The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Smylie Bros. Brewing Co., Chicago

Welcome to stop #73 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Smylie Bros. Lakeview, 3855 N. Broadway, Chicago
Train line: CTA Red Line, Sheridan
Time from Chicago: 20 minutes
Distance from station: 500 m

I guess it was inevitable that I would visit the newest location of what may be my least-favorite brewery so far. Smylie Bros. (who really seem to be dude-bros of the highest order) opened their second brewpup a short walk from Wrigley Field because Wrigleyville just doesn't have enough big, loud bars with mediocre food and unimaginative beer.

A friend who lives just around the corner from the place wanted to try it, so I said fine. We discovered only when we got there that they had a private event going on so there would be a one-hour wait. Notwithstanding that, my friend, who took an oath to do no harm, threw an elbow at the bar to get us two seats. So I guess we committed to getting some food and beer.

Given that their website still uses the WordPress favicon (which I suppose improves upon it being maliciously defaced the last time I reviewed one of their locations), and that they have no social media presence, and that they didn't even have a sign on the door about the private event, I doubt they'll take my advice to post things like that somewhere to avoid having people elbowed out of the way at the bar by angry physicians.

We each had one pint of the Wolcott IPA (6%), imaginatively named after the street in Bowmanville where they actually make their beer, and one pint of the Reluctantly Rad IPA (6.5%, hazy), imaginatively brewed with flaked oats for some reason. They were fine. So was the BBQ chicken pizza (my friend's choice). Fine.

By the time the really bad cover band started playing recognizable songs too loudly, both of us independently decided we had to get out of there. We had our third beers of the evening and a conversation we could both hear around the corner at Wrigleyville North.

Then I walked home and saw that St Mary of the Lake had unfurled the Ukrainian flag, which almost made up for my visit to a brewery I have no intention of ever visiting again.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Everywhere, unavoidable
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Moody Tongue Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #72 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Moody Tongue Brewing, 2515 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Green Line, Cermak–McCormick Place
Time from Loop: 6 minutes
Distance from station: 900 m

Moody Tongue surprised everyone when it won two Michelin stars in 2021, in part because of their novel 12-beer parings menu in the dining room. Fortunately for the Brews & Choos Project, they also have a separate bar area, which by itself would qualify for a Bib Gourmand.

I got a reservation for last Thursday, and trudged through Bronzeville during what I hope was Chicago's last significant snowfall of the season. The bar did not disappoint me.

They have 100-mL pours, and I brought a friend, so I got to taste four of their current beers without going broke (or getting intoxicated). That let me enjoy a few of their appetizers as well.

I started with the Caramelized Chocolate Churro Porter (7.0%), with its complex chocolate, red wine, and vanilla notes, about which I wrote "ooooooo!" in my notebook. Next, with my food, I had a 100-mL pour of the Roasted Mocha Scwarzbier (4.9%), which I found lighter than expected, with a clean finish, and a caramel-oaky flavor that only hinted at the espresso they brewed it with. My friend had full pours (that I got to taste) of the Irish Cream Stout (6.6%), a malty and deliciously-balanced dark beer, and the Bourbon Barrel 12 Layer Cake Stout (13.9%), which exploded into chocolate and oaky maltiness that has to be one of the most dangerous beers I've ever had. Despite none of those coming even close to my usual medium-hoppy, English IPA palate, I would drink any one of them again.

And they had food. Oh heavens they had food. I had two appetizers and shared one of my friends', and felt completely satisfied.

Above, on the left, is the smoked beet tartare, with "whipped ricotta, saba, arare, egg yolk jam, and toasted sourdough." My vegetarian friend ate most of that, while I had (on the right) the braised rabbit cavatelli ("Castelvetrano olives, pine nuts, preserved lemon, pecorino"). I wound up using one of the toast points to thoroughly mop up my rabbit. I also had the confit Berkshire pork belly ("smoked pumpkin risotto, bacon, butternut squash, pickled apple, soy caramel chestnuts") and left almost nothing on the plate. My friend also had the roasted lion's mane mushroom entrée, which she enjoyed.

I will, at some point, go back to try the actual Michelin-starred tasting menu. But for $100, the two of us had just the right amount of food and beer, well worth the trip.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? Yes, Michelin-quality
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Twisted Hippo Brewing destroyed

A massive fire destroyed the brewery and two other businesses last night:

The fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. in a multi-unit residential building in the 4300 block of North Richmond, according to the Chicago Fire Department. Neighbors said the fire started in a three-story building on the corner and quickly spread to the Twisted Hippo brewpub, 2925 W. Montrose Ave. and the Ultimate Ninjas Gym.

About 150 firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze. As of 8:30 a.m., crews had the fire under control.

Marilee Rutherford, owner of Twisted Hippo, said she got a call from a neighbor about the fire around 4 a.m. Monday.

“You know, we’ve worked so hard to to be a part of the community and give
the space to the community,” she said. “[I] just literally don’t know what
the future is going to look like. But I will say this: I’m so grateful for everything we have been able to build here. … And it’s all gonna be okay. We don’t have problems. We have solutions waiting to happen. So we’ll see how it all goes.”

One man went to the hospital for smoke inhalation, but his injuries don't seem life-threatening.

Exit Strategy Brewing, Forest Park

Welcome to stop #71 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Exit Strategy Brewing, 7700 Madison St., Forest Park
Train line: UP-W, River Forest (also CTA Blue Line, Forest Park)
Time from Chicago: 18 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 1.3 km (800 m from CTA)

Forest Park used to have a reputation for anchoring one end of Chicago's skid row. No longer: the village has great restaurants and cute neighborhoods, including Exit Strategy Brewing.

I stopped by on my way back into the city from Afterthought Brewing, and they could not be more different. Exit Strategy is a brewpub, for starters, with a full kitchen and a host stand. And Exit Strategy makes a variety of ales that appeal to the average hop-friendly beer drinker. In consequence, they don't have quite the passion or love of beer that Afterthought has, but I could at least get dinner.

I've had their beers before, so I had a good idea what I would get. Their eponymous APA (5.6%) was a good example of the style, with crisp hops, and a not-too-astringent finish. The Nobody Reads the Copy ESB (5.5%) had a nice malt/hop balance, though as typical in the US it had a stronger hop profile than any ESB I've ever had in the UK. The Maximum Derek Hazy IPA (7.2%), named for the smartest being in the universe (according to The Good Place), had lovely Citra notes of orange and pineapple. (I had another 200 mL after dinner.) And their Valleudated Milk Stout (5.3%) made for a good dessert with its rich and complex coffee, toffee, and chocolate notes, though it also packed some hops.

If I ever wind up in the Forest Park–South Oak Park–River Forest area, Exit Strategy would probably be my go-to.

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? No, Forest Park prohibition
Televisions? None
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Afterthought Brewing, Lombard

Welcome to stop #70 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Afterthought Brewing, 218 E. St. Charles Road, Lombard
Train line: UP-W, Lombard
Time from Chicago: 46 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 500 m

In my conversation with the staff at Afterthought Brewing, I mentioned that they are almost precisely the opposite of Goldfinger. Where Goldfinger precisely controls yeast strains, brewing times, temperatures, and their immaculate Euro-style taproom, Afterthought lets nature do her thing and decides what to do with the results afterward. The staff countered, no, we do the same thing: we make one style of beer really, really well.

Afterthought's style is saisons, by which they mean traditional farmhouse-style beers brewed in the ancient style: "While the specific flavors from different hop combinations will change from batch to batch, the resulting beer will always be lightly bitter, lightly tart, fruity, and low in alcohol." But wow is their palate tart. Manager Billy told me that most of their beers have a specific gravity between 1.0 and 1.01—meaning they have no sugar left after the microbes finish fermenting it.

