The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Ale's well that ends well?

The Tribune yesterday reported that local breweries have started producing more lagers as people get tired of IPAs:

Lager accounts for most of the beer sold in the world — including the 16 biggest-selling brands in the United States — but it has rarely been a recipe for success for craft breweries, which often default to ratcheting up experimentation, flavor and intensity. Lager, by contrast, tends to be approachable and predictable. Think Miller Lite. Michelob Ultra. Modelo Especial.

While tropically fruity India pale ales and boozy stouts remain engines for the nation’s small breweries, the industry has increasingly embraced lager in recent years. And consumers are rewarding them with surprising demand.

Around Chicago, the shift can be seen in the growing number of lager-centric breweries, including Goldfinger, Kinslahger in Oak Park, and Metropolitan and Dovetail on the city’s North Side.

Established breweries, including Hopewell, Revolution and Maplewood, are increasingly incorporating lagers into their portfolios while newer breweries, such as Art History in Geneva, have opened with an embrace of lager that would have required a leap of faith a few short years ago.

For Art History, it is already paying off; open just 18 months, the brewery is planning a new, larger production facility, due in large part to its lagers, which account for three of its four top sellers.

I typically evaluate a brewery by its mainline IPA, but in some cases (notably Dovetail), I'll go with their flagship lager. And I have yet to visit most of the breweries the article mentions, so I'll take their advice.

What's with the car warranty calls today?

While swatting away my 4th "your car's extended warranty is about to expire" call today (including one in Spanish), I consoled myself reading about new ideas on how to reduce the environmental impact of brewing beer:

From start to finish, making alcoholic beverages asks a lot from the environment. It takes about 20 gallons of water to produce a single eight-ounce serving of beer and 30 gallons per five-ounce serving of wine. Then there’s the glass and aluminum production for alcohol containers, the plastic and cardboard for packaging, and energy consumption for home and retail refrigeration. Many types of alcohol are only made in one or a few places—tequila in Mexicoscotch in Scotlandbourbon in Kentucky—requiring long-distance transportation to reach consumers.

The most common ingredients in alcohol production—grapes, wheat, barley, hops, sugar—are some of the most water- and energy-intensive crops on the planet. Brewing and fermenting also require huge amounts of energy.

Global transportation accounts for an estimated 20 percent of beer’s carbon footprint. Beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages are generally shipped in climate-controlled vehicles to prevent spoiling. “There's a lot of stainless steel, water, and air being shipped around the country and around the world by virtue of the technology that's being used today,” [Sustainable Beverage Technologies CEO Gary] Tickle says.

Other ideas include yeast that produces hoppy flavinoids, heat sinks, using waste products to generate heat, and carbon offsets.

With the exception of the yeast-made hop flavors, that all sounds good to me.

District Brew Yards, Chicago

Welcome to stop #59 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: District Brew Yards., 417 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Pink and Green Lines, Ashland
Time from Chicago: 6 minutes
Distance from station: 400 m

District Brew Yards is just up the road from All Rise Brewing, but that road is Ashland Avenue, you have to go under a dark and scary railroad bridge to get from one to the other, and the Fulton Industrial District doesn't inspire feelings of warmth and happiness at night. I recommend you go, though. And try at least one beer from each of the four breweries on site. Oh, and Lillie's Q has a kitchen there, so grab some brisket to go with your beers.

When you arrive, they swipe your credit card and hand you one of theirs. You slip the beer card into a slot, pour your own beer, and watch the charges add up. And add up they do: most beers cost 50-70¢ per ounce (about $15-20 per liter), and the cups they provide hold almost half a liter.

Those higher-than-expected prices pay the bills. Each brewery has a five-year lease on wall space, and the Yard collects 50% of every beer sale. So of my $10 pint of Juice Pillow, $1 goes to tax, $4.50 goes to the Yard, and Burnt City collects the remaining $4.50. But, Burnt City doesn't have to lay out half a million dollars for brewing equipment. They just have to give the recipe to the Yard's brewers and buy the ingredients. It socializes most of the risk of microbrewing. 

I tried one small pour of each brewery's New England-style IPA, then went back and had a pint of my favorite. I started with Around the Bend's Juicy Trials Hazy IPA (7%, 35 IBU), a maltier-than-expected, well-balanced example of the style, with a clean taste and good finish. Then on to Bold Dog's Hazy Boi double dry-hopped IPA (7.4%), which had a big nose (SWIDT?), excellent balance, vanilla notes, and a crisp finish. Third: Burnt City Juice Pillow Hazy IPA (7.4%), which my notes tell me had a very drinkable "big flavor - Citra explosion" and a clean finish. I finished up with Casa Humilde Cerveceria's Nebula IPA (5.7%), a straightforward, very hoppy (yet very tasty) ale that (again, notes) "dice ¡soy IPA!" And because I only had about 50 mL of each beer, I went back and tried Humilde's signature Firme  IPA (SWIDT?), which had more IBUs than their Nebula but still a solid, well-balanced flavor.

