Were this my first time in Chicago, I would have felt obliged to do more. But it isn’t. I’ve visited the city several times. Downtown? Been there, done that. It’s nice to hang around in a more normal neighbourhood. Soak up the atmosphere. Along with the rain.
Before heading out, I watch some footie. The time difference means I can watch a Premiership match live before breakfast.
There's still snow on the side of the road as I walk to Dove’s. Lovely. When I pass under the elevated Blue Line, there’s water dripping like crazy, presumably from melting snow.
Bloody hell. There’s some very Third-world looking cabling under the railway. Actually, I’m doing a disservice to Jamaica. There’s some insanely improvised cabling. That doesn’t in the least bit safe. I hope they aren’t power lines of any sort.
Some the infrastructure in the US is total shit. Especially considering the amount of money in the country. Do people not notice or just not care?
Dove's is emptier this morning. I ladle myself into stool at the counter again. Then stare lovingly at all the crazy mezcal bottles, in a sort of trance. Until the waiter says: “Are you ready to order, sir?”
It still always rings strange in my head being called “sir”. I’ve not been knighted yet. Bound to happen eventually, though.
“Can I have the egg and bacon thing?”
I can’t be bothered to seek it out on the menu. I doubt I could read it, anyway. As there’s only one dish that even vaguely resembles my description, the waiter understands what I mean. And doesn’t give me a condescending “you’re an idiot” look. Or maybe he’s just a better actor than my waitress yesterday.
I’m starting to warm to grits. Especially with some egg yolk mixed in. Almost exactly unlike pease pudding. Save for the colour and texture.
I don't bother with a mezcal this time. Best not make combining bacon and booze at breakfast a habit.
When I get back to my room, there’s an email from Dovetail. Do I fancy dropping by today? The brewer would like a chat. Hell yeah. I love their beer. I keep saying how wonderful they are.
I jump in a Joe, which whisks me through the soggy streets of North Chicago. Not a complicated journey. Mostly straight north on Damen. We bounce and splash our way along, fountains of water spouting sideways as we swoosh through massive puddles. (See my earlier comment on US infrastructure.)
The brewery is located in an industrial area. Not so weird, as this is a production brewery with a tap room, rather than a brewpub. It’s a simple, two-storey brick structure, which I would guess dates from the 1930s.
As soon as I enter, Hagen Dost comes up and says hello. We last met in St. Louis at the Historic Lager Festival. Where we did our best to polish off a keg of Pilsner. It’s good to see him again. He gets us a couple of beers and we settle in at the bar.
“Would you like a
“Sure.” I can allow myself one, seeing as I skipped the morning mezcal.
“Do you want to drink it from the bottle or would you like a glass?”
“In a glass, pleas.” Obviously. I’m not a philistine.
I kick off with a Helles, followed by a Lager. They're both excellent drinking beers and slip down a treat. That’s what I like about Dovetail’s beers. They tread that very fine line between drinkability and complexity. There are few Lagers to match them in the USA. They taste like German beers. You can’t get a much greater compliment than that.
I think I know why. It’s not just about recipes, but also equipment and process. Which I’m reminded of as Hagen walks me through the brewhouse. It’s much like you’d find in a Bavarian brewery: open fermenters, horizontal lagering tanks and even an open cooler. Sometimes the importance of equipment is underestimated. Things like open fermentation lend specific character to a beer.
Most modern breweries look very similar. The skin may vary – brick, stone, metal, wood – but the kit inside is always much the same. Stainless steel brew house surrounded by a metal stage and rows of conical fermenters. The main variation being the scale of the brewhouse and the number of conicals.
I’m sure that I could post photographs of random bits of shiny kit and that even the brewers themselves couldn’t recognise them. The more recent the gear, the more similar it all looks.
Because Dovetail has chosen for an old-fashioned style of equipment, the brew house has a distinctive look. Painting their insect-like horizontal lagering tanks bright yellow only makes it stand out more.
Back at the bar we chat about a putative project. I would tell you all about it. But . . . it’s at a very early stage and I don’t want to jinx it. An idea I’ve been kicking around for years. One of several that I’ve never found a taker for. Doesn’t stop me plugging away, mind.
We have a few more beers and chat some more. Then I slide into another cab. Which slides me back south, dashing puddles aside. Chicago glows and glitters around me. A pointillist painting through rain-spattered windows.
As I gaze in wonder at the bright lights of the big city, I remember that I haven’t eaten since breakfast. There’s a Mexican takeaway just around the corner from the hotel. Looks cheap and cheerful, which is exactly what I’m after. I get myself a steak burrito.
As I wait an eclectic bunch drift in and out. Clutching packets of food joy. Just as I do.
It's exactly what I needed.
Glen Grant is my sleepy-time pal once more.
1800 W Belle Plaine Ave,
Hours: Closed ⋅ Opens 12PM
Tel: +1 773-683-1414
1570 N Damen Ave,
Tel: +1 773-772-1997