I started with their first beer, Faible (4.2%), which they describe as a "hoppy saison." It reminded me of an Arnold Palmer but with beer substituting for the iced tea. Yes, it was light and fresh, but they aren't kidding about bacteria cultures, which made this the tartest beer I can ever remember trying.

At least until I tried their other beers. The Saison Meer (5%, 30 IBU) was even tarter, with a crisp finish and refreshing effervescence. The BSB (5.0%, 35 IBU), their take on an English bitter, had the most tenuous connection to an ESB of any beer to use the title. It was like they squeezed a lemon into an ESB, leaving no trace of malt. Finally, the Amer (5%, 50 IBU), with its New Zealand Riwaka hops, had noticeable bitterness, and an almost oaky nose.

I want to be clear: these are really well-made beers. They're just not to my palate. Still, I bought a bottle to give to a friend who loves Saisons with all his heart.

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Snacks (BYOF)
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Two years of Brews & Choos

The Brews & Choos Project officially kicked off two years ago today, with a stop at Macushla Brewing in Glenview. I expected it to take a lot less than two years. But the list now has 135 breweries and distilleries on it, up from the 98 I identified at the start of the project. With 69 reviews on the blog, and a little arithmetic, that stretches the project out to...almost exactly 4 years.

So what's next? Well, it's February, so I'm prioritizing less walking and places without outdoor seating. Depending on the weather Friday, I might stick close to the office (Adams Street Brewing, Crushed by Giants), or perhaps pop up to Logan Square (Bixi Beer, Middle Brow). Or Pilot Project if the weather really sucks, as they have 5 breweries on site.

I hope to accelerate my research when the weather gets warmer. Some trips I've planned include hour-long walks between train lines, both for exercise and because the schedules don't otherwise work, and lots of places have beer gardens that look comfortable.

Will I finish before the end of 2022? Almost certainly not, with 66 places left to review, a couple more opening over time, and train schedules that make it hard to visit more than three in one afternoon. But maybe I'll get there by the end of summer in 2023, just in time to start revisiting the ones I really liked.

Thanks again, Bruce!

Former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R, of course) famously stopped almost all discretionary spending in the state during his term in office by continually vetoing state budgets passed by the Democratically-controlled legislature. His term overlapped with a project to rebuild 11 railroad bridges on the North Side of Chicago, and which included a companion project, partially necessitated by the track reconfigurations required to replace the bridges, to rebuild the Ravenswood Metra station serving Uptown and Lincoln Square.

That's my Metra station.

The project started in 2013 when the railroad opened two temporary platforms north of Lawrence Ave. and removed the inadequate but semi-permanent platforms south of the street. The old platforms had a couple of small shelters; the "temporary" platforms did not.

Nevertheless, the outbound (West-side) platform opened in late 2016, more or less on time. They couldn't open it until the west-side bridges were up, and the outbound track rebuilt, so we all completely understood the delay. The inbound (east-side) platform had the same issue, so when the bridge project finished in 2017, we could all imagine a day just a few months later when we'd have a shiny new platform with end-to-end shelters, a heated waiting area, and other amenities that most other Metra riders get for free.

But because Rauner stopped paying Illinois' portion of the station rebuild, work stopped on the inbound platform until 2020, and when it resumed, it didn't exactly go at full speed. We are now nine years into the project. This morning, I had to wait for fifteen minutes in blowing snow, all because Bruce Rauner (a billionaire) didn't want to release state funds for a project to which the Federal government contributed 75% of its costs:

Rauner now lives in Florida. I guess he got tired of his neighbors—yes, even his rich Winnetka neighbors—telling him to do his fucking job.

If I ever encounter a Djinn, I might wish for all the anti-tax billionaire politicians to spend a year with the consequences of their decisions. In Rauner's case, that would look like having to take underfunded public transit everywhere, with occasional videos of European transit systems to see what it could be.

Property crime stories that have deeper meanings than I first thought

On this day in 1950, eleven thieves stole $2.7m ($29.8m today) from the Brink's Armored Car depot in Boston. They would have avoided prosecution had they just followed the plan, but the Liddy Rule got them in the end ("three people can keep a secret as long as two of them are dead").

