The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Afternoon news roundup

As Illinois hits 2,662 Covid-19 deaths and the CDC says the country will hit about that number every day by month's end, May the 4th be with us:

So it wasn't all horrible news today.

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

Penrose Brewing, Geneva

Welcome to stop #22 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Penrose Brewing, 509 Stevens Street, Geneva
Train line: Union Pacific West, Geneva
Time from Chicago: 67 minutes (Zone H)
Distance from station: 1.4 km

Geneva used to be the end of the line. It's two counties over from Chicago, and on the western edge of the world. But the historic district around the train station has tons of cute houses and two pretty good breweries (with another one coming soon).

Penrose opened on 9th March 2014, when a guy from Champaign and a guy from Geneva realized that Geneva's reverse-osmosis filtering makes the municipal water supply one of the purest in the region. Penrose is the first dedicated brewery in the city.

They produce "Belgian-inspired" ales, and I found them all pretty tasty:

I started with their Dryft Morraine IPA (6.3%), a bright, hoppy, Mosaic-filled very good beer with a crisp finish. Then the Taproom IPA (7.1%), not quite as bright but tasty enough, quite good. The Clear Eyes DIPA (8.7%) had an initial sweetness from the alcohol that I didn't expect, with almost juniper-like notes in fact. And finally, the Pancake Robots Imperial Stout (13%), a blast of flavors, including maple syrup and vanilla, that I absolutely loved.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? No
Serves food? No, BYO or delivery
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Screeching to a halt

Illinois governor JB Pritzker has closed all bars and restaurants (except for carry-out and delivery) from the close of business tonight until March 30th:

“There are no easy decisions left to make as we address this unprecedented crisis,” Pritzker said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. “Every choice now is hard, and it comes with real consequences for our residents. But as your governor I cannot let the gravity of these choices prevent us from taking the actions that the science and the experts say will keep people safe.”

Effective end of business Monday, bars and restaurants will be closed to dine-in customers, with options of delivery, drive-thru and pickup through March 30, the governor said. The state is working with bars and restaurants across the state to ensure they can keep kitchens safe enough to continue home food delivery.

The closure of bars and restaurants goes a step further than an earlier announcement by Chicago officials that the city would limit any establishments that serve liquor to 100 people, or half their regular capacity.

This quite obviously suspends the Brews & Choos project, at least until April. Fortunately I've already written the next four posts and I've got a fifth one ready to go. I'll just space them out a little bit more. So after tomorrow's post, expect to see a new one every three days instead of every two.

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

Empirical Brewery, Chicago

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

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