WhiskyFest Chicago is long sold out, but that's OK -- it's too crowded to really enjoy and contemplate all the fine scotch and bourbon on hand. Have a much more civilized experience at Billy Sunday on March 29 at the debut of the bar's Silent Stills series, a tasting of 10 scotches from distilleries that have been closed or demolished -- although in some cases revived or rebuilt. Among the scotches to be sampled are a 1976 Glen Albyn (closed in 1983 and demolished in 1988), a 1982 Linlithgow (also closed in 1983), a 20 year Littlemill from 1990 (closed and dismantled in 1994), and a 21 year Tamdhu from 1990 (the distillery is back to work after closing in 2010).
"Last year we focused almost entirely on amari for our tastings due to the large amount of interest in Billy Sunday's inventory," said Alex Bachman, head bartender at Billy Sunday. "This year scotch will be taking center stage as we strive to expose people to wonderful defunct whiskies that have been lost due to the unfortunate trend of consolidation that has been taking place over the past 25-some-odd years."
Tickets are $125, which is $50 less than WhiskyFest and much rarer an opportunity. Call 773-661-2485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to research a seat. There are only 12 seats total and only two remain, so hurry up or this whisky fest will be sold out, too.
Summer, of course, offers the broadest options for cocktail ingredients -- fresh fruit, tomatoes, herbs. Unfortunately, the weather's been as suitable for hot drinks as cool cocktails, but this week we might actually see some 90-degree weather. Here's one of the new recipes book to help you beat the heat.
Though I'd normally order a cocktail before anything neat, I happily sipped my tumbler of straight amaro while sitting at the bar in CH Distillery. I had a grand view of the distilling equipment, the massive column still the perfect eye candy for savoring my drink.
I had read about the cocoa nibs and honey (both made in Illinois) that go into the new CH Amaro, but I still expected something dark and bitter. Amari, that catch all-category of bitter-and-sweet Italian digestifs, are part of a bigger, very bitter family of liqueurs that, as Grub Street notes, are "steeped with roots and tasting like dirt-infused toothpaste." They make me think of disheveled old men, slamming back shots of something as harsh as they look.
While bitter, there's nothing dank and forest-floor about CH Amaro. Made from a rum base and infused with honey, it has a little sweetness but it's not cloying, the cocoa nibs balanced with a touch of cinnamon spice and grapefruit. The bitterness presents in the back of the mouth like a melting piece of very dark chocolate, which, coupled with the pleasant heft on the palate, encourages slow sipping.
A few years ago, we made an effort to cut down on soft drinks by only buying seltzer water at home. I have no complaints -- I like the light, crisp flavors -- La Croix's pamplemousse is my favorite. And it's nice skipping the massive dose of corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. The one thing I do miss is the caffeine. I'm a caffeine addict, and even delicious grapefruit soda water doesn't scratch that itch.
And that's a tough nut to crack. Caffeine is really harsh. When I've had products with added caffeine in the past, they've made my throat sore and scratchy, and had a raw chemical aftertaste. It's possible a sweetener might take the edge off, but in the case of a carbonated beverage, we'd be right back to soda pop, wouldn't we?
Today from 8am to 5pm, Berman will be on hand giving demonstrations of the coffeemaker; with complementary donuts and coffee will be provided. On Saturday from 11am to 3pm, Berman teams up with Good Beer Hunting for a studio event that includes samples of Solemn Oath's new coffee milk stout, more coffee and donuts, and the opportunity to get a free "Uppers & Downers" t-shirt if you're one of the first 100 new Kickstarter backers at the event. RSVP is requested, but not required.
Steadfast wino that I am, I don't know a ton about whiskey, except I like it in cocktails and Hot Toddies. Luckily, Fountainhead (1970 W. Montrose) has put together a series of whiskey classes, part of their "School of Spirits," running now through March.
I missed their first class earlier this month, an Introduction to American Whiskeys. It covered the basics of whiskey tasting and terminology, among other topics, and featured five tastings from different producers, like Knob Creek, Bulleit, and Koval. I did make it to the following week's class, "The Whiskeys of Heaven Hill," which featured four tastings from the Bardstown, Kentucky-based distiller, the third largest producer of American whiskey.
Over twenty students attended the sold-out class, which was held in Fountainhead's barrel room behind the bar. Sections of old whiskey barrels decorated the space above the seating area, blessing the class. The chatter of the restaurant provided a lively, if at times loud, atmosphere and reminded me of how much fun it can be to hangout at a bar with friends.
According to Foodimentary, the original recipe for the Margarita was made of equal parts tequila, orange liquor and lime, served over ice with a salt-rimmed glass. Even on a chilly February day that sounds so good.
Ay, chihuahua! is an idiom which also expresses surprise as if to say "Wow, there are so many!" And there really are many creative alternatives to the traditional Margarita with which to raise a glass in celebration like the Cucumber Margarita or the Ay Diablo Margarita at Chicago's ¡AY CHIWOWA! Tavern.
1.5 oz corzo resposado
1 oz cucumber juice fresh
.5 oz of pomelo grapefruit
.5 oz mariposa
1 oz agave nectar
1 oz lime juice
Shake and serve in a margarita glass (salted rim optional).
Throughout this month, Drive-Thru staffers will be writing about their favorite bars and restaurants to celebrate the holiday, as so much of the holiday is not the day itself, but the days that come before -- the places you end up at after a holiday party, a day of errands and shopping, or just to hide away from the shorter days and colder weather.
When the cold weather season comes around, all I want to do is drink. Don't get the wrong idea--I'm talkin' all sorts of drinks, from gold-hued tea to frothy cappuccinos to belly-warming beers to velvety hot chocolate. It's kind of my thing. However, although all of these beverages regularly inspire something festive in me, there are certain bars and cafes that just seem a little more in their element during the holiday season--places that fully embrace the coziness, the over-indulgence, and (because it's an essential part of it, too) the delightfully kitschy vibes of the holiday season. Here are some of my favorites.
Dollop Coffee and Tea Multiple locations, but this review is specifically for the Uptown location, 4181 N Clarendon Ave.
This café is on the complete other side of town from where I live. I have to take a convoluted series of buses to get there, and it usually takes me upwards of 45 minutes to arrive. However, despite the fact that I've only been there a precious handful of times, I still consider this place my coffee shop. Home base. I first went there about a year ago, in the thick of winter, for a writing MeetUp group where I knew no one. I got lost on the way there. A wayward car sped past me and spattered sludge all over my new coat. But when I walked in the door, after the fog on my glasses had subsided, I felt like I'd found my happy place. This place brews Metropolis coffee, sells Hoosier Mama pie slices, and has the means to satisfy pretty much any snacking need. Gather your spoils and head to the back of the café--there, down a few steps, you will find the coziest room in existence, practically designed to accommodate the lengthy process of writing out your holiday wish list.
The Map Room 1949 N. Hoyne
"A travelers' tavern." This warm, inviting bar is a proper bar, no small plates or mixologists, no blaring music or dainty décor--a dying breed, it sometimes seems? Let's certainly hope not, for there are few better places than the local tavern to get properly imbibed as snow falls outside the window and regulars nosh on pretzel sticks at the bar. Opened in 1992, the Map Room boats an impressive list of draft beers (including, of course, some international players) and a dose of wanderlust: topographical maps line the walls and book shelves are stocked with previous issues of National Geographic. Think rich wooden accents, cable-knit sweaters, and a dash of adventurers' spirit. The bar features nightly specials and even hosts their own "Beer School" on select nights, where local brewers come speak about beer and how to enjoy it like a pro.
The Green Eye Lounge 2403 W Homer St (under the Blue Line Western stop)
All of the character of a dive bar without the seediness. A pretty standard spot for a solid night of drinking: nice extensive draft list featuring plenty of craft beers, wall space available for local artwork, and a strong following of regulars. However, during the holiday season, I like my bars lit up with the otherworldly glow of oversized Christmas-themed lawn ornaments-- and hopefully you do too. The Green Eye takes the art of holiday decorating with all of the seriousness of a suburban dad trying to out-spirit the Joneses. As a "Home Alone" marathon whiles away the hours til Christmas on TV, drink your brew in the company of scarf-sporting penguins, beer mug-shaped Christmas lights, and a fake fireplace mounted upon the wall. If there's any place that will make you willing to brave 1 degree weather for a hearty drink--it's gotta be this one.
Tuesday, October 29th was Champagne Day, and I celebrated the perfect way: by tasting a bunch of French bubbly. Champagne Bureau USA gathered 36 Champagne houses with 108 different wines, all from that famed region in France at The Ivy Room, for a huge, extraordinary tasting.
I (mostly) systematically went from table to table, making it about two-thirds the way through before I was worn out. 72 was a lot of different bubbly to taste, and I didn't actually drink most of it. I spit much of it into a very shiny silver bucket, which was a weird thing to do when a posh Frenchman or woman was standing opposite you. It was either that, or get wasted before trying even a quarter of the wines.
Champagne is a wine of celebrations and special occasions to be sure, since what's more fun than bubbles at a party, but it also loves food. In fact, "This is a great food wine" was a sentence I heard a lot throughout the tasting. The representative from Besserat de Bellefon suggested asparagus as the perfect food pairing for their NV Brut. One of my favorites, Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage had a bit of sweetness and spice to it that would make it a great companion for Asian cuisine.
Many wines had toasty aromas; some skewed toward the full-bodied and creamy end of the spectrum, some were more light-bodied and steely but it was easy to picture cheeses to pair, a pastry with a flaky crust, and fried and greasy foods in particular as Champagne's high acidity and bubbles help cut through the fat. Olivia Pope might like a rich Bordeaux with her popcorn, but I prefer a refreshing, crisp sparkler with such a light buttery snack.
Champagne comes from a specific region in France that's east of Paris, and it's usually, though not always, made from a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Officially, only wines made there can carry "Champagne" on the label, though there are plenty of producers worldwide who make sparkling wines using the same method, the traditional method (méthode traditionnelle).
Basically, this means the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles occurs in each bottle, as opposed to collectively in a tank prior to bottling, like with Prosecco. The traditional method is more time-consuming, which is largely why Champagne carries a higher price tag than your average bottle of wine.
Often that bottle of bubbly in the fridge was made from grapes harvested in different years because a Champagne house wants to create a specific house style that tastes and smells the same, regardless of the year is was bottled. They can do this by keeping reserve wine and blending different years together. (One rep I spoke with said his house had reserve wine dating back to 1919). These bottles won't have a date on them, or will state NV (non-vintage). A date will be on the bottle when the Champagne house declares a vintage.
Chicago's top mixologists show you how to make their favorite fall drinks
Food writing takes some hard-hitting journalistic research, and there's no assignment I'd dive into with more gusto than reviewing Chicago's best fall cocktails. Now, I love my fancy cocktails, but I'm also sensitive to pretension when it comes to my drinks. And as I've noted before, just because it's fall doesn't mean everything needs to taste like pumpkin pie.