Flash forward 72 years and we find that theft again dominates the news in Los Angeles, as thieves plunder stopped trains outside the intermodal depot in Lincoln Heights. If your package is delayed, it might have helped derail a freight train just down the hill from Dodger Stadium.

Finally, FedEx has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to install anti-missile lasers on its A321-200 cargo jets. I couldn't find statistics about how many airplanes have taken fire from portable missile batteries, but apparently FedEx has enough trepidation about them to want countermeasures on its planes.

I just realized I put those stories in order of increasing chaotic destruction. Hm. More to think about.

Double Clutch Brewing, Evanston

Welcome to stop #69 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Double Clutch Brewing, 2121 Ashland Ave., Evanston
Train line: UP-N, Central Street
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 800 m

This car-themed brewery opened on October 31st, about 18 months after their originally-planed April 2020 opening. (This has become a theme of the Brews & Choos project.) That gave them enough time to figure out their operations, however, and also to get a foothold in local restaurants and liquor stores.

They specialize in German lagers, with one IPA thrown in for the bourgeoisie like me. And going with the automobile theme, flights come in an engine block:

The Märzen (5.9%) has a lovely golden color, with a lot of malty complexity (pear, honey, raisin) I found a little too malty for my palate. The light and crisp Helles Lager (5.1%) also had a lot of malt, but a hoppier balance I think will taste great on their patio in the summer. The Little Juice Coupe Hazy IPA (5.7%) had a good Citra fruitiness and, yes, still just a little too much sweetness for me. I finished with the really malty Schwartzbier (4.7%) and its intricate coffee and chocolate notes I would go back to. The bartender also asked me to taste the Rausch Märzen, which has a similar recipe to the regular one but with smoked malt. The Rausch tasted like sitting by a fire pit in late October, which is exactly where I want to have another one.

They plan to build an outdoor space in the spring, and they've got weekly trivia and other events. Since it's Evanston, however, dogs won't be allowed until the city elects a new city council.

Finally...Star Wars fans, tell me what's missing from this lineup?

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? No, it's Evanston
Televisions? Three, avoidable
Serves food? Full pub menu (try the buffalo balls)
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Goldfinger Brewing, Downers Grove

Welcome to stop #68 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Goldfinger Brewing, 513 Rogers St., Downers Grove
Train line: BNSF, Fairview Ave
Time from Chicago: 43 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 500 m

Goldfinger Brewing opened in July 2020, which really sucked for them. But because they focused on making nothing but high-quality, traditional, Central-European lagers, they attracted an immediate following that kept them going.

Fun fact: Lagers take about three times longer to brew than ales, which explains in part why so many breweries specialize in the latter. The longer brewing times also mean that Goldfinger only has a few taps open at once. When I visited Wednesday evening, they had five of their own plus a visiting beer.

Naturally I had to start with the Original Lager (5.2%, 18 IBU). It had a complex, malty flavor that won me over even though I usually find lagers too sweet. (Theirs wasn't.) The Baltic Porter (7.7%, 28 IBU) caught my attention next, and wow, I almost bought some to take home. It had deep chocolate notes among other robust and complex flavors, with a long, lingering finish. I chased that with their Pils (4.9%, 35 IBU), an excellent representative of the style that I found crisp and fresh with a complex malt and hop interplay that they helped along with a five-minute-long multi-step pouring process. Goldfinger really wants you to take your time with their beers, as they have certainly done so. 

I am disappointed that the Village of Downers Grove doesn't allow dogs inside bars. Apparently the Village allowed dogs in the outside tent Goldfinger erected over the summer, but then they changed their mind and also told them to take down the tent. Suburbs, I swear, they just find new ways of failing at basic human-interaction design every year.

Beer garden? Not unless Downers Grove elects a new village board
Dogs OK? No, because again: stupid village board
Televisions? None
Serves food? BYOF, but they have this pretzel you should try
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes