The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

The plan is to have no plan

So believes NYU media professor Jay Rosen about how President Trump will try to win this fall:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. ... The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

In other fun stories:

Oh, and 151 years ago today, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the Transcontinental Railroad.

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

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