Lucky for me, Billy Sunday gets it just right--they obviously put a lot of craft into their craft cocktails, but drinks are served playfully in such a laid back, charming spot that you can concentrate on happily drinking your drink instead of dissecting what's in it. That said, for the sake of journalism, head bartender Alex Bachman dissected two of his signature fall cocktails and gave us a glimpse of the labor and precision that goes into each glass.
British email newsletter Popbitch claims Chicago bartenders have a new trick up their sleeve.
Bartenders in Chicago have a new practical joke. They're putting round a rumour that there's a hot new drink in town - the Furball: a cocktail of Fireball whisky and Fernet Branca.
They take great pleasure in mixing up the ungodly concoction for any unsuspecting hipster who orders one - and then watch with glee as they try to choke it down.
I've never heard of this, and found no evidence on the web or Twitter of this actually happening. My guess is that one bartender did it one time in the presence of Popbitch's source, and it became a "trend." I did come across a recipe for Fernet and Fireball, under the name Firebird. I also came across a strange commercial for Fernet 1882.
Chicago's top mixologists show you how to make their favorite fall drinks.
Embeya's "progressive pan-asian cuisine" earned it top billing as one of America's best new restaurants, having the dish of the year, and claiming the best new chef. Sure, at this point they could phone the rest in, but they also happen to be doing some seriously amazing stuff behind the bar. This fall, Beverage Director Danielle Pizzutillo created an intriguing cocktail that combines sweet plums with sour vinegars and sakes for a flavor as bold and unusual as you'll find in their award-winning dishes.
Chicago's top mixologists show you how to make their favorite fall drinks.
Going to The Aviary is an exercise in wonder. Nothing is simple or straightforward -- mixologists work magic in a lab-like bar, creating delicious spectacles that play on all the senses, not just the taste buds. These are the kind of drinks that make you double check the list of familiar-sounding ingredients, puzzled, and certainly not the kind you would attempt at home.
Echoing The Reader's "Cocktail Challenge" column, participating mixologists were tasked with creating a fall drink, with a winner selected by judges Mike Sula of The Reader, cocktail consultant Todd Appel, and Catherine De Orio, the new host of "Check, Please!" (Spoiler: Jessica Tessendorf of The Barrelhouse Flat won for her sherry/aromatized wines cocktail, Spousal Privilege).
Fall means many things to many people: scarves and tights, football, pumpkin everything, and, most importantly, the grape harvest. This is that magical time of the year when those lush, juicy berries are picked, crushed, and begin their transformation into wine.
Beginning as early as late summer for some grapes, the harvest is celebrated in wine regions all over the world, and it deserves it because all that time worrying about weather, about excessive rain or heat or hail in the vineyards, about pests and mold, shifts and the winemaker can get down to business. As Plato said, "No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God."
Here's just five wine bars and restaurants where you can celebrate this excellent gift:
In honor of the crush (the gentle splitting of the grapes prior to fermentation) Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar and D.O.C. Wine Bar are offering free wine tastings September 23 - 27 (with guest sommeliers and exclusive varietals) plus half-price bottles of wine on today (September 23) and half-price glasses of wine on Tuesday, September 24.
Bar Pastoral currently has a selection of reds and whites from the Rheinhessen, including the velvety Weingut Wasem, a Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) that'll knock your socks off. Plus loads of cheese so go hungry.
Volo Restaurant and Wine Bar has a knowledgeable staff ready to help you navigate the menu based on your tastes. Or try a wine flight, which is how I discovered the aromatic oomph of the Müller-Thurgau grape. They have daily $1 oyster and $2 pork belly happy hour specials and a "hidden" patio.
Webster's Wine Bar has an atmosphere that encourages lingering for hours. Their extensive wine list includes personalized notes about each of the wines, which can be daunting if you're not sure what to order, so ask! They're currently featuring Spanish wines.
*photo by Graham
Tremaine Atkinson, owner (along with Mark Lucas) of CH Distillery, was making gin one Saturday afternoon at the copper-topped still near the front entrance. Anyone passing by or entering the distillery/cocktail bar could see this steampunk-y piece of equipment with its levers and windows and tubes. It's hard not to get an itch to poke around around the place.
A spout arced a stream of completed gin into a stainless steel jug as Atkinson took samples to taste and assess its progress. This was an important part of the process and no doubt a contributor to his 12-14 hour days. You have to catch any "funkiness" in gin right away to correct it, otherwise you'll ruin a whole batch. (Luckily, vodka can just be re-distilled if something is off). He let me taste as well, and we'd continue to do so over the course of the hour I was at the distillery. Atkinson pointed out how the different flavors in the gin, juniper, lemon, coriander, presented themselves at different times.
"Those are vertical flavors," he explained, because the mouth picks up on a variety of tastes and sensations. The coriander in particular struck me because it's less a flavor and more a light peppery sensation toward the front of the tongue. Those ingredients steeped in re-distilled vodka, a "soup" that melded over the course of two weeks into a fine, high-quality gin.
The handcrafted spirits scene in Chicago is getting a serious lift tomorrow with the official opening of West Loop's distillery-cum-cocktail bar, CH Distillery.
Owners Tremain Atkinson and Mark Lucas are joining the cadre of Chicago-area distillers, Koval, FEW, and Letherbee, though CH is specializing in vodka crafted from scratch, with grain grown exclusively in Illinois. Their 8,000 sq-ft. distillery will also produce "entry level" gin and London dry gin, whiskey, and rum.
In keeping with vodka's roots, the 48-seat cocktail bar will offer Eastern-influenced small plates by chef JP Doiron (Avec, Perennial) and consulting chef Jesse Katzman (West Loop Salumi, Avec). Items include whitefish spread, shitakke pâté, and corned duck, each of those served with black rye bread, plus caviar and a small selection of nuts, cheese, and charcuterie.
Besides offering classics like Moscow Mule, consulting mixologist Kyle Davidson (Blackbird, The Publican) has crafted a selection of cocktails like the piquant Rhymes with Orange (serrano chili vodka, lime, CH orange curacao, watermelon) and alleviating Oxycontin (lapsang suchong-infused gin, ginger syrup, honey, lemon). For die-hard vodka fans and curious vodka newbies, there's a Traditional Carafe Service of 7 oz ice-cold vodka with rye bread and pickles.
My primary concern at a cocktail lab is to not out myself as a pleb. I'd like to think I know a thing or two about cocktails, but in the presence of people who know lots of things about cocktails, who create drinks for a living, who can produce a drink with egg whites where the foam is as thick as the head of a Guinness, well, I basically know nothing.
At least twenty "students" attended the Emperor's Coffee Lab at Mindy's Hot Chocolate this past Sunday. We squeezed into a few tables set with cocktail shakers, strainers, and bar spoons to learn about Mandarine Napoléon (a blend of cognac and mandarins) and how to prepare coffee drinks with it. Our host, Marc de Kuyper presented some information about the liqueur, which had been made for Napoléon Bonaparte. Then Alex McDaniel and Alex Gara (Head Barista and Bar Manager, respectively) launched into the drink-making segment. We'd be using cold-brewed coffee in the cocktails. And the Mandarine Napoleon, a striking, vibrant orange, with spices like cardamom and nutmeg was a natural partner to the coffee.
The lab began with Gara demonstrating how to prepare the Kitchen Sink cocktail, which sent a few of us nerdy types scribbling the recipe in notebooks, before we were released to make it ourselves. A small chaos broke out. Hands snatched at blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries from the glass pitchers, the stainless steel muddler was passed back and forth, voices called out again and again how much Pimm's, how much gin? Even though he insisted we didn't need to worry about discrete measurements, rather get the proportions roughly correct (3-to-1 Pimm's to gin).
That's when you realize everyone knows about as much as you do. You're all in this together. You're all in this to create and to drink.
It's tricky to put your finger on why one place, bar, restaurant feels comfortable, why you find yourself lingering at one more than another. Troquet, the "neighborhood French bar by LM" in Ravenswood (1834 W. Montrose Ave.) is that place for me, that place I wish was around the corner from my apartment.
It's not much to look at, but that could be part of it too. The unassuming decor of dark woods with flairs of red here and there, wide windows, and music humming as unobtrusively as the TVs above the bar, make this the sort of space you can relax into. It's small, yet lively, with a mishmash of people. The guys in baseball caps eating at the bar, two women with laptops and drinks at a high table, a family eating and friends relaxing outside. I can see myself hanging out at the bar with a book, sipping a glass of wine, or a Kir Royal.
In the sun-flooded arena of the Daley Plaza farmer's market on Thursday, August 1, three top Chicago chefs competed to earn the title "Master of the Market."
With only 50 minutes to create a standout dish featuring fresh market produce, the three chefs-- Chef Beverly Kim Clark of Kendall College, Chef Jared Van Camp of Nellcôte and Chef Thai Dang of Embeya-- raced against the clock to the thrill of the crowd. In the end, Chef Kim Clark beat out her competitors with a gorgeous dish, easily adaptable to a home-cooking preparation: stir fried udon with corn custard, summer tomatoes, kale, and pickled shallots.
The annual competition, currently in its seventh year, is a collaboration between COUNTRY Financial and the city of Chicago intended to introduce Chicagoans to the wide offerings of farmers' markets and stimulate interest in local-based cooking. Stay tuned to the competition website, where runner-up recipes from Chef Van Camp and Chef Dang will be appearing soon.
It's pained me that the closest thing to a wine shop walking distance from my apartment in Edgewater is the liquor section in Dominick's. There, you'll find the usual suspects you can find most anywhere: Columbia Crest, Lindeman's, Cupcake. I'm not knocking those wines because I can, and frequently do, grab a bottle while grocery shopping. But seeing the same labels all the time is boring and makes the huge and varied world of wine and spirits seem like it's owned by a handful of megabrands.
The drink gods heard my prayers. Earlier this summer, Independent Spirits, Inc. (5947-49 N. Broadway) opened. And it wasn't only me who wanted a neighborhood booze shop. I first stopped in two days after opening and already a bunch of wine had been sold, leaving only a scattering of bottles here and there, mostly of French and German wines, plus a mishmash of others, including Greece and Argentina. Proprietor Scott Crestodina assured that the shelves would be stocked next week.
And boy, were they, plus a new table of wine at the front of the store. Eyeballing all the wines I wanted to buy, prices were incredibly reasonable, with a significant portion under $20. And there wasn't one bottle of Cupcake amongst that red, white, and pink.
I first took wine classes with Diana Hamann of Evanston's The Wine Goddess at The Chopping Block before she opened her own shop. I was predisposed to liking her classes since I really wanted to learn about wine, from how to assess it properly to how climate and weather impact the grapes.
But she far exceeded my expectations by taking what can turn into a dry, complicated topic and making it fun with her sense of humor and clear passion and knowledge of the subject. Hamann made you not only want to drink more, but encouraged you to ask questions and consider what was happening in your glass. With this in mind, I eagerly signed up for her "Wines of the Pacific Northwest" class.
I first caught sight of a 5 Rabbit six-pack in the cooler case at my local minimart last year and have been following their always inventive releases ever since. Despite some legal growing pains that culminated earlier this year in the departure of co-founder Isaac Showaki, the nation's first Latin-themed brewery has continued to crank out interesting brews with an Aztec inflection from their newly built Bedford Park headquarters.
This summer (May through September), they're offering a series of draft-only options called Paletas, name-checking the Mexican popsicles that have long been one of our city's favorite summer street foods. The low-alcohol wheat beers are to feature different fruit and spice pairings, though the only one I've been able to track down (thanks to the Bad Apple) was the guava with pink peppercorn and tarragon. With the cloudy, pinkish color of a melted popsicle, you would be forgiven for thinking this beer might be another questionable "with flavor added" shandy knock-off, but the brew is actually light and sour, much more bitter than sweet, despite a heady, tropical fruit nose. On a mild summer day, like the ones we've been having this week, it's quenching but not cloying. I'm curious to try other flavors, which might include watermelon and tamarind--which I guess means I'll just be hanging around the bar until they change the keg out. There are worse ways to spend a summer vacation.
BONUS: The 5 Rabbit Collective section of the website features a recipe for pairing the brewery's 5 Rabbit brew (a golden ale with no ties to popsicles, oh ye of little faith) with fish tacos from Chef Grayson "Jam Out With Your Clam Out" Schmitz! Final Score: +1,000 food nerd points.
I admit I was skeptical when I joined a wine tour this past spring that took us to Acquaviva Winery and Fox Valley Winery, only 50 miles west of Chicago. I was excited to spend an afternoon tasting wine, but leery too that these Illinois wines would be like overly sweet, boozy grape juice.
Happily, nothing tasted like juice. There were whites, reds, and pinks, ranging from bone dry to sweet. Though I preferred some over others (crisp, high-acid whites are always a favorite) I was curious enough with local wine to attend Uncork Illinois this past June. The Oak Park-based wine festival showcased vendors across the state, including one of the most unique ones, Illinois Sparkling Co., which makes all sparkling wines, all in the labor-intensive champagne method, and all made with grapes grown exclusively in Illinois.
I asked ISC winemaker Mark Wenzel a few questions about winemaking in Illinois, including what the biggest challenge was. It wasn't growing grapes here, like I had thought. Rather he hit on my own initial skepticism of local wine. It's "fighting the battle of where wine 'should' come from." Of his sparklers, he said that "most [customer] reactions are 'these are ACTUALLY really good!" or "I'm surprised that I ACTUALLY really love these....seriously, I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I've heard 'actually'."
On the flipside, he noted there's a lot of potential in Illinois for winemaking because the "industry is so young and not limited to what everyone else is doing."
Sure, some wines I first tasted on the wine tour, and others at Uncork Illinois weren't all great, but some were wonderful. They weren't like Burgundy or Champagne exactly, but we also aren't in Burgundy or Champagne either. As Wenzel pointed out, "great wine can end up in your glass from almost anywhere." Still, it can be a struggle to shake expectations of what a wine should or shouldn't be, but if you're an adventurous drinker, there's loads of options right here in Illinois.
Interested in local wine? Mark your calendars for Vintage Illinois in Utica (September 21-22), which will showcase wines from all over the state.
Last week, I attended the launch of the Old 1871 at GT Fish & Oyster. While hardly local--the new exclusive oyster breed grows in the cold waters off southern Virginia, not lake Michigan (this is a good thing)--presenting distributor Fortune Fish and Gourmet is. The name derives from CEO Sean O'Scanllain's old family brewery, and is meant to hark back to the days of simple protein trade between the stockyards of Chicago and the seabeds of the Atlantic coast.
June, July, and August are not "R" months, but there is something wonderfully refreshing about slurping oysters in the summer. Briny and meaty, they're surf and turf in a single slippery bite, served ice cold or off the grill as soon as their shells pop from the heat. (It's not just me endorsing this idea--Bon Appétit brings it up in the latest issue as well). Old 1871 are a welcome addition to the kumamotos and wellfleets you may already know. Funky and rich, with a buried sweetness, they're deep-cupped, so you get a good slug of seawater with each. With all that salt, you need something to drink, of course. I asked Brooks Reitz from The Ordinary, Charleston South Carolina's buzzy seafood mecca, what he suggests to serve along with oysters.
Imbibe magazine declared May 27-June 3 Negroni Week, during which bars across the country are serving variations on that bright red cocktail and donating $1 from each one sold to charity. In Chicago, there are three official participants:
Over 24 booths set up shop at the Great Hall in Union Station last weekend for Wine Riot Chicago 2013, the "all access pass to hundreds of new wines," pouring one ounce portions of their best poison. Gapers Block "reluctantly" joined the crowd for an evening of sniffing, swirling and tasting.
Inevitably there was more tasting than swirling which somehow lent itself to a night that ended in late night salsa dancing with the "King of Mambo" and crashing college house parties. (What, didn't it say riot in the title?) Below are our top picks to add to your list. Most can be found or ordered at Binny's Lincoln Park (1720 N. Marcy Street).
Unless you've been completely cut off from pop culture, you know that Friday marks the Mayan-predicted apocalypse. And several restaurants are cashing in on the (possibly) non-existent fire and brimstone event - including Logan Square's Longman & Eagle. The trendy establishment will "commemorate the destruction of all things human" with an exclusive cocktail that's sure to put hair on your chest: Out With a Bang, priced at $20.12.
Longman & Eagle were kind enough to share the recipe, a variation on the classic Blackthorn cocktail.
Not creating your own simple syrup these days is so un-posh. And if you're still bringing fruitcake and cheap bottles of Champagne to holiday parties, The Gage's head bartender Thomas Mooneyham has a remedy for that -- Christmas Syrup.
This holiday take on simple syrup works well with all types of spirits and liquids, including rum, whiskey, and even tea (although we prefer ours in a hot toddy) and can even be packaged up as a present.
Combine all ingredients and stir for 10-15 seconds. Strain into chilled martini glass and garnish with brandied cherries or orange twist. Don't want to make your own, no worries, head over to Gage and tell Mooneyham that you want a little Christmas in your drink.
If you're already sick of holiday-related stuff making its way into stores and your train line, head to the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St.) tonight for Cocktails and Capone, which looks back on a time in Chicago when a good drink was hard to come by unless you knew the right guy--in this case, Al Capone, whose "business" reaped an estimated $100 million in its heyday. You'll learn about Prohibition and celebrate the 79th anniversary of its repeal (which happens to be today) with CHM's John Russick, author Deirdre Capone (Al's great niece), and the good people of Iowa-based Templeton Rye, who will be serving up Al's favorite whiskey. You can share your newfound knowledge at your next holiday event. Tickets $30-40; event runs 7:45-9pm.
Tea lovers, beware! DAVIDsTEA opened its first Chicago store in Bucktown (1645 N. Damen Ave.) on Tuesday.
The Canadian loose-leaf tea company sells and brews over 150 kinds of tea, hot and cold, as well as tea-brewing accessories. One reviewer on Yelp described it the New York location being like the Apple store for teas. In other words, this is the high quality tea you might normally find in a crunchy cooperative, but there's more variety, slick packaging, and the shops have a cool, modern design aesthetic.
When I visited the store, the friendly employees offered me a sample of their tea of the day, Toasted Marshmallow, a black tea blend with real toasted marshmallows. The knowledgable staff will help you pick the perfect tea for you by pulling an assortment for you to smell or sample. The woman helping me selected eight teas I might like, based on the fact that I like ginger. Two of those included Organic Splash! (a cleansing mix of green tea, ginger, sea lettuce, cardamom, burdock root, peppermint and red clover) and Buddha's Blend (a fragrant medley of white and green tea, jasmine pearls and white hibiscus blossoms).
DAVIDsTEA is a fun experience - and based on the rave reviews this chain has garnered at other locations, I think they'll do well. Look for two more locations opening in the next few weeks at 924 W. Armitage Ave. in Lincoln Park and 3530 N. Southport Ave. in Lakeview.
As the temperature starts to drop and you swap your pale ales and sangrias for stouts and bourbons, Bridge Bar, 315 N. LaSalle St., is going back to the old days and bringing you the hooch. For October, head bartender, Kevin Schulz, has created handcrafted "Hooch" bottles with a bourbon base carefully mixed with selected spiced liqueurs. Each glass pint bottle will be hand labeled, numbered and free for guests to take home with them (you know, to remind you of exactly how you got that 10am hangover). And, as the October cocktail of the month, the hooch will be half off on Tuesdays. What better way to epitomize cool but other than to walk up to a bar and say, "I'll have the hooch."
Roughly 4,000 beer enthusiasts united in the Grand Hall for three hours of taste-tasting fall seasonal brews from all across the country and around the world. In total, there were 54 breweries, offering around 200 different brews.
There were two sessions scheduled for attendants to get their drink on. The first round was from 1 to 4pm and the second round was from 6 to 9pm. Some brave, beer-loving folks opted to do both.
Tickets were $40 and had to be purchased ahead of time. There was also an option for designated drivers to attend Chicago Beer Festival for $10. I volunteered with Eventbrite, scanning tickets, and was lucky enough to be able to enjoy all of the hoppy glory -- and silly drunken people -- all day long.
There was plenty of activity to entertain the attendees in between swigs of beer, including a DJ and a free photo booth. There was a lot of tasty bar food available for purchase, through Stefani Catering. I had a very yummy Italian sausage with peppers and onions on top.
It was easy to tell who was experienced with beer tastings by their level of preparedness. Many people wore pretzel necklaces to munch on in between different brews to cleanse their palate. One lady even adorned hers with jewels to make it fashionable as well as functional.
Though all of the brews were tasty in my opinion, there were a few that really stood out.
Destihl's Pumpkin Porter was exceptional! It was full of in your face fall flavor. Destihl is a gastro-brewpub with two locations in Illinois, pairing craft beer and artisan food.
The Widmer Brothers' SXNW (South by Northwest) brew also made for a very unique kick to my taste buds. It is an interesting combination of pecans, cocoa nibs, spice, and green chilies. It was as dark as black coffee and tasted like a spicy chocolate beverage.
There were a few different ciders to wet your whistle. I tried out Virtue Cider's Redstreak, which tasted extremely sour after drinking so many dark, rich beers.
Many familiar breweries, such as Goose Island, Bell's, Summit, Shock Top and Anchor Steam, were also on site.
Despite the cold, all in all, it was a fabulous day at Union Station -- especially after I got a few beers in me!
After a petition circulated the internet demanding that President Obama's administration release the recipes for its home-brewed beer, chef Sam Kass made a video to show how to make a White House Honey Brown Ale, as well as a Honey Porter. Now you have something to drink during the four presidential debates next month.
If you've ever been to The Aviary, you know what a showstopper this cocktail service piece is. The cocktail chefs at The Aviary unscrew the side of the shallow, circular teapot-like flask to compose beautiful arrays of fruit, fresh herbs and other botanicals that flavor both hot and cold drinks. According to Crucial Detail's founder, Martin Kastner, "On many occasions when The Aviary's guests were told that the Porthole was not available for purchase, they tried to 'liberate' it on their own."
If that was you, you now have the opportunity to take the Porthole home without risking a visit from the police. Early backers were able to preorder the vessel for $75. That level -- and the $85 level-- sold out right almost immediately, but it's still possible to back the project at the $95 level and receive a Porthole and a seasonal cocktail recipe to fill it with. If you've got the money, you can get one of 250 white Porthole (analogous to the white iPhone vs. the standard black, I guess?) for $250, or get multiple (black) Portholes for larger pledges.
There are also five $5,000 packages (three left as of this writing) for which you get two signed Portholes plus a day spent with Grant Achatz and new Aviary chief Charles Joly. According to the campaign page, "You will work the bar during service, learn recipes and techniques, and enjoy cocktails at the Aviary with the chefs."
"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne." (John Meynard Keynes)
RM, the new Champagne Salon concept from sommelier Jason Wagner (former wine director alongside Joël Robuchon), backed by the guys behind Element Collection (Nellcote, Old Town Social) is making its debut this Sunday in the West-Loop scene at 116 N. Green St. (Previously slated to open yesterday, the website, Facebook and Twitter pages confirm the opening has been delayed until tomorrow). Tucked behind Nellcote with access via a cobblestone entrance that opens into a courtyard patio decorated by an array of candles and tea lights, you might, for a minute, feel transported to a place that you wish you were jumping on a plane to tomorrow. Like the south of France, or Sicily.
Once you get past the courtyard, it's obvious that RM is a by-product of the Element Collection team with its use of dark tones, black wrought iron, crystal decor and overall European feel. I can't quite place it but whether I'm at Old Town Social, Nellcote or now RM, I feel exactly what the partners claim they are going for: sophistication without the pretense. They've succeeded in their concepts in a city that's sometimes hard to convince.
When considering that most of Chicago's understanding of a champagne bar is shaped by the popular Pops for Champagne, however, you might wonder, what will make RM different from Pops?
Bow Truss Coffee Roasters, the new roaster and espresso shop from coffeeshop and tech entrepreneur Phil Tadros, celebrates its grand opening tonight from 7pm to 9pm at 2934 N. Broadway. They'll be serving up V60 pour overs, iced coffee and Strange Pelican brews, and selling pounds of their six small-batch roasted coffee beans.
I've had overdone wine nights that ended in orange streaked bangs from an at home dye job gone wrong. I've never, however, had a wine night that ended the morning after with me using every product in my house to remove a temporary tattoo of a mermaid with a wine bottle on the inside of my forearm. . .but that's just what happened after my first experience with Wine Riot, a touring wine tasting tradeshow if you will with the goal of creating a fun, non-intimidating place where people can learn about wine. Needless to say, I expected a slight hangover after attending the Second Glass hosted event; I mean, what can you expect when you walk into the Great Hall of Union Station with 200 wines ahead of you. Hence, the mermaid tattoo. But I digress.
My first hit of two thumbs up was with the ISC Sparkling Brut from NV Illinois Sparkling Co ($32). It felt more like a dry Prosecco than a Champagne, which, for a starter drink, is a good thing for me. It's a bit pricier than I'd like a sparkling to be but is a great way to give your party a new label.
Don't have enough farm to table meals in your life? On May 23, Uncommon Ground on Devon will host a Slow Food farm dinner. Executive Chef Matthew Holmes will prepare a multi-course (including dessert!) spring menu, not to mention passed appetizers at the rooftop farm reception. Each course will feature a seasonal cocktail prepared with Evanston based FEW Spirits small batch liquors. Proteins will be provided by Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm, along with organic ingredients supplied by Harvest Moon. Plus, not only will you enjoy a farm fresh meal, but the a portion of the dinner cost will act as a donation to Slow Food Chicago, which will be using the donation as a proceed to help send local farmers to Terra Madre in Torino, Italy.
To make your reservation, call Uncommon Ground Devon at (773) 465-9801. Reservations are $65 per person. Uncommon Ground Devon is located at 1401 W Devon Ave. Rooftop reception starts at 6pm with dinner served at 7pm.
Bottlenotes in collaboration with Cheeky Chicago is bringing its love for wine to Chicago this week and next with the Taste Around Town wine tasting event. This is your chance to turn networking into a wine lesson and try wines from different regions in either a flight or 3-course menu pairing. This year's regions are California, France, and Spain with featured wines from the Rhone Valley, Naked Grape, and the Rioja region. The event kicked off Monday and ends on May 25th. Check out the participating restaurants, which include Paris Club, Naha, deca, and Allium to name a few, and book your reservations on OpenTable.
Virtue Cider, former Goose Island Brewmaster Greg Hall's new small-batch artisanal cider company, has slowly been releasing its first brew, Red Streak, in Chicagoland bars. Tonight at 7pm, Hall will be at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St., for a tasting party and meet'n'greet.
I tried Red Streak at Hopleaf last night, and it's a delight. Virtue calls it an English style cider, made with Redstreak bittersharp apples, and it is very dry compared to the typical commercially available hard cider -- even most of the ciders imported from merry old England. The flavor is that of a nice, crisp green apple, with peach and citrus notes and a tart finish. Champagne-like bubbles give it a rich mouthfeel. It paired nicely with my CB&J sandwich, cutting through the rich cashew butter, but was also nice and refreshing on its own.
One doesn't just casually chat at DMK Burger Bar. Communication requires projection, from the diaphragm, over the loud (however good) music. It might feel like work, but I swear, it's worth it.
Not just for the burgers, a speciality of chef and culinary visionary Michael Kornick (of N9NE Steakhouse, Fish Bar and MK), but for one cocktail in particular. It's summer in a glass: Madame Geneva's Rhubarb Delight. Made with Hendricks Gin, lime soda, a tiny spoon of a ginger rhubarb jam and a lime on the rim. 'Cause they keep it classy. To work the fruit in, I order the bison burger, topped with pickled red onions, creamy goat cheese and-- the best part-- a blueberry barbecue sauce.
Simply put, the rhubarb and blueberry together are the proverbial bomb. Get it.
I was happy I had stuck out trying to find a parking spot on Milwaukee Avenue at 6:30 on a Thursday night as I opened the door to the Jackson Junge Gallery for the Wicker Park Mixologist Mash Up event, a mixology contest hosted by the Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce. The scene was hip and I was met with DJ beats and stylishly dressed people bumping elbows with cute little solo sized cups of cocktails that made a Thursday night Chamber of Commerce event look like a Saturday soiree. If this is what all art gallery and Chamber of Commerce events were like, I thought, I needed to go to more.
Participating bars Pint, The Boundary, Wicker Park Tavern, Subterranean, and Club Lucky were already busy deucing it out to top drink. I checked in, got my voting ticket, and immediately headed towards the food. In past experiences, vodka mixed with sugar on an empty stomach never quite went down right.
Fish Bar owner, chef Michael Kornick (of MK, DMK Burger Bar), gave you a gift, Chicago. It's called the SatchmoPo' Boy and it demands that you eat it. Delicately fried shrimp and crawfish, roasted garlic aioli, butter pickles and lettuce on perfectly toasted bread, all crying out, "Eat us! We're delicious!"
Wash it down with a Cinnamon Toast: Sailor Jerry-spiced rum and hot apple cider, served in a mason jar with a cinnamon-sugar coated rim.
Fish Bar is located at 2956 North Sheffield and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 12am.
Half Acre is releasing bombers of their Double Daisy Cutter this Sunday. The 22oz bottles are $9.99 each, and there is a limit of 4 per person. If you're serving a crowd, you can also get growlers of the stuff for $17, with a limit of 2 per person. Consider this your training for Dark Lord Day.
Who knows why, but today is National Margarita Day. Warmer than usual weather aside, a margarita is in fact a great way to get a taste of summer in cold and dreary February. And the Drawing Room's Charles Joly has a perfect cocktail to fit the season and the celebration. Eve's Answer is a "cool weather margarita" that Joly won the International Margarita Competition with. It was also selected by Chicago magazine as one of the 20 best cocktails in the city, so you know you're in for a treat.
1½ oz. Reposado tequila
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. spiced raisin syrup
1 oz. local cider
mist of mezcal (optional)
cinnamon stick garnish
I'm Russian ("What!?" they gasp, fumbling over my last name) and should, at least in theory, be able to handle my proverbial vodka-related sh*t. That said, most vodkas, served straight, taste like gasoline to me (sorry, heritage). At family gatherings, I stare down chilled shots of vodka before downing them, while my folks casually sip. But! I am now able to hang. I am proud to announce that I have discovered Żubrówka.
Żubrówka is a Polish (sometimes Belarusian) vodka, distilled with bison grass, which, when bottled "properly," comes with a small thin blade of buffalo grass. It tastes like candy, really, incredibly smooth, with definite traces of vanilla and spice. I am imagining myself now, with a glass of Żubrówka on the rocks in hand. Instead, I am fantasizing about liquor at work.
Like any good Chicagoan, I have a few wintery highlights that get me through these dreary months. Ranking alongside Simon's Glögg, Bulls games, and sazeracs at Bar DeVille is Bell's Brewery's Hopslam Ale.
Ringing in at an alarmingly smooth 10% ABV, Hopslam starts with a crisp honeyed sweetness, moves to a creamy full hop and finishes as fresh as the first cut grass of spring.
This beer is a limited release from Bells, typically arriving sometime in mid January and it will hang around for two to three months until its source dries up. Then poor hopheads of the Midwest have to wait 10 months to get their hands on more. Take note: get 'em while the taking is good. Supply and demand are hugely factored in to the pricing of this beer. And I confess, I've been known to pay $18 for a 6 pack at Armanetti's come March when the rest of Chicago's stash had been depleted.
Officially, Hopslam will hit the taps and bottles later this week. In the meantime, a few spots are having tapping parties, including Binny's Beverage Depot South Loop, 1132 S. Jefferson St., on Thursday, Jan. 12 from 5:30pm to 8pm.
I've found Hopslam on tap at Sheffield's, Lincoln Park Whole Foods, Hopleaf, Map Room, Beer Bistro, Fountainhead and SmallBar. Lush locations will receive their allotment sometime at the end of January. Other good bets for bottles are Armanetti's, Danny's Liquors and Binny's.
** UPDATE! Hopslam has been tapped at Sheffield's and will be available TONIGHT! (Jan 11)**
Goose Island introduced "Queen-oa," a new gluten-free beer, at the Clybourn Street brewpub this week. While not officially certified gluten-free, the 6.1% beer was brewed with red and white varieties of the gluten-free grain quinoa, and as well as cranberries, orange peel and ruby red grapefruit. The brewery describes it as "bursting with ruby red grapefruit aroma and effervescent citrus flavors." It's on tap now at the Goose Island Clybourn, 1800 N. Clybourn Ave., and available to take home in growlers. It should be available at the Wrigleyville location soon.
"The Porthole" is arguably the most picturesque of The Aviary's cocktail vessels. The cocktail chefs at Grant Achatz's bar unscrew the side of the shallow, circular teapot-like flask to compose beautiful arrays of fruit, fresh herbs and other botanicals that flavor both hot and cold drinks. It's currently being used for an apple brandy cider flavored with fresh apple slices, white verjus, orange peel and cinnamon, among other ingredients.
Crucial Detail, the company that makes most of the specialized contraptions, silverware and vessels for Alina, Next and The Aviary, sells some of those items directly to the public. It has gotten enough inquiries about purchasing the Porthole that it has decided to acquiesce and make it a consumer edition. If you're interested, email email@example.com with "Porthole" in the subject line to be notified when it's available. No word on price, but Crucial Detail expects it to be ready to ship in early summer 2012.
Because the holidays are all about giving, we've got an extra holiday drink column this week. As you know, New Year's Eve is this weekend, and more than any other holiday, it's an opportunity to wow guests with delicious libations. Fortunately, earlier this year Charles Joly of The Drawing Room did a seminar on holiday cocktails at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, so he was fully prepared when I talked with him at his cozy subterranean lounge.
"Unless you're going to have a bartender working, it's best to keep it simple," Joly says. "There's nothing worse than getting stuck at your kitchen island when you're trying to entertain people and you should be hanging out with your friends. You can make really interesting selections with just a little bit of planning that don't keep you tied down. And we're not in college -- it's time to take the 7Up bottle off the countertop and, you know, a bottle of flat club soda and a handle of Smirnoff that's been sitting in there since last New Year's."
During the month of December, Gapers Block will be featuring a weekly holiday drink column with a different guest bartender/mixologist. Today's recipes come from Stephen Cole of the Barrelhouse Flat.
In the last of Drive-Thru's series of holiday drinks by some of Chicagoland's finest mixologists, we have Stephen Cole, yet another bartender with a culinary background (California Culinary Academy, and Michelin Star restaurant Drolma in Barcelona). Invited to join the opening staff of the Violet Hour, Chicago's über craft cocktail emporium, Stephen helped lead them and Chicago into the budding world of craft cocktails. His kitchen talent transferred seamlessly to the bar ,and Stephen quickly became revered by patrons and peers alike.
Four years later finds Stephen presiding over the newly opened Barrelhouse Flat, honoring his strong Sicilian cooking roots and his Dad's annual wine- and beer-making events. Barrelhouse Flat is meant to be a place for everyone; a place to unite the community, toast new opportunities, commiserate a loss or share a mutual affinity of all things libatious.
With this drink in hand, you'll have a jump start to a most happy New Year for you and yours.
Hot Holiday Punch
This punch was created for all of those people that buy a bottle of Carpano Antica for use in a Manhattan and don't want it to go bad.
Step 1. Pour 2 oz Rittenhouse, 1 oz Carpano Antica, and 2 dashes Angostura over ice.
Step 2. Drink.
Step 3. While drinking step 1, heat to near boil: 1 gallon local apple cider, cinnamon sticks and cloves.
Step 4. Remove from heat and add the rest of the bottle of Rittenhouse, Carpano Antica, and 8 dashes of Angostura.
Step 5. By now step 1 is finished, just in time to start step 4.
As head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar, this former Violet Hour veteran brings a foodie's flair to the craft cocktail movement. A culinary school grad, Ryan became enamored with bartending while working as a cook at the molecular gastronomy restaurant Moto. Owner Homaro Cantu wanted a cook behind the bar to explore new flavor profiles. Enter Ryan.
A fan of bright, loud, vibrant flavors, Ryan feels his food background gives him a heightened awareness of the relationships between sweet, sour, bitter and booze. His signature is egregious amounts of bitters, bold whiskies and cool savory ingredients that propel a cocktail to the next level.
Winter Whisper (Served hot)
"The idea comes from a cocktail we feature every summer called Speaking in Tongues which has mezcal, fresh strawberries and some deep spice from amaro; this is a modified winter version featuring the tacky, candy-like flavor of freeze-dried strawberries."
Preheat Irish Coffee glass or mug with hot water. Heat ingredients over a double boiler, do not heat directly. Dump hot water from glass, add ingredients, top with 3 oz very hot water. Garnish with a tiny pinch of freshly ground allspice.
Friday: Big Hugs Release Party
Half Acre Beer will celebrate the third release of its Big Hugs Imperial Stout with a release party at the Blind Robin, 853 N. Western Ave., Friday night at 8pm. The official release for the beer, available in 20oz. bombers or 64oz. growlers, is Sunday, Dec. 18 from 11am to 6pm at the brewery, 4257 N. Lincoln Ave. (You might also enjoy this Chicago magazine Q&A with Half Acre's label designer, Phineas X. Jones, who also does illustration work for us here at GB.)
Saturday: Bloodshot Records Holiday Whiskey Extravaganza
OK, this is more of a music event, but there's burgers and whiskey involved. Bloodshot Records' Holiday Whiskey Extravaganza is this Saturday at Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland Ave., at 9pm. Whitey Morgan & the 78s, Kurt of the Deadstring Brothers and Lydia Loveless perform, but from a culinary perspective the big news is that ManBQue will be cooking up "Bloodshot Burgers" served with a Founders beer and and a shot of Jim Beam Devils Cut whiskey. The event is also a benefit for the the Casa Catalina Basic Human Needs Center in Back of the Yards; donate food and receive a special gift from Bloodshot. The event is free with RSVP on Do312. 21+
During the month of December, Gapers Block will be featuring a weekly holiday drink column with a different guest bartender/mixologist. Today's drink comes from Paul McGee of the Whistler.
Chicago is lucky to have someone of this caliber slinging our drinks. McGee is a veteran of the Venetian, Bellagio and MGM Grand hotels in Las Vegas and was the Corporate Mixologist for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. Since 2008, Paul has been a partner in the Whistler (my favorite drinking den) and was named TimeOut Chicago's Best Bartender 2010. The Whistler was also included in GQ's list of The 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America last year.
While playing culinary sherpa to a group of 12 visiting chefs during last May's National Restaurant Association show at McCormick Place, our first stop was the Whistler for an example of what I consider to be the leader of the craft cocktail movement in Chicago; they left duly blown away.
McGee prides himself on the Whistler's approachable and affordable cocktail menu. It doesn't take a chef to appreciate the nuances of Paul's cocktails. His palate is remarkable; his drinks, sublime. If you haven't experienced his prowess, I couldn't think of a better holiday gift to give yourself.
Mulled Apple Cider, a la Paul McGee
1 quart apple cider (McGee uses Seedling Farms Classic Apple Cider)
10 cloves, whole
10 cinnamon sticks, broken
2 pods star anise, whole
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
The peel of one orange
Heat all ingredients to a simmer, strain out solids. Add one ounce spirit of choice to five ounces of cider.
"Starting with Michigan's own Seedling Classic Cider, I add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, brown sugar, and orange peel and stir over heat until the entire room smells like inside of an apple pie shop. This year I made a slight recipe update to include star anise; I wanted a little bit more depth and complexity, and the herb's flavors add that perfect extra layer.
At The Whistler, we serve the cider with your spirit of choice: scotch, bourbon, rum or apple brandy. When I'm in the mood for something on the sweet side, I sip mine with rum, while a nice smoky scotch is perfect when I'm looking for something more savory. However, my go-to spiking agent is bourbon -- the booze's vanilla notes go so well with the mulling spices in the cider. Complete with a cinnamon stick garnish."
During the month of December, Gapers Block will be featuring a weekly holiday drink column with a different guest bartender/mixologist. First up, the godfather of the Chicago craft cocktail craze, Adam Seger.
Seger is a Certified Culinary Professional and a Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier as well as an alumnus of world-renowned restaurants TRU, Strasbourg's Michelin Star Chez Julien and The French Laundry. As Founder and Mixologist for Chicago-based hum Spirits Company, Adam takes a chef's approach at the bar.
Farm to glass never tasted so good. Nostrovia!
Build in a heavy tumbler or double rocks glass
-Muddle 1/2 lime and a dozen mint leaves
-Add 2 tablespoons cranberry relish and a generous shot of hum Botanical Spirit
-Fill with ice, top with ginger ale and stir
-Garnish with a peppermint stick
Classic cocktails in general are, of course, but has anyone else noticed the negroni in particular getting a lot of attention lately? It must be negroni season.
I love the idea of a negroni -- traditionally 1 part gin, 1 part Campari, and 1 part sweet vermouth. But while I'm a fan of all of those things separately, I just can't get on the negroni train. Let's be honest here: they're kind of gross. Or, if you disagree, you'll at least grant me that they're an acquired taste. In fact I don't think I've ever heard the negroni described without "they're kind of an acquired taste" added as a caveat. It's a drink that's quite strong and bitter and sweet, all at once.
As the end of summer looms on the horizon (noooo, look away! White shoes forever!), it seems an appropriate time to reflect upon some of the other summer drinking options... You know the ones. The kinds you find in a cooler at a friend of a friend's backyard get together when you arrive hours after the peak of the party has faded and all the good beers have been finished off. The kinds you find on the "seasonal specials" menus of bars that are really not terribly interested in offering seasonal specials. And in the case of MGD 64 Lemonade, the kinds that have been not only discontinued but recalled by their parent brewer and now only exist in keg form in a few select (?) joints around town. That's right, gentle reader, I drink them for you. And I have learned some things.
First off, do not drink MGD 64 Lemonade. Just don't. Unless you're missing the cloying, plastic taste of Crystal Light in your light beer. Maybe if Miller had gone with a regular, full calorie shandy concoction, things might have turned out better -- but when you try to add lemonade or lemon soda to a beer capped at 64 calories, you have to get creative. And creative, in this case, means adding lemon "flavor" and sucralose. And not even Splenda -- some off-brand, unnamed version of sucralose. The first sip is not bad -- it doesn't really taste like anything. Just weak, beer-esque, lemon-ish sweet water. But the in the second and following, the weird-science sweetness gets increasingly more oppressive. At 2.8% ABV, it's not even going to get you drunk enough to not care about how it tastes. A good, old-fashioned Miller Lite will be kinder and more quenching for your summer drinking purposes, or even, and I can't believe I'm saying this, a Mike's Hard Lemonade (5.2% ABV). Pinky swear.
Anheuser-Busch seems to have fared better than Miller Coors in the flavored, summery beer category. Bud Light Lime (4.2% ABV) is pretty drinkable -- sort of like a blander version of a pre-dressed Corona...Light. The lime flavor isn't nearly as chemical as in the MGD 64 Lemonade. But the best/least-chemical option of all might be Bud Light Gold Wheat (4.1% ABV). An improvement on regular Bud Lite, it still doesn't measure up to even a more mass-produced wheat beer, like Blue Moon (a Miller product). But it delivers the (featherweight) citrus-coriander one-two punch of better, smaller batch beers, drinks easily, and won't leave you wrinkling your nose and wondering what they hell you just put in your mouth. At a late party or limited bar, sometimes that's all you can ask for.
It must've been all the tequila I consumed a couple weeks ago. I am officially on the tequila wagon.
We gave you a heads up on Roots Pizza when it opened but it took me until last night to finally make it over and check out this Quad-City version everyone's been raving about. And now I get it. Toothsome, malty crust, spicy house-made chorizo, and thickly grated mozzarella the pizza isn't for the faint-of-heart. But you already knew that.
What you may not know is that Roots has been instilling some of their own liquors with local ingredients and serve them on a cold tap system. Last night, I sipped on one of their watermelon-jalapeno tequila shots. It took me back to that Green City Market BBQ of 2009 and one man's incredible soda. Light sweet, cool watermelon with a boozy touch of tequilla is followed up with a chilly burn of jalapeno. It's perfect and only $3. Mix it with a little soda water and you've got yourself some pop for grownups. Check it out this weekend, they won't be serving it much longer as our days get cooler and summer draws it's end.
Koval Distillery is opening their doors next Thursday, Aug. 25 to host two tours of their facilities for good people like you and me, ending with a whiskey tasting complete with light snacks--all for charity. Rock for Kids will receive 100% of the $20 admission fee. The special tours will begin at 6:15pm and 8:30pm.
Another deviation from shandy-land in this week's entry! Still not an IPA for you hop-heads out there, sorry. But this is an interesting one -- I'd never had (or heard of -- not an expert here, guys, I just like drinking beer in the summer...and fall and winter and spring) Schmaltz Brewing Company until I came across their Coney Island Albino Python, a "white lager brewed with spices" in the cooler at Rootstock earlier this week. I usually gravitate more towards draft beers in the summer for some reason, but wasn't feeling the two options on tap, and decided to give this bottle a try. My first thought was, oooh! cool label! And my second thought was, this beer is TALL. At 22 oz. (and only $9!) and 6% ABV, this is a beer for the seriously parched. Not too heavy, not too cloudy, it departs from the typical summer white beers in its earthy, almost grassy flavor profile. No hibiscus flowers or lemon slices here, thank you. Albino Python is brewed with, yes, orange peel, but also ginger and crushed fennel (I'm assuming seeds, not stalks, but who knows), which gives it a spiciness more on the dark and sour side than the sweet. You may feel a bit dirty when you order this drink out loud, as I did, but it's worth the faint blush, and goes very well with fries at the bar.
Rootstock never disappoints, in either its beer selection or menu. I also tried a sip of the Brauerei Hirt Hirter Privat Pils (a 5.2% pilsner), which was exactly my usual taste in summer beers, all crispness and bright with a hint of lemon sweetness; and one of the draft selections (which now I can't recall! I didn't take notes! See, sooo not a professional) which was incredibly layered in flavor -- just like Rootstock's food. The cheese and charcuterie plate is always a good call, with current features like rabbit rillette, a chicken liver pate crowned with pink peppercorns, barely-solid bloomy Kunik cheese, and tangy Sofia goat's cheese from Indiana. And small plates can either be shared, like the fat, doughy, pizza-ish "crusts," or hoarded all to yourself, like suckling pig with tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn.
If you're getting thirsty, there are plenty of events coming up that can help you. Here are just a couple of beverage events during August.
Espresso & Pulled Pork
The Chicago Home Barista group is hosting a get-together this Saturday, Aug. 6 at Ipsento, 2035 N. Western Ave., starting at 5pm. There's no cost to attend, but you'll be expected to contribute a side dish or something. Sign up and RSVP here.
Oak Park Micro Brew Review
This fourth annual event boasts being the largest zero-waste beer festival in Illinois. I don't know how much competition they have for that title, but with more than 90 beers from more than 30 breweries available to try, it's certainly the largest festival this month. It'll feature the Illinois Craft Brewer's Guild's "Replicale" project, in which 15 or more Illinois brewers all brew the same style beer in order to "showcase the nuances in brewing technique and system design." It's being held in downtown Oak Park on Marion Street between Lake Street and North Boulevard from 3pm to 7pm on Saturday, Aug. 20. Standard tickets are $35 online, $45 at the door; see event website for more details and other ticket options.
Belgian Fest 2011
Goose Island hosts its annual festival of locally brewed Belgian-style ales at its Clybourne brewpub, 1800 N. Clybourn Ave., on Sunday, Aug. 28 from noon to 4pm. Sample beers from more than a dozen breweries and talk with the brewers. Tickets are $25, with proceeds benefiting Growing Power.
As promised, this week's beer is slightly off the beaten track of wits and wheats. Revolution Brewing's Coup d'Etat is a French-style saison dry ale packing 7% ABV -- not a beer for gulping down quickly as you stagger into the bar from your un-air conditioned apartment. Saison pale ales were initially developed farmhouse by farmhouse as a quenching end-of-day reward for farmhands during the harvest season, and Coup d'Etat drinks likes this sort of pedigree would suggest -- it's a spicy, rich beer for lingering over, and with a toasty, caramelized flavor palate that feels more like August than the citrus and flowers of June. Still totally refreshing, but a very different character than both the shandies and summer IPAs out there.
And worth waiting for. Which you will do, at Revolution. The year-old-ish Logan Square brewer still commands a 40 minute wait on a weeknight, unless you can sneak in at the bar. (It'll be interesting to see if the opening of their new upstairs lounge ameliorates or exacerbates this.) But like all good things, the wait is worth it. Coup d'Etat is merely one among many top-notch beers (the summery Rosa, infused with hibiscus petals and orange peels, would have been my first choice, but they were sold out that night -- I just can't help myself with these fruity botanicals, it seems), and the food is excellent, from an entree-sized burrata topped salad, to generous piles of mussels, to a wide range of traditional and creative flatbreads. French farmhands would toast their approve, I imagine.
Observant readers may have noticed a pattern at this point in the summer beers I've been highlighting -- they tend to be of the wheat or wit variety, sweeter over bitter, crisp and fruity, not too hoppy. Next week, I swear, I'll break the pattern (if I can find something I like that breaks the pattern...). For now, though, let's spend some time with Belgian import Blanche de Bruxelles, a beer strikingly similar to a pulpy lemonade in appearance, and wholly refreshing when the air is warm and the late-afternoon sun is slanting across the table. Light, mellow, ever so slightly sweet with a nice orange peel scent, you could be forgiven for thinking you are, in fact, drinking lemonade. Lemonade with 4.5% ABV -- also known as, the dream.
I first encountered this beer at Avec in bottle form, which is acceptable because of the somewhat hilarious little peeing fountain boy depicted on the label. (Yes, I am a 12 year old boy.) However, Blanche de Bruxelles really shines on draft, and particularly in the mason jar glasses at Fish Bar, which allow for a few inches of lacy foam to develop on top. It's also available on tap at Fork and smallbar (Fullerton) -- but unlike Fish Bar, neither of those establishments have what may be the best oysters in town, and what is undoubtedly the best garlic bread in the galaxy. The long, thin baguette slice comes doused in enough butter to almost give it an eggy, custard-like consistency, studded with garlic and crowned with a subtle lattice of parmesan. Order two. Order four! And order some Blanche de Bruxelles for a fresh complement to such decadence. Win!
We gave you a heads up on the GCM Chef's BBQ Fundraiser, but if the $100 ticket donation was a bit too rich for you, the folks at Wirtz are opening up the beverage tent to you, well, in a manner of speaking.
Wirtz Beverage is running this year's local imbibes and are printing all of their recipes, courtesy of their small army of mixologists at GreenCityCocktails.com. You can find recipes for the Green City Smash, Rhubarbik's Cube and Haze's Field Punch, created by the shakers at Bar Deville, Vie, Perrenial, Boka Group, WaterShed, Japonais, and Hot Chocolate.
Plus, if you'll be in attendance on Thursday, your locavore cocktail will sit atop a Green City Cocktails Coaster which, when planted, will sprout wildflowers in 1-2 weeks.
Tickets are still available for the BBQ which is happening this Thursday, July 21 from 5:30-8:00pm at 1750 N. Clark. Now if only we could get the recipe for Paul Kahan's blood sausage corn dog from last year...
Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat Ale is one of the brewery's most popular beers, so it's no wonder that new owner Anheuser-Busch InBev would be interested in expanding its distribution. The ability for Goose Island to ramp up production of 312 and other beers to meet demand in East Coast markets was cited as a major factor in the decision. And 312 is a very popular beer, so it makes perfect sense to bring it to as many cities as possible. What you might not have seen coming is how Anheuser-Busch plans to do it.
According to Craft Business Daily and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the company has filed for trademarks for the area codes of 14 cities: 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte) and 713 (Houston). Through some further searching on the US Patent & Trademark Office website , I found an additional trademark application for 215 (Philadelphia). Interestingly, neither Goose Island nor Anheuser-Busch have trademarked 312 -- the closest Goose Island gets is "312 Urban Wheat."
I've been off the sauce for a week or so (injury, medication, let's not talk about it). What better way to welcome myself back into the ranks of the summer drinkers than a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. No, it's not as sweet or complex as the Stiegl Radler (which you should go out and buy, right now, if you're already a shandy-fan like myself) and it doesn't come equipped with a semi-magical beer garden like at the Handlebar, but Leinie's shandy is a wholly decent drink, its sour, citiric edge tempered with a pleasant light fruitiness. Crisp, refreshing, and easy-drinking, it's a beer that was made for the hot months.
And if you really want to up your Leinie's experience, you can see where they make the beer made for summer -- the Leinie Lodge is a mere 330 miles away from Chicago in Chippewa Falls, WI. If you're passing through the state at all, particularly heading to or from the Twin Cities, it's absolutely worth stopping by. They give excellent tours, sell Leinie's swag from canoes to chapstick, and even offer a calendar of area events to make your trip worthwhile. Pick up some gouda from the Holland Family Farm in Thorp on your way, and you'll be well on your way to a perfect summer picnic.
Artisanal cider has been a passion of Hall's for the past 10 years, he told Eater, after sampling craft-brewed varieties in England in 2000. He's currently in the process of selecting heirloom apple varieties in Michigan, where the cider will also be produced under contract until Hall is able to build his own facility. The plan is eventually to build the brand nationally, producing cider from varietals in Washington, New York, Virginia and other well-known apple-growing regions. "Cider will taste a lot better when picked by local farmers picked in season and milled and pressed near the farm and turned into cider," Hall told Eater.
The soonest Virtue ciders will be on the market would be late fall. Meanwhile, follow Virtue on Twitter be on the lookout for cider dinners hosted by Hall, featuring other cider makers.
I don't know if this happens to you, but my beer cravings get INTENSE during the summer months. I'll be riding along in an un-air conditioned Red Line car or walking along a particularly bright patch of River North sidewalk and BAM! I require liquid refreshment! (I also saw Thor a few weeks ago, which may partially explain the force of these sudden desires.) Such was the case yesterday at Trader Joe's -- after picking out the starches and cheeses that would best complement my CSA bounty (scapes in the house!), I desperately needed a six-pack as well, and New Belgium Somersault was in the right place at the right time.
And a good thing too. A slightly higher ABV (5.2%), slightly sweeter seasonal replacement for Skinny Dip, Somersault is a quenching, not overly complex but not simply sweet and fruity summer beer. It has a velvety, mouth-filling feel with a slightly caramelized scent, an assertive dose of hops, and a lingering citrus crispness. A perfect 75 degree day, backyard beer. And no, it's not a Chicago or even Illinois beer (though its cousin Fat Tire does seem to get an awful lot of play on the taps around town) but it does make for a nice Jewel or TJ's supermarket purchase, and might be just the beer to cut through all the smoky meatiness of the 6 Points BBQ Fest this weekend. And look at that label! How delightfully disorienting!
