The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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

Why I hate the suburbs

As I mentioned in my post about Hailstorm Brewing that went out earlier today, you can have an excellent brewery with a TV-free taproom within 1500 meters of a Metra station and still qualify for the Brews and Choos project only on special dispensation. Because wow, getting from the Metra station to Hailstorm (and by extension, when I go later this spring, to Soundgrowler) might kill you.

Here's the path from the Hickory Creek Metra stop to Brothership Brewing:

It's short (just under a kilometer), along nearly-deserted exurban streets, and the streets have sidewalks for most of the way. Sure, you pass this:

But that's a typical landscape in northern Will County.

Now look at how you get to Hailstorm:

Why did I go through an ugly subdivision, several parking lots, and behind large industrial buildings instead of just walking down 80th Avenue? Because 80th Avenue is a six-lane arterial with no sidewalks and not a lot of stoplights. Cars drive down it at 90 km/h with nothing to slow them down except the stoplight at 183rd and the railroad tracks to the north.

And when I say "ugly subdivision," I mean a complete horror show of exurban McMansion architecture:

I really wanted to run over to some people I saw sitting in their garage and ask what series of life choices brought them to the decision to buy such an ugly house?

So, yes, I liked Hailstorm, and I hear good things about the tacos at Soundgrowler. But the entire point of the Brews and Choos Project is to drink beer safely. That means without driving to the breweries. But it also means not getting run over walking there. And the suburban/exurban landscape along the Cook-Will border (183rd St, on the map above) will kill your body if you walk along 80th Avenue or kill your soul if you walk through this development.

</rant>

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

Good morning!

Now in our 46th hour above freezing, with the sun singing, the birds coming up, and the crocuses not doing anything noteworthy, it feels like spring. We even halted our march up the league table in most consecutive days of more than 27.5 cm of snow on the ground, tying the record set in 2001 at 25 days. (Only 25 cm remained at 6am, and I would guess a third of that will melt by noon.)

So, what else is going on in the world?

And now, back to work.

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