Of the five, I liked Juice Pillow the best, but I also had a full Hazy Boi pour while sitting next to a fire on the patio.

Two more notes. First, four Metra lines and Amtrak's Milwaukee and Empire Builder services run past the patio just to the south, so if you like trains, you'll have plenty to watch. Second, they love dogs outside, and they plan to keep the patio open all winter, so Cassie will get to visit at some point. 

Beer garden? Yes (all year!)
Dogs OK? Outside
Televisions? No
Serves food? Lillie's Q on site
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

All Rise Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #58 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: All Rise Brewing Co., 235 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Pink and Green Lines, Ashland
Time from Chicago: 6 minutes
Distance from station: 200 m

In terms of breweries and distilleries accessible from one Metra station, mine (Ravenswood) tops the list. But the single densest train station of any kind is actually Ashland on the CTA Pink and Green lines. Two stops from Clinton, which is close to both Ogilvie and Union Station, and three stops from the Loop, you have an easy walk to 11 distilleries and breweries.

The Fulton Industrial District also has a lot of factories, as its name implies. You won't get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the neighborhood after dark like you would from the more-residential Ravenswood area. And as you might expect, the first brewery you come to in the zone feels like a real dive.

OK, it's a real dive. But they make good beer.

From right to left, and for $11 including tip, I tried the Hooligan Bitter, the Cease & Desist Lager, the Sell Out New England IPA, and the Wonder Beer No-Coast IPA. I liked them all. The Hooligan (4%) had a lot of malt flavor but also a good hop content, coming in on the American side of the English bitter taste spectrum. The Cease & Desist (4.4%) tasted like any decent lager, like what the mass-market beers try to be. I found it a bit sweet, but I find most lagers sweet. The Sell Out (6.5%) had a lot of grapefruity Citra flavors rounded out with a nice bitterness on the finish that I enjoyed. And the Wonder Beer (6.2%) was not too bitter or not too malty, with a bit more complexity than I expected.

I'd go back, and I'd bring Cassie. I still have to try the food.

Beer garden? Yes (summer only)
Dogs OK? Outside
Televisions? 2, avoidable outside but not inside
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe (it's loud)
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Busy day in the news

So many things this morning, including a report not yet up on WBEZ's website about the last Sears store in Chicago. (I'll find it tomorrow.)

  • Jennifer Rubin advises XPOTUS "critics and democracy lovers" to leave the Republican Party.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) completely caved against a unified Democratic Party and will vote to extend the (probably-unconstitutional) debt limit another three months.
  • An abolitionist's house from 1869 may get landmark approval today from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. (It's already in the National Register of Historic Places).
  • Could interurban trains come back?
  • Arts critic Jo Livingstone has a mixed review of No Time to Die, but I still plan to see it this weekend.
  • 18 retired NBA players face wire-fraud and insurance-fraud charges for allegedly scamming the NBA's Health and Welfare Benefit Plan out of $4 million.
  • Even though we've had early-September temperatures the past week, we've also had only 19% of possible sunlight, and only 8% in the past six days. We have not seen the sun since Monday, in fact, making the steady 19°C temperature feel really depressing.
  • Two new Black-owned breweries will go on the Brews and Choos list soon.
  • Condé Nast has named Chicago the best big city in the US for the fifth year running.

Finally, President Biden is in Chicago today, promoting vaccine mandates. But because of the aforementioned clouds, I have no practical way of watching Air Force One flying around the city.

Update, 12:38 CDT: The sun is out!

Update, 12:39 CDT: Well, we had a minute of it, anyway.

Guinness to open Chicago brewery

Yes, that Guinness. They've found a derelict railway building in the Fulton Market area and plan to open a new stop on the Brews & Choos Project:

Chicago developer Fred Latsko has struck a deal with Irish beer brand Guinness to open a brewery and beer hall in a long-vacant Fulton Market District building while he lines up plans to build what could be one of the former meatpacking neighborhood's tallest office buildings next door.

Guinness is poised to open the venue as part of a revival of the graffiti-clad former Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal building on the eastern edge of Latsko's property at 375 N. Morgan St., according to sources familiar with the plans. Separately, a Latsko venture aims to develop a 33-story office building on the vacant western edge of the property near the corner of Morgan and Kinzie streets, according to a document submitted to City Council this month by 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett.

