Saturday, November 2, 2013

Beer Scene: Chicago, IL (Left To My Own Devices)

Ok, so I'll admit something to you.  This Minnesota oriented blog has had a lot of pieces on non-Minnesota beer places recently.  I've been doing a lot of small trips and love to visit new beer destinations, as well as write about them.  I want my readers to learn about new options for their future travels and it also helps me as a form of  journal.  So bear with me a few more times!

I recently tagged along with my wife for a library conference (those librarians get crazy!) to Chicago.  I went to Rush Medical College back in the late 1990's and lived in the city for 4 long and hazily remembered years.  I honestly was so busy with studies and was so cash-poor that I didn't get out very often.  One of my few periodic outings into town became a sort of tradition for me.  I would drive down to Goose Island Brewpub on Clybourn, parking in their (rare in Chicago) free parking lot.  I would then have lunch at the pub, usually nursing a beer sampler, studying for a while outside the confines of my closet sized subterranean apartment.  I could walk from there to a bookstore across the road and waste some more time and money, studying at their coffee shop.  There was also Sam's, one of the best liquor stores in town (now Binnys).  This is really where I discovered different beer styles, pushing me back into homebrewing to try making some of them on my own.  Back then, the selections were much more mundane than some of the modern Goose Island creations like sours and barrel aged beers, but still a good mix of some classic styles.  I do remember them doing one of the first barrel aged beer events in the country, held at the brewpub and with only about 10 different beers available.

As empty as you will ever see this place!

So on this fine fall day, with my wife off doing super-fun meetings, I took a cab back to my old haunt to see what was new.  Located in Lincoln Park, the brewery has been around since 1988, one of the earliest craft breweries in the USA.  There had been some recent Internet chatter about the lease being up and the brewpub closing after 25 years, but they apparently have arrived at an agreement and the place is safe for the next 10 years.  Whew!  I wandered into the venerable old place to find it virtually unchanged from my many visits over 15 years ago.  Their old event room now had a door with glass inserts sporting the Siebel Institute logo, complete with brewing students busy at study within.  When I arrived it was just after 11 AM and the pub was not busy yet, so I was able to snag a high table in the bar proper.  The bar is built as a central rectangle with four sides to sit at and be served.  Dark old woods with many years of wear dominate the place giving it a well-used and comfortable feel, like coming back home after a long absence.

My server, Cristina, was very up-beat and helpful during my stay.  Apparently all the servers need to be Cicerones, so she was very knowledgeable about her beer styles and pairs.  I ordered a sampler of 4 beers from the extensive list of beers split between pub exclusives and regular Goose Island beers--nearly 30 to choose from!  The place mat they bring the beers out on has a lot of details on how to taste beers--very slick.  I followed this with another sampler and a fine bowl of mussels in a Matilda and cream broth.  Since I ordered all the craziest beers they had on tap (Double IPA, smoked beer, sour saison) the servers had a little pow-wow trying to place them in the best order for me to drink them.  I appreciate the forethought and effort that they put into that!  Overall the beers were very good.  One of the strangest was a beer made with peat smoked apples that tasted like a combination of beer, smoky peated scotch and calvados.  Worth a try, but I wouldn't want a whole pint of it!  I was pleased with my trip back to Goose Island.  They have maintained their original feel, but with expanded selection and improved education of their servers.  A fine hold-over from the first wave of brewpubs.

Jealous?  Oh for the days of carry-on bags full of beer...

From the brewery, for old time's sake, I walked over to Binny's and discovered some new Goose Island beers there (Halia and Gillian) to take back to Minnesota with me.  Strange that the Brewpub itself only sold a few of their more easily found beers for sale, but you could get the good stuff across the street.

This was turning into a wonderful 50 degree and sunny day in Chicago, so I decided to go walkabout.  I walked about 2.5 miles through areas residential, industrial and commercial.  I walked over rattling bridges, beneath isolated overpasses, and through crowded streets.  One of the things I miss about this city is the variety.  Three blocks in any direction will bring you to an entirely different neighborhood, perhaps fancy and well kept, perhaps down-at-heel and crumbling.  I took some pictures with my iPhone, but didn't pause long enough to look too much like a sense in asking for trouble.  Though the only time I've ever been accosted by a mugger was back in Minneapolis.

I eventually arrived at my next destination for day-drinking, Haymarket Pub & Brewery.  This is a newer brewery located in the West Loop, and has the feel of a neighborhood pub rather than a brewery.

The building is split into one room showcasing the bar and another with more restaurant style seating.  I sat at the bar and ordered some samples (per my usual routine) and tasted some beers.  Overall the beers were pretty solid, with none showing outright flaws.  The Bier de Garde with cherry was not my favorite, but the Simcoe hopped brown ale was a treat.  I ended up talking to one of the guys next to me at the bar and as it would turn out, he was a brewer at the newly opened Dry Hop Brewpub.  I had hoped to get down there to check it out, but time did not allow.  Oh, well something for next visit!  I can't speak to the food at Haymarket, but the beers were pretty good--I'd go back if I was in the neighborhood.

Miller signs?  And the logo might look a bit like the SS Death's Head... But great beer selection!

From there I walked about a mile to my hotel near the Merchandise Mart, by this time my feet were getting a bit tired.  I dropped off my spoils and hopped a cab for Local Option, a beer bar not far from Goose Island.  There I met up with my friend Eric Smith, a fellow beer geek that I've traded rare beers with in the past.  To this meeting I brought him a bottle of 2012 Surly Darkness in exchange for a Coffee Bourbon County Stout.  Many people in the bar kept noticing the bottle and gazing at it covetously.  The bar was loud, tight and small, a truly local watering hole for beer geeks.  Clientele ranged from hipsters to metal-heads, all enjoying unusual beers together.  I consider myself pretty well versed in beers, but I honestly had never heard of most of the beers on the chalk board!  One I certainly did recognize was Cantillon Gueuze on tap!  That alone was worth the trip.  I got to hang out with Eric, his wife Megan and two of their very nice friends for a while.  Eventually it was time to go and I hopped another cab (taking a while to flag one down in this mostly residential area) to meet up with my best friend Bryan Keehl.  Bryan, his friend Steve, and myself all went out to eat at The Meat Sauna (not it's real name) a Korean BBQ place where they bring out about 40 side dishes and condiments like 5 forms of kimchee, dried minnows, suspiciously gelatinous things, sea-weeds, etc.  Then you cook up your own meats over a bucket of hot coals placed in the center of your table.  I love this stuff!

Not even half of the condiments we got...

To finish up the evening we drove over to Half-Acre Brewing's tap room.  I had been to the brewery when they first opened and the place has changed quite a bit in that time.  The brewery has been getting very popular throughout Chicago and I found their beers all over (even in our hotel bar) during this trip.  The tap room was insane.  Very small and filled wall to wall with local hipsters, the place was a veritable zoo.  It was SRO and the room was filled with an incredible din.  The feel reminded me a lot of Dangerous Man in Nordeast Minneapolis.  I tried a couple of samples, and enjoyed the beers, but honestly I just wanted to escape to the cool and calm night.  I would like to try out the place again in off hours like early afternoon, rather than 10 PM on a Friday.

I had a very long day and visited a lot of friends and eating/drinking establishments.  I am not a lush.  Really.  The only thing wrong with the day was the absence of my wonderful wife, who I saw for a few minutes back at the hotel before we both fell into exhausted sleep.  Tomorrow is another day!

When the lights go down in the city...

Next Up:  Halloween Hijinx

No comments: