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.

Evening reading

I was pretty busy today, with most of my brain trying to figure out how to re-architect something that I didn't realize needed it until recently. So a few things piled up in my inbox:

And finally, Whisky Advocate has four recipes that balance whisky and Luxardo Maraschino cherries. I plan to try them all, but not in one sitting.

Busy day, time to read the news

Oh boy:

Cassie has bugged me for the last hour, even though we went out two hours ago. I assume she wants dinner. I will take care of that presently.

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

A hot time in the old town tonight

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, which burned for two days and left 100,000 people homeless. But only for a short time; by 1874, when the city had a second big fire, our population had already grown by about that number.

Flash forward to now:

Finally, last night I attended an actual live theater performance for the first time in 19 months, and it was amazeballs. If you live in Chicago, right now you need to go to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater website and buy tickets to As You Like It, which plays through November 21st.

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.

Union Pacific gets court permission to stop operating Metra trains

The Union Pacific Railroad, which currently operates about 35% of all Chicago commuter trains, has won a major ruling from a Federal judge that clears the way for it to stop operating those trains:

UP wants out of the commuter business, saying it wants to focus on its its freight service. It has noted that almost all other Metra service now is operated by the commuter rail agency itself, sometimes on tracks it owns itself and at other times on track leased from freight railroads. 

Metra’s position is that in the absence of a discontinuance agreement, UP had to continue to run the trains and ancillary services, such as ticket collection, under “common carrier” provisions that governed railroads nationally for more than a century.

Both sides asked Judge Jorge Alonso for summary judgement. Last week he ruled against Metra.

Effectively, Alonso held, common-carrier rules were substantially eased after the creation of Amtrak, the national passenger carrier, and other deregulation actions by Congress in recent decades. Any remaining common-carrier question that requires federal approval would under the law cover only freight, not passenger, service, he added, but UP is moving to stop only commuter service, not freight.

In a statement, Metra said only that “We are reviewing the ruling and our options.”

UP in its own statement promised not to do anything abrupt that would interfere with service.

Well, that's fun. In 2019, the three Metra lines UP operates had about 27 million of the entire network's 74 million passenger trips, including (I estimate) about 300 of mine, so there is no way the lines will simply shut down. Metra will almost certainly take over operations and pay UP for track and signal use, just like they do on other lines. We'll see how this plays out.

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