Details of each project remain unclear, and Latsko and Burnett couldn't be reached for comment. A Guinness spokeswoman declined to comment.

A lot can happen before this becomes real. But Guinness opened a brewery in Baltimore three years ago, though they don't brew their iconic Stout there. Instead, the taproom sells experimental beers brewed on site and Stout brewed in Dublin. I expect the Chicago iteration will have the same strategy.

Horse Thief Hollow, Chicago

Welcome to stop #57 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Horse Thief Hollow, 10426 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Train line: Rock Island, 103rd–Beverly Hills
Time from Chicago: 26 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 1.3 km

About 180 years ago, the low, swampy area where 111th Street meets Vincennes Avenue today provided excellent cover for a band of horse thieves who plagued the farmers far to the south of Chicago. In 2013, Neil Byers opened a restaurant and brewery nearby.

Eight years in, they are worth the trip to the hind end of Chicago. They not only have many tasty beers, but also they have a smoker and lots of pork to smoke in it. I tried their flight, which comprises six 100-mL pours:

I started with the Little Wing Pilsner (5.2%), a crisp, malty lager with a clean finish. Next, the Annexation West Coast IPA (7.2%), bursting with Citra fruitiness and almost a little tartness, a good example of the expression—but my socks stayed on my feet. The Kitchen Sink "Old School" APA (5.7%) was very good, more flavorful than the Annexation but not obnoxiously so. I had two Spoonful double dry-hopped hazy IPAs (6.5%), and found them nice and hoppy with good juiciness and a clean finish. Finally, I tried the Mannish Boy American Stout (5.0%), which was dryer than I expected, with great flavor, and a long hoppy finish I liked.

The pulled pork sandwich did, it turns out, knock my socks off. So did the beer garden, which (alas) will revert to being a parking lot when the weather turns colder.

As I mentioned yesterday, I got pinned down for an hour by a fast-moving but strong thunderstorm. Fortunately they serve beer inside as well. After the storm passed I had about 25 minutes to walk to the Metra, so I took my time strolling through Beverly. About three blocks in, I encountered this guy:

He didn't seem particularly interested in me, though he kept his distance. Instead he rid the neighborhood of at least one rat and carried on with his evening. Thanks, friend fox.

Beer garden? Yes (summer only)
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? A few, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Open Outcry Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #56 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Open Outcry Brewing, 10934 S. Western Ave., Chicago
Train line: Rock Island, 111th–Morgan Park
Time from Chicago: 30 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 1.1 km

Yesterday I snuck out of the office before sunset and headed out to Tinley Park to see the new beer garden at Banging Gavel Brews. Despite my very careful reading of train schedules to visit three Rock Island Line stops in one evening, I did not read Banging Gavel's website carefully enough, and wound up spending 21 minutes wandering around the Tinley Park Metra station feeling kind of dumb.

It turned out, the mistake allowed me to spend more time at Open Outcry and Horse Thief Hollow. So did the violent thunderstorm. It was a fun evening.

Anyway, I don't know if or when I've ever visited the Morgan Park neighborhood on Chicago's far South Side, but I will have to go back. Open Outcry Brewing opened in 2017 on what has to be the only semi-attractive stretch of Western Avenue in Chicago. (Seriously, the longest street in Chicago may also be its ugliest.)

They have a huge rooftop beer garden, and I had no trouble getting a seat in the shade overlooking the street.

They have flights for only $9, so naturally I tried a few:

From left to right, I tried the Self Regulator New England Pale Ale (5.5%), a juicy, fruity, Citra forward pale that wasn't too hoppy; the Fresh Hopped Louis Winthorpe NEIPA (7.2%), a yummy balanced hazy beer with big flavor and a great finish; the Open Interest NEIPA (6.3%), which had a little more hop and fruit than the Winthorpe; and the Dark Pool Russian Imperial Milk Stout (10.5%), whose coffee and chocolate flavors hit like a brick wrapped in gold foil. That last one is a very dangerous beer. And the guests at the next table had a small pizza that I will have to try.

They don't allow dogs except for the three tables along the sidewalk, so call first to make sure you can get one. Also, the rooftop is open all winter, with a half-dozen heated yurts (reservations required).

Beer garden? Yes (rooftop)
Dogs OK? Not really
Televisions? A few, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Entering Beverly

The Brews & Choos Project continues this evening with a short trip to the South Side. Beverly (probably named after the one in Massachusetts) became one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods in the mid-20th century, and remains so today. I would call it the most North Side-like part of the South Side. (I'll also visit Morgan Park, just a little below 107th Street.)

To celebrate this occasion, enjoy this fun ditty by John Forster: