ogilvie and Union Station lines. (Also CTA Green/Pink lines, Clinton)
Time from Chicago: 0 minutes (Zone A)
Distance from station: 200 m (400 m from CTA)

CH Distillery (named after carbon and hydrogen, principal ingredients in alcohol) opened in 2013 with a mission to create "the only organic vodka made from Illinois grain and a variety of core and specialty spirits." They no longer distill much of their stuff at their downtown restaurant, having opened a much larger facility in Pilsen. But they still give tours on Randolph Street.

For $13, they will give you a flight of 4 spirits. I tried their vodka (smooth and sweet with a bit of harshness in the tail), key gin (made with lime and lavender, described as "like Hendrix" but not really), London dry gin (very dry and juniper forward, would go well with tonic), and their Bourbon (101 proof, 2 years old, MGP alcohol, not ready yet).

Because of its proximity to downtown and its upscale drinks and food, CH is a popular date spot. I quite like it every so often.

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

28 Mile Vodka, Highwood

Welcome to stop #5 on the Brews and Choos project.

Distillery: 28 Mile Vodka, 454 Sheridan Rd., Highwood, Ill.
Train line: Metra Union Pacific North, Highwood station.
Time from Chicago (Ogilvie): 52 minutes, zone E
Distance from station: 300 m

Chicago has far more breweries than distilleries, even though the foundation of all spirits is beer. Also, Chicago's distilleries often congregate in far-out industrial parks away from train lines.

Fortunately, 28 Mile Vodka is exactly what it says on the sign, and only a 3-minute walk from the Highwood station (mile post 28).

Highwood has a colorful history, to say the least. It abuts formerly-dry Highland Park to the south and Fort Sheridan to the north, so for decades the wealthy elite from HP rubbed shoulders with the soldiers from the army base. Now that Fort Sheridan has scaled back to a few Army and government offices, and Highland Park allows booze, Highwood has gotten a better reputation.

Enter a brand-new distillery that produces really good spirits. I had 1-ounce pours of their flagship vodka and their new gin. They also have white whiskey, which I'm happy to pass on until it becomes Bourbon in a couple of years. The vodka had a lovely sweetness and smoothness that would make it great on the rocks or as a top-shelf mixer. The gin had floral and citrus notes and a clean finish, which I wouldn't want to sully with tonic but I would put a drop of dry Vermouth in and take it up with a twist.

I'd like to see the place on a weekend night. I'd bet it's fun.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? None
Serves food? Small bites, including caviar
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Boy, he sure learned his lesson

In just one more example of the president slipping his leash, thanks to the Republican trolls in the Senate giving him permission to do so, the Justice Department said it found prosecutors recommendations for Roger Stone's sentence "shocking." Three Assistant US Attorneys immediately quit the case:

Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors, wrote in a court filing he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government entirely. Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, a former member of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, said he was quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute Stone, though a spokeswoman said he will remain an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

Adam Jed, also a former member of Mueller’s team, asked a judge’s permission to leave the case like the others, though gave no indication of resigning his job.

None provided a reason for their decisions.

Uh huh. Thanks, WaPo. ("Three people left their office in haste this afternoon after their work area became engulfed in flames. None provided a reason for their decisions.")

Greg Sargent says the president's strategy is "designed to get you to surrender:"

In the end, many of President Trump’s ugliest degradations — the nonstop lying, the constant efforts to undermine faith in our political system, the relentless delegitimization of the opposition — often seem to converge in some sense on a single, overarching goal:

To get you to give up.

To give up on what, exactly? On the prospects for accountability for Trump, via mediating institutions such as the media, or via other branches of government, or even via the next election, and more broadly, on the very notion that our political system is capable of rendering outcomes that have not been thoroughly corrupted to their core.

Meanwhile:

Fun times. Fun times. At least we can take some comfort in Japanese railway station psychology.

In other news...

Let me first acknowledge that the biggest news story today today came from the House Judiciary Committee, which has drawn up two articles of impeachment against President Trump. This comes after committee chair Jerry Nadler nearly lost control of yesterday's meeting.

As Josh Marshall points out, no one expects the Senate to remove the president from office. So the Democratic Party's job is just to demonstrate how much malfeasance and illegality the Republican Party will tolerate from their guy.

If only that were the only story today.

And tonight, I get to preside over a condo-board meeting that will be at least as fun as yesterday's Judiciary Committee meeting.

The tariffs get personal

The WTO approved a set of tariffs that the US can levy against the EU recently in retaliation for subsidies from EU governments to Airbus Industrie. These tariffs will now affect me personally, and I am displeased:

[W]ith the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit fast approaching, the Trump administration imposed 25 percent tariffs on a menu of goods including French wine, Italian cheese and — in a move that could drive a Scotsman to drink — single malt whisky.

Whisky underpins the economy of Islay and much of Scotland. Kilchoman and eight rival Scotch whisky distilleries have flourished here in the past decade. Tourists from the United States, Europe and Japan come to wonder at Islay’s coastal beauty, take pictures of hillsides filled with sheep and hairy Highland cattle that look as if they’ve had vigorous blow dries, and soak up the pricey local spirits.

Annual exports of Scotch whisky are worth £4.7 billion, or about $5.9 billion, accounting for 70 percent of Scotland’s food and drink exports and 21 percent of Britain’s.

Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the Trump administration’s decision to apply tariffs only to single malts was likely to hit smaller producers harder.

By "smaller producers" they mean some of the best in Scotland, including Kilchoman on Islay. And even if Brexit happens in two weeks, the tariffs may stay in place.