There's an awful lot of history crammed into a glass of Zephyr, the new collaborative brew from Lagunitas, the Publican, and Big Star. Brewed in the historic steam beer tradition (without refrigeration), it's evocative of both Prohibition and the California gold rush -- appropriate, given its West Coast roots. The name Zephyr, too, recalls the Amtrak Zephyr line, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco -- or perhaps the Pioneer Zephyr train, which sits at the Museum of Science and Industry. Also, it tastes pretty good.
Not quite as fruity or as lingeringly hoppy as an IPA, Zephyr is a good balance of bitter and quenching. A good beer for a hot summer day (like this week's), when you want to cool of with something that tastes distinctly like, well, beer. Correction, when you want to cool off, with beer, and get a little toasted. At 7.2% abv, it will bliss you out pretty quickly -- particularly if consumed on a sunny patio, or in the warm, bright garage space at Big Star. The wonderfully composed, transcendent tacos de panza there, by the way, seem like they were designed to complement Zephyr -- not the other way around.
As of this past Monday, you can add Zephyr to your summer drinking list at any Chicago bar with a Lagunitas account. Only 500 barrels of the stuff were made, and only 200 of those were shipped along to us in Chicago, so when it's gone, it's gone.
The California Zephyr is a passenger train that runs just over 2,400 miles, beginning in Chicago, traveling across the expanse of the America West, and finally ending in Emeryville, CA. It was made famous in the late 1940s for its nifty-looking 'Vista-Dome' cars. Today the name Zephyr has a new connotation for Chicagoans. It's the fruit of a very special collaboration between California brewery Lagunitas, Big Star and The Publican.
From The Stew: "Brewed just for the Chicago market with folks from Big Star and The Publican, the beer is at heart a classic Lagunitas offering: that is, bold and well-hopped. This is a large and juicy beer that grabs your mouth and doesn't let go."
It's heading to about 70 different locations across Chicago including Bangers & Lace, Sheffield's, Village Tap, Long Room, all three Small Bars and Gingerman. [via]
Are you thirsty? Yes, yes, I know it's not even noon yet. (YET.) But wouldn't a tall glass of beer just make your Tuesday that much more bearable? If you're in the Wicker Park vicinity or have access to the Blue Line, Big Star has you covered -- both tonight, and in perpetuity as they add Three Floyd's to every tap in the joint! Moving forward, the regular beer selection will return but tonight, it's Three Floyds all night long. Gumball Head as the sun goes down. Alpha King as the stars come out. They're pretty psyched too, if this poster is to be believed.
Starting June 6, Big Star will have another new brew on tap, after the Three Floyds madness subsumes. Zephyr, a collaboration between Big Star, the Publican, and Lagunitas Brewery in California, who perfected the idea brewed up here in Chicago. (Brewed! Hahaha, pun.) 200 kegs are on their way to Chicago, and will be available not only at Big Star and the Publican, but your local favorite Lagunitas-carrying bar as well. Word on the street is that Zephyr was conceived as a Prohibition-period style beer -- perhaps hopping on the trend Next Restaurant has started with era-specific eating -- and corn (the grain used to make America's national beverage, bourbon) is used as the base. Which should go just fine with some tacos.
Chicago Craft Beer Week is finally here (do you have your passport, by the way?) and that means more awesome daily events then your liver can reasonably be expected to handle. One you should save room for though-- remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint-- is Friday's double-event at Co-Prosperity Sphere and Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar, sponsored by a true craft beer trifecta: Three Floyds, Half Acre and Dogfish Head. "Over a dozen styles of beer (4 from Half Acre, 4-5 from Three Floyd's and a few from Dogfish Head) will be available on draft for imbibing at a simultaneous sweet party at the Co-Prosperity Sphere. The event at the Co-Prosperity Sphere takes place from 8pm to 11pm. Admission is $10 which entitles you to complementary beer. There are no online or presale admission tickets." Happy Friday, everyone.
Groupon's Deal of the Day today is a whiskey workshop at Koval, a boutique, organic distillery in Ravenswood. For $99 (as opposed to the nonGroupon price of $200), participants will get a lesson in the history of whiskey, vintage and modern distilling techniques, and then the chance to sample some small-batch American whiskeys. Astute sippers could come away with an ability to identify grain flavor and aging nuances. According to Groupon, this is a skill set that can come in handy when wooing even the most surly of father-in-law pirates.
Swing by Half Acre anytime today to sample one of their returning all-stars: Twin Ginger. Rate Beer gives it an extremely 90 out of 100. One commenter remarks: "Nice sweet caramel aroma with pine and citrus hops also present. Flavor is a nice balance between malt, citrus, and hop bitterness with subtle spiciness present, too. Quite a nice ipa." It does sound quite nice, actually!
Oh, and after the jump, read how you can save anywhere from eight to fifty percent on all your Twin Ginger purchases. Trust me, you'll want to read...
Combine your love of zombies and beer this Saturday, as the Zombie Pub Crawl slithers around several of Andersonville's finest drinking establishments--among them Simon's, Farragut's, and Mary's Attic. Festivities begin at 2:30pm at @mosphere, 5355 North Clark; register now online.
Today's Trib article about renovator Bill Lavicka's dream to convert several vacant blocks in Washington Park into a winery got me on an internetsearch for pictures of the John Raber House, a decrepit mansion at the center of the property Rabicka seeks to buy. The building survived the Great Fire of 1871 and is a rare example of a time when Chicago had country estates; in fact, the House's first technical address was on State Street, a block away, because it encompassed so much land (a now-unthinkable six acres). I hope Lavicka's proposal goes through; the house, which was made a Chicago Landmark in 1996, is a beautiful building that deserves to be revived. I also imagine the Riesling they plan to make will be delicious as well. (Photo by David Schalliol.)
With WhiskeyFest here, I thought it would be appropriate to take advantage of the Johnnie Walker tasting that took place last week at the Resolution Digital Studios. As I have admitted before, I am just now getting back on the dark liquor train and have wanted to learn about scotch for a while, so the timing was perfect.
The event was really nicely put together. There was a small cocktail reception beforehand with food and drinks. Being that this was my first taste of scotch, I asked our guide, the wonderful Alex, what I should drink and she suggested Johnnie Walker Red Label scotch and ginger ale. Wow. What a great way to start the night. The scotch flavor was not nearly as strong as I thought it was going to be and for a beginner it was the perfect introduction into the presentation that was to come.
After about 30 minutes we transitioned into the presentation room. Three of the walls were lined with two screens each and there were three sections lined with four rows of benches each with three samples of Johnnie Walker. Basically -- there was a lot going on. We're seated and then the lights dim and we launch into a Wes Anderson film circa mid-1800s Scotland. For someone like myself that knows nothing about Johnnie Walker it was a cool video and beautifully shot. Check it out here.
Or so says a message published on Facebook today. They go on to say "It will be 6 PM to 1:30 AM - Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday - Tuesday.... once we open." Which, if you weren't paying attention, will most likely be next week! To get ourselves pumped up, let's watch Craig Schoettler make a bad ass Gin and Tonic. [Facebook]
Lookin' for something to do tonight? O&E, my personal favorite ampersand in Chicago will be tapping a Metropolitan Krankshaft firkin, that's been spiced up a bit just in time for spring. This special edition has a bit of coriander added directly to the firkin, adding a flowery, earthy, lemon-like twist to the mild fruity notes of Krankshaft Kolsch. If that doesn't whet your appetite, the folks at O&E will have curried prawn and mussel with sweet peas, diced cucumbers and grilled halumi cheese to pair it with.
O&E is at 2700 N. Western Ave.
Call 773-235-2930 for more info.
Tickets go on sale at 9 am today for a sauced shoppers favorite spring event. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, you can walk through Andersonville's shopping district sipping on your favorite newly-found pinot. In Fine Spirits has spread around some of their most popular wines to retailers in the area. You bring your "Andersonville Wine Walk" specially marked glass into the store and they give you three samples of wine. One glass gains you access to 11 stores with 3 samplings each, plus a refreshment stop at which you can kick it up a notch and enjoy a beer and liquor tasting to cleanse your palate.
Your wine chalice is $30 available here. Happy shopping!
Stumptown Coffee Roasters is coming to Chicago, though you can already get the coffee cult favorite at Bagel on Damen, a Stumptown Coffee bar is in the works. Time Out Chicago reports the Portland coffee roaster is scouting locations for a coffee bar, training facility and a Midwest roasting works. Look for Stumptown Coffee to open in an unspecified "attractive neighborhood" in about six months or so.
Some people go to Hooters for the waitresses while their famous buffalo wings beckon others. I, personally, make special trips for their Sangria. These sweet drinks are made with red or white wine and flavorful juice. Quite tasty.
They are also good for relaxing. Sipping on a glass of Sangria helps release the pressures of the day. You tend to feel more "at home" at Hooters as you mellow with each sip. And it complements many of the menu selections quite well.
Whether you going to Hooters for the waitresses or wings, be sure to add sangria to your menu to make it an extra special evening.
Are you a MixMaster? A Mixologist? A fan of drink-making? If you're reading this, then I know you're already at least fond of Chicago, if not down-right in love with the place. Levi Stahl has requested someone create a quintessential Chicago cocktail that rivals a Manhattan or a Mint Julep.
He's got a great description of the different flavor profiles he's hoping the drink will have, but either way, he's requesting:
The next morning, it should feel like all eleven weeks of January have been jammed behind your eyes and left there to melt and trickle down your brainstem throughout the day.
Have you had a cocktail recently that fits his description? Or do you have your own recipe that you think deserves to be called "The Loop"? Let us know in the comments. As well as notifying Levi, of course.
First of all, have you been to Lillie's Q yet? If not, we'll cut you some slack. Not much, but a little. It's no secret that Chicago has a glut of overrated, underwhelming BBQ joints. (Steve Dolinsky listed his top five last December.) This is not one of them. Everything from the Brunswick Stew to the five, custom-made sauces on each table is absolutely awesome. The latest addition to their list of potent potables, MoonSwine, is an original from Head Chef Charlie McKenna. It's a small-batch moonshine infused with, you got it, bacon. From their PR: "[We take] Benjamin Prichard's Lincoln County Lightning (a 90%-proof white corn whiskey) and infuse it with house-smoked bacon, brown sugar simple syrup, black pepper, and spices in Ball mason jars for 48 hours." The resulting concoction is then poured through a coffee filter and served as a shot or a sipper on the rocks, $8.
For coffee drinkers, the newly launched Tour de Cafe offers a deal that's hard to pass up. For $20, you get passport entitling you to a cup of coffee at each of 20 of the city's independent coffee shops on the North and West Sides and Evanston -- from ING Direct up to Other Brother, from Dollop to New Wave.
