It’s my last full day in Chicago. I know. It’s been a ridiculously short trip.
Mike is picking me up later. He has to work in the morning. Which I guess is fair enough. No need to rush downstairs for brekkies. I stuff down the usual grease ball, then retire to my room for some lazing around. Until I remember. I need to get Andrew some Bourbon.
While searching the internet for a nearby liquor store, I notice there’s a Trader Joe’s not far away. I know they sell spirits from my last visit to Chicago. I head on down there. They have a fair selection of whiskey. I settle on a mediumly expensive one. And one I’m certain Ton Overmars doesn’t sell.
I’m tempted by the adjacent beer and pop a couple of cans into my basket. At the checkout I’m informed that I have to buy either four cans or a six pack. What? It’s the law apparently. Not sure what purpose it serves, other than to force me to buy more beer than I intended. I can’t imagine encouraging more beer purchase was the law’s purpose.
After a bit more lazing around my hotel – what a lazy git I am – Mike picks me up and we zoom off to our first destination, Cruz Blanca Cervecería. As you might have guessed, it’s a Mexican-themed brewpub. Mike knows the brewer and he gives us a quick tour.
I’m amazed at how well-equipped many American brewpubs are. And how much kit they can fit into a restricted space. Even a few of the obligatory oak casks. They’ve clearly the capacity to brew a lot more beer than the pub could sell. Some beer is packaged. Mike is very taken by the small bottling unit they have. Looks very labour-intensive to me.
We eat some tacos (very good) and try a few beers (also pretty good) and chat a while with the brewer. The tap handle design is great, too. I love the simplicity of the interior. Not Spartan enough to feel barren, but not overcomplicated. Overall, a class act.
I’d stay longer, but there are places we need to go, people we need to see.
Or next stop isn’t far. Just a few blocks away on Randolph. And it’s another pub brewery, Haymarket. The interior as dark and. No brewer Mike knows is there. With no-one to guide us around, we don’t hang around long. A quick beer and we’re off again. To a very special spot.
To where the story started in 1988: the Goose Island brewpub.
We start off inside the brew house. It’s hot. Very hot. Way too effing hot. You get the idea. It’s quite a rickety old brew house, unlike the one at Goose Island central. With a good deal of charm, it must be said. Apart from the heat. I wouldn’t want to work here in August.
It’s with a good deal of relief that we head into the bar. Much cooler there. The island bar counter in dark wood gives it some of the feel of a pub. Which I guess is the idea. We try samples of a few beers with the brewer. Just to be polite, obviously. No element of pleasure involved at all. Do you think I make these trips to have fun?
After my talk yesterday I got talking to Kristina the owner of an offie. Who offered to take some of my leftover books off me. We struck a deal and agreed to meet at her shop, West Lakeview Liquors, this afternoon.
It’s quite some shop, with a huge range of all types of alcoholic drinks. In particular good beer, whiskey and mezcal. A few quick samples of the latter open my eyes a treat. It’s in this moment of clarity that Kristina asks:
“Would you like to trade the books for some bourbon?”
“Depends on what it is.” I reply.
“What about a Van Winkle?”
“Ooh, I’ve heard of that. Andrew will be impressed.” I mentioned Andrew was a big bourbon fan earlier.
She throws in a bottle of Buffalo Trace as well. I think I’ve got a very good deal.
Our final spot to pummel is a pretty new brewery, Dovetail. One that concentrates on Central European styles. It sounds right down my Gasse. We start off in the bar, which has a very industrial feel with its bare brick walls and bare board bar top. The giant inflatable pretzel is a nice touch. And about the only decoration.
But I’m more impressed by what’s behind the bar: an enormous grand. I won’t try to explain for those of you who don’t know what that is. Easier to show you a photo:
After a quick beer at the bar, the brewer takes us around. He has a really impressive beard – full ZZ Top. It doesn’t look like they bought new kit, given the slightly hotch-potch look. They do have a copper copper, which scores them extra points. And some crazily complicated piping.
Once we’ve had enough of the shiny things, we return to the bar. Where I give their beer list a good perusal. It lists just four: Lager, Hefeweizen, Rauchbier and Grodziske. But the Rauchbier is crossed out because they’ve run out. Thankfully, the Grodziskie isn’t sour. But that’s not the beer that impresses me most.
That honour belongs to the Lager. A beautifully, easy-drinking Helles that throws itself down my throat. Best get another. I’m dead, dead, dead impressed. It’s as good as a good German version. And this is a style that’s really difficult to do well. There’s nowhere for any faults to hide. It bodes well for the future that they’ve come up with a beer like this right off the bat.
We leave it there. I say my goodbyes to Mike and trail back to my hotel. Where Mr. Laphroaig is impatiently drumming his fingers.
Cruz Blanca Cervecería
904 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60607.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery
737 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60661.
Goose Island Clybourn
1800 N Clybourn Ave,
Chicago, IL 60614.
Tel: +1 312-915-0071
West Lakeview Liquors
2156 W Addison St,
Chicago, IL 60618.
Tel: +1 773-525-1916
1800 W Belle Plaine Ave,
Chicago, IL 60613.
Tel: +1 773-683-1414
Disclaimer: my trip was paid for by Goose Island as part of my consultancy fee.
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