The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Flesk Brewing, Barrington

Welcome to stop #43 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Flesk Brewing Co., 200 Applebee St., Barrington
Train line: Union Pacific Northwest, Barrington
Time from Chicago: 65 minutes (Zone G)
Distance from station: 700 m

Before talking about the brewery, let me talk for a moment about freight-train interference. This satellite photo shows Flesk Brewing adjacent to the Union Pacific Northwest line:

The yellow line shows the direction from which my train from Crystal Lake approached the Barrington train station, which is just southeast of this photo. The white arrow shows the location and potential direction of travel of the freight train that parked right there Sunday afternoon. Instead of taking 18 minutes to travel between those two stations, it took 40, including a 22-minute stop in the lovely town of Fox River Grove. When I finally got to the brewery the first person I met complained about the same freight train tying up traffic throughout downtown Barrington for half an hour.

So, just keep in mind that traveling by rail on the weekend has no guarantees of getting you anywhere on time.

Now let's talk about the beer, which I enjoyed a great deal more than Metra.

They had only just re-opened the taproom, so I only saw three beers on their menu I wanted to try. From left to right: the Midnight Express vanilla coffee stout (8%) was delicious, with a velvety texture and just the right coffee and vanilla notes. The Thousand-Yard Stare pale ale (6%) had tons of Citra flavors, with a lingering finish. The XYZ double IPA (7%) had so much hop flavors I had to taste it twice to get any other notes. It wasn't bad, but it was maybe a bit too hoppy for me. Your mileage may vary.

Inside, I met two big old dogs, which I always like in a taproom.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? 2, unavoidable
Serves food? No; BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Those were the days...

This photo came up in my Facebook memories this morning:

This struck me for a few reasons. First, as I noted when I posted it on Facebook the morning of 13 March 2017, we hadn't gotten any snow for almost three months that winter. No snow in January; no snow in February; no snow the first 12 days of March; then this crap.

Second, four years later, Metra still hasn't finished constructing the new inbound platform at the Ravenswood station. Construction began in 2014. Then it stopped, partially because they needed to build a new inbound track between the new outbound track and the old inbound track, which meant they had to replace all the inbound bridges from Grace to Winnemac. But all of that construction halted in early 2015 when then-governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) stopped spending state money. So we've had to endure five winters from the inbound platform's projected completion in fall 2015 until now out of an ideological tantrum by one of the best examples of how business CEOs make terrible politicians. Construction finally resumed, uncoincidentally just after governor JB Pritzker (D) took office, and we should have a new platform this summer.

Finally, look at all those people! A year ago this week, those crowds thinned out to nothing. When I went into the office yesterday, four people got on the train with me. A year ago, plus or minus a few days, Ravenswood had the third-largest passenger numbers of any station on Metra.

Crystal Lake Brewing Co., Crystal Lake

Welcome to stop #42 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Crystal Lake Brewing Co., 150 N. Main St., Crystal Lake
Train line: Union Pacific Northwest, Crystal Lake
Time from Chicago: 81 minutes (Zone I)
Distance from station: 200 m

A bit more than half of the scheduled Metra UP-NW trains end their runs at Crystal Lake on weekends, so you probably won't miss the stop. The brewery is just one block north of the station. And as you can see, on a gorgeous early-spring day like last Sunday, they have a decent outside seating area for you.

I had a decent flight of four samples, all of which were quite good. First, the Overlord oatmeal stout (5.2%, 45 IBU) had a hoppier flavor than I anticipated, with a long finish, a definite oaty-hoppy flavor. It wasn't my favorite example of the style, nor was it my favorite beer at this stop, but I would recommend it to people who like hoppy oat stouts.

The Reel Hazy New England IPA (5.7%, 20 IBU) had way less hoppiness than expected, but the juicy, grapefruit Citra flavor came through; an excellent example of the style. The Fox Rocker Red Ale (5.5%, 22 IBU) had a very malty, caramel flavor, a bit too sweet for my palate. And the Wake Maker session IPA (4.8%, 53 IBU) tasted great, with the right hop-malt balance for the style, with a long finish. I actually preferred their NEIPA, but I would drink either.

Is it worth the hour-and-20-minute trip out to the edge of the known universe? Eh. I would go back, and I'd meet a friend there, but only if the friend lived in McHenry County.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? None
Serves food? No; BYOF, and food trucks Fridays
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Blue Island Beer Co., Blue Island

Welcome to stop #41 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Blue Island Beer Company, 13357 Old Western Ave., Blue Island
Train line: Rock Island, Blue Island-Vermont (also Metra Electric, Blue Island)
Time from Chicago: 20 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 800 m

This entry might run a bit long, as Blue Island Beer Co.'s owner Alan Cromwell sat down with me for about an hour when I mentioned the Brews and Choos Project to him. And while we were talking, Jim Richert, president of the soon-to-open Banging Gavel Brews in Tinley Park, also sat down with me. I have two pages of notes, most of them actually legible despite this being my third stop of last Saturday and Cromwell's insistence that I try seven beers.

So before I get started, let me give a shout out to Metra for painting some of its modern locomotives in historical livery, like the one pushing the train that got me to Blue Island:

Back to the brewery.

Cromwell, whose family lived in Blue Island from the turn of the 20th century, opened Blue Island Brewing Co. in April 2015. With Enterprise Zone incentives and a good chunk of their own money, the partners got the brewery off the ground quickly. They're a founding member of the Dixie Highway Brewery Trail, sharing brews and marketing with seven other breweries.

And they make really good beer. I started with a simple flight of five:

From left to right, we've got the Lost Weekend rye barleywine (10.1%), the Dank Punk hazy IPA (7%), the Massive Political Corruption pre-prohibition amber (4.6%), the Hard Luck American IPA (6.8%), and finally the English Manor brown ale (5.3%). Unfortunately, over the course of an hour talking with Cromwell and Richert, plus the two additional samples Cromwell gave me (including his delicious imperial milk stout), my notes require some deciphering. Suffice to say I would drink any of them again, though I tend not to go for barley wines or sweet stouts. (That milk stout, though, would make a great dessert.)

I should also note that the Hard Luck IPA comes out of a low-carbon-dioxide pump at near room temperature, making it a superb and flavorful American interpretation of an English real ale.

When the weather warms up, I'll head back, bring a book, and chill outside. And have fewer beers.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? No (BYOF)
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Hailstorm Brewing, Tinley Park

Welcome to stop #40 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Hailstorm Brewing, 8060 W 186th St., Tinley Park
Train line: Rock Island, Tinley-80th
Time from Chicago: 38 minutes (Zone E)
Distance from station: 1.7 km

The tl;dr on Hailstorm: Great beer, difficult location. I'll start with the beer.

Since Hailstorm doesn't do flights, I only tried two of their 20-or-so selections, the Cumulus Hazy IPA (6.3%), and the Chasin' Waves West Coast IPA (7.5%).

The Cumulus had delightful Citra flavors, with grapefruit most prominent, and a good balance and finish. The Chasin' Waves also had terrific balance between the in-your-face hops and smooth malt. I'd drink either one of them again.

In a separate post I'll explain the problem, which has to do with its location. That said, when I come back to Tinley Park to visit Soundgrowler Brewing, which is just two blocks from Hailstorm, I'll come back here as well, because look:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? None
Serves food? Yes
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Brothership Brewing, Mokena

Welcome to stop #39 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Brothership Brewing, 18781 S 90th Ave, Mokena
Train line: Rock Island, Hickory Creek
Time from Chicago: 43 minutes (Zone F)
Distance from station: 1.0 km

Brian Willig and partners opened Brothership Brewing on 22 February 2020, which says a lot about their beer. It's that good.

I started with a standard flight, but Emily Willig (Brian's wife) gave me very small samples of their two special brews as well. From left to right: the There Goes Gravity New England IPA (6%) had a bright nose, lovely not-too-bitter hoppyness, and great flavor; the excellent Teleporter (7%) gave me caramel and chocolate notes with a long finish; the Solar Orbiter New England Double IPA (7.6%) had the fruit flavors I'd expect from the Citra hops but balanced those really well with just enough bitterness; and the Cosmic Surfer West Coast IPA (7.4%) had a little more malt than I expected, with bold hop flavors and a lingering finish. I'd drink any of them again, especially the Porter, even though Emily said Brian hadn't initially planned on making one.

She also let me have a couple sips of the Orbit One New England Triple IPA (9%), which had hops on the nose, hops in the (big!) flavor, and hops in the finish; and finally, the Space Debris Vanilla Stout (12%), about which my notes begin with: "oh, baby!" Vanilla, cream, even a maple syrup note, really rich and really sweet. I'd have this for dessert after a steak dinner, and I don't usually go for stouts.

If you live in the southwest suburbs, it's worth the trip. I'll be looking for their beers at my local Binny's.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? 2, avoidable
Serves food? No; BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Dry Hop Brewers, Chicago

Welcome to stop #38 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Dry Hop Brewers, 3155 N. Broadway, Chicago
Train line: CTA Brown, Purple, and Red Lines, Belmont
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes
Distance from station: 800 m

Dry Hop Brewery on Broadway belongs to the same restaurant group as Corridor Brewery and Provisions (stop #37) and Crushed by Giants. It has similar (good) food, plus the advantage of sharing space with the fourth restaurant in the group, Roebuck Pizza. Like Corridor, Dry Hop's beers are pretty good. Unlike Corridor, they don't do 5-ounce tasters.

I had just two of their beers: the Candy Paint (double dry-hopped hazy IPA, 7%, 30 IBU), which was juicy and well-balanced with a decent finish; and the Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts (black IPA, 7.5%, 45 IBU), a complex chocolatey, malty IPA with good but not overwhelming hops and a clean finish. I also had a pizza, which tasted excellent but was a little droopy. (I think they should have cut it into squares.)

I ate in the Roebuck section. The Dry Hop section has more light and more brewing equipment, but both were quiet (they were playing an old jazz LP) and the staff were friendly without being overbearing. In the summer, they take over a good stretch of sidewalk. As soon as practical, I will investigate whether they allow dogs out there, as I'm interested in tasting more of their beers.

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? Maybe outside?
Televisions? None
Serves food? Yes, pizza and sandwiches
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Corridor Brewery and Provisions, Chicago

Welcome to stop #37 on the Brews and Choos project. As promised, now that Illinois has moved into Phase 4 (and, we hope, Phase 5 before too long), we're brewing and chooing again. But a confession: I walked to this one.

Brewery: Corridor Brewery and Provisions, 3446 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Brown Line, Southport
Time from Chicago: 27 minutes
Distance from station: 100 m

Corridor Brewery might be the least-pretentious restaurant on the Southport Corridor. They brew beer; they serve well-prepared but simple food; and they have a large, dog-friendly patio in the summer.

During Covid-19 Phase 4, they have reduced capacity and they're pretty strict about masks. (The servers follow the latest CDC guidance and wear decorative cloth masks over surgical masks, for instance.) In summer, they open up the front sliding doors and spill onto the sidewalk, drawing a lively, if very young, crowd from the neighborhood. I visited on a February evening when the temperature hovered just under -11°C, so I chose to sit indoors.

They have a prix fixe flight of whichever six beers they have on draft, but I only tried four, and enjoyed them all. The Portly Warrior (porter, 5.1%, 30 IBU) was lighter than I expected, with some fruit and bitter notes from the hops, but complex malt flavors that had a nice, lingering finish. The Squeezit DDH IPA (8%, 40 IBU) hit me with a fruity, juicy Citra flavor, yet had great balance and just enough sweetness. The Wizard Fight (APA, 6%, 60 IBU) had a strong but not overpowering hoppy flavor, and a very tasty, balanced middle with a clean finish. Finally, I tried the Cosmic Juicebox (DDH IPA, 6.8%, 40 IBU), which had so much grapefruit (and maybe pear?) but with a malty finish that overall worked really well.

I also had a hamburger. Whether because I had walked 3 kilometers in the cold or because it was really well-prepared, I snarfed it down a lot faster than I intended.

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? None
Serves food? Yes, full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Brews and Choos: one year later

One year ago today, I started the Brews and Choos project at Macushla Brewing in Glenview, Ill. I chose that brewery because it was easy to get to from my downtown Chicago office; it was farther from the Glenview Metra station than the other brewery in town (Ten Ninety); and I could swing by a third brewery (Old Irving) on my way home.

I visited 25 places by March 7th, which gave me enough runway to keep posting reviews until March 26th. Then the project entirely derailed as the country slammed on the brakes when Covid-19 hit. I got to 11 more places over the summer when the rules relaxed a bit and the weather permitted outdoor beer gardens to open. I made stop #36 (Alter Brewing in Downers Grove) on September 19th.

Things have started to look up, though. Statewide positivity rates and hospitalizations dropped consistently below certain levels, enabling Chicago and the surrounding area to enter "Phase 4" remediation. Restaurants can open within strict guidelines; people can eat and drink inside again. With vaccination rates also going up, infection rates should continue to go down, and breweries will feel more confident about resuming normal operations.

So this evening I spent about 90 minutes reviewing my entire database of Brews and Choos candidates. Most are back but with reduced capacity; 22 have gone to takeout-only models; and a handful (including powerhouses Lagunitas and Revolution) have closed their taprooms for the duration. I've therefore completely updated the map with this new information, including links to each producer's website where I could find them:

The pattern of closures and reductions in service hours, combined with Metra's reduced schedules, mean I still won't be able to fully resume the project quite yet. But I will start adding reviews next Sunday, possibly either by visiting the four spots off the Ashland Green/Pink station in the Fulton Industrial Corridor, or the ones nearest to me that I haven't reviewed yet (Corridor, Green Star, and DryHop, for instance). I've also found out I can return to my downtown office two days a week starting March 1st, which opens up a lot more possibilities for after-work field trips.

We're getting close to the end of Covid-19 dominating our lives. With luck, vaccines, and sensible virus-avoidance discipline, I hope to finish visiting all 68 remaining producers by this time next year.

This wobbly earth (and other stories)

I'm having a series of productive days lately, which has taken me away from wasting a bunch of time. So for example, I haven't yet today read these items:

And all of this on the coldest day in two years, in a month in which most days have had no sunlight. But hey, we're still having an abnormally-mild winter, so again, we're not complaining.