Among the 20 shops are a couple that roast their own beans, including Asado, Filter, Metropolis and Star Lounge. Throw in the Bridgeport Coffee Company beans at Cafe Mustache and the Intelligentsia beans at Coffee Studio and elsewhere, and you've got a sampling of pretty much all the artisanal coffee roasters in town represented (if not Intelligentsia stores themselves). The passport is good from March 1, 2011 till March 1, 2012 which should give you plenty of time to make it through them all.
If you've ever read, like, anything I've written, you may have picked up on my Wisconsin roots. So, no surprise, I'll be wearing my Packers scarf and howling obscenities over Troy Aikman's disembodied voice come Sunday -- except when he's heaping praise on Aaron Rodgers. That wisdom should be heard. But flushed-face, rabid, irrational game day behavior aside, this Sunday also presents a lovely opportunity to throw a perfectly inviting viewing party for friends, complete with a broad range of social snacks. Green and gold themed snacks. So far my menu includes saag paneer dip (green spinach, gold cheese), cheesy artichoke dip (green artichokes, turned golden and crispy around the edges), quesadillas with corn (gold) and cilantro (green), and cheese curds. The weird thing is, I swear to God, I didn't even realize the color coordination or heavy preponderance of dairy in all of this until I was writing out my grocery list. It's ingrained, people. There's nothing I can do.
And of course, no Wisconsin-themed party would be complete without a batch of brandy old-fashioneds. I hear that there are several bars in the city that make these fine beverages, which basically tastes like a spiked shirley temple. Leave it to Wisconsin to turn a kids' non-alcoholic version of an alcoholic drink into...an alcoholic drink. The only one I've ever had in Chicago was at Longman and Eagle which, while lovely, tasted more like whiskey and lemons and stuff. Incorrect! The old-fashioned consists of the following: a spoonful of sugar (or sugar cube), a muddled orange wheel, 3 dashes of bitters, a splash of soda (or 7-Up or Squirt if things are getting too classy for you), a slug of brandy (i.e. 1.5 to 3 oz. -- your call) -- pack with ice, garnish with a maraschino cherry, and add another splash of soda or cherry juice (genius) if your class isn't yet filled to the rim. Bear down on that, my friends.
Okay, well, that's not exactly true. It's not "free" in the literal sense that it will cost you no money. If you want to get all technical about it, this bourbon, bacon, toffee milkshake concoction is actually going to cost you $15. But that $15 includes a 2011 DMK Burger Bar Calendar, the proceeds of which go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository as part of their 365 Days of Giving campaign. So to put it all in perspective, for a mere $15 you get a milkshake that tastes like the best stuff on earth, a (probably) pretty decent calendar, and the warm, fuzzy feeling inside that you've helped feed this city's impoverished. Not a bad deal. [DMK Burger Bar]
Bet you didn't know that MLK has to share his holiday with something else this year did ya? Now that your New Years detox has had two successful weeks, it's time to break the resolution with something worthy. Hot Buttered Rum, that delicious hot drink that warms you down to your toes takes the national stage today. Sure, we have no presidential declaration of the date, nor congressional records to mark the day but I still think it's worthy of celebrating. Whip up your own rum-based, cinnamon and clove-spiced cocktail in a mug and give a toast to MLK. I used carmel vodka to give it that extra warm caramel-y flavor but you could just add a bit of extra rum, if you don't have vodka.
Folks behind Wicker Park cocktail bar The Violet Hour are getting social -- into social media, that is. The Violet Hour debuted on Twitter last month. Yesterday, they launched their own blog, Party on Damen, where The Violet Hour's bartenders will be "posting recipes, discussing drinks, dispelling rumours, and hopefully providing a zesty forum for all thing booze." The first big news: The Violet Hour is jumping on the punch bandwagon and will feature a different, off-menu punch each month including both new and classic concoctions. Add this one to your RSS feed.
The Chicago History Museum is hosting a guided tour of dive bars several times this month. If you'd like to (re)visit these heartwarming and positive places, spaces are still available for the January 30 tour; tickets are $25-30.
How many nights have you laid awake, wondering what it would be like to own a special, hand-painted bottle of Two Brothers' port-barrel aged Weiss Wine, autographed by none other than Jim and Jason Ebel? Well, wonder no more! For the completely reasonable price of $200, you can have your very own bottle of Two Brother's Bare Tree 2009. From the official press release:
"Two Brothers has brewed and released a batch of Bare Tree every year since 2000... Each vintage utilizes the original recipe for our year-round hefe weizen (Ebel's Weiss), but brewed to a much higher strength. The result is a beer reaching upwards of 13%. The beer's traditional clove and banana notes give way to melon and fleshy fruit, deep caramel and black pepper characteristics."
There's at least one satisfied customer out there. "bhiner41" posted this in the comments section of Ratebeer.com earlier today: "2009 bare tree: Awesome, what a great Weiss beer. Golden color, excellent aroma, very smooth and no aftertase. [sic] Light honey taste with a hint of malt." Light honey taste with a hint of malt, eh? That sounds... pretty good. I guess. Anyway, if you're one of those cheapskates who's concerned about spending $200 on a single bottle of honey beer, look at it this way: when your buddy's new iPod Nano is broken or lost three years from now, that Weiss Wine will still be aging in your basement, getting complexer and complexer by the day. See? Completely worth it.
Have you been dying to share your drink recipes with a wider audience? Think your Dirty Frenchman (wine and olive juice) or Yeast Infection (rum and milk)* needs to bless the gullets of other Chicagoans? Consider entering Prairie Fire's first-ever bartender contest, where you can submit your drinks and photos for a chance to guest-bartend at the restaurant. The only stipulation: you must use a local ingredient in the beverage. Upload your drinks to the Prairie Fire Facebook page between now and December 10.
The top two mixologists, chosen by the restaurant and cocktail master Adam Seger, will compete on December 14 for tips, which will be donated to hunger-fighting nonprofit Share Our Strength -- whoever earns the most will appear December 22 with Prairie Fire chefs and co-owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris at a Green City Market demonstration.
*Thanks, Home Movies. I knew my obsessive watching of you would come in handy some day.
No doubt Andy Williams is right when he sings "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." The caroling, the hearts a-glowing, the mistletoeing -- all great stuff. If we had one, minor complaint though, we might sub out that line about "scary ghost stories" (because it's stupid) and replace it with something about Christmas seasonals. Beer rhymes with year. It could work. Anyway, look, the point is -- if you're a beer lover, then this is without question, the most wonderful time of the year. Whether you like your hops bitter or your malts sweet, there's a Christmas beer out there for you. So for all the non-converts, put down that Coors Lite ("frost-brewed" doesn't actually mean anything, you know), put on your Santa hat and take a gander at this list.
Goose Island will release the highly anticipated Rare Bourbon County this Friday at 9am at Binny's Lincoln Park location at 1720 North Marcey (Goose Island itself will host a tasting of the beer--but no sales permitted--beginning at 10am); a 22-ounce bottle, if you can get your hands on one after its full release on Monday, will set you back $45. Why so expensive? The limited release beer (only around 8,000 bottles will be reportedly produced) has been aged over two years in 23-year-old bourbon barrels; its predecessor, Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, earned rave reviews during its short run in April. Brewmaster Greg Hall predicts that more varieties of the Stout will appear next year, among them orange and peppercorn.
"Never press 'send' on an email after going to a vodka tasting": words of wisdom from my date to last Wednesday's Moon Mountain vodka launch at Acre (5308 N. Clark St.). An organic, locally produced spirit, the vodka and its master distiller, Gerry Webb, passed through Chicago on a media tour of six cities. Inspired by the winemaking at Moon Mountain Vineyard in Sonoma, CA, Webb mimicked that process in developing the small-batch vodka (using corn instead of grapes) and during distillation -- the bottle is shaped like a wine glass to reflect its conception. Acre (formerly Charlie's Ale's House) created Moon Mountain-inspired dishes and cocktails, and the 15 or so guests took it from there.
For those of you thinking about going to vodka tasting dinners in the future, I wanted to offer a few other tips for getting the best experience:
McDonald's has a treat for you, if you've got some free time Tuesday.
The Oak Brook-based fast food giant is introducing its new McCafe Caramel Mocha with a scavenger hunt. Find one of three special game cups hidden around the city and you'll win a $1000 gift card. Follow @McD_Chicago and/or @McDonalds on Twitter for clues to the cups' whereabouts. Find the cup and and get it back to the finish line by the deadline and you win. (Full details and rules here.)
Whether you play or not, you can get a free sample of the caramel mocha at the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's, 600 N. Clark St., between 7am and 11am.
The Daily Northwestern talks to two Evanston residents who plan to raise the profile of specialty beer and whiskey in their notoriously dry town. Don't get too excited, north-siders. Plans are in the early stages.
Local distillery Koval will be launching their newest whiskey, Lion's Pride, this Saturday at where else but Delilah's. This new spirit is named after the distiller's son, Lion, and is the first legal whiskey distilled in Chicago since Prohibition. The whiskey is aged in new American Oak barrels.
Four varieties of Lion's Pride will be released: Oat, Rye, Dark Oat, and Dark Rye. The tasting is from 7-9pm, and the first two bottles of whiskey will be auctioned off to benefit local charities.
--Delilah's, 2771 N. Lincoln Ave. - Saturday, Nov. 6
By now you've probably seen those awesome YouTube videos courtesy of the Aviary in which head mixologist Craig Schoettler uses every beaker in his chemistry set (and possibly some witchcraft) to create some of the most tripped out drinks this side of Willy Wonka. Now we have an article in Time Out Chicago which only adds fuel (or booze) to the proverbial Molotov Cocktail. Top restaurants all over Chicago are buying their own oak barrels to age spirits in.
The newest iteration of the daily-deal phenomenon is My Drink On, a group-couponing site offering drink deals for Chicago bars.
Tomorrow, November 4, MDO hosts its 8pm-1am launch party at Rebel Bar & Grill (3462 N. Clark St.). Rebel is also the location of its very first featured deal: $40 worth of drinks for $20. For celebration's sake, buying the deal is not required for the complimentary cocktail reception (8-10pm).
If you miss the good old days of Sparks, Four Loko may be for you. The product line combines malt beverage with energy drink ingredients such as caffeine, taurine and guarana — but unlike Sparks, Four Loko comes in a wide variety of flavors, from lemon-lime to watermelon. And at 12 percent alcohol by volume (24 proof), it contains twice as much alcohol as Sparks (a secondary line, Four MaXed, contains 10 percent alcohol). Four Loko retails for around $2.50 for a 23.5 ounce can.
Phusion has released two statements regarding the Washington incident, noting that Four Loko was mentioned in the police report among many other alcoholic drinks, including beer, vodka and rum, and that there is no indication from the police report whether any of the students were of legal drinking age.
Scotch fans, take note: tonight, 18-, 21-, 25-, and 30-year-old Macallan single malt is being tasted in the West Loop.
In town for a series of tasting events, Macallan reps are rolling out the red carpet at Venue One for the main event this evening, a "Master Class" hosted by the Macallan family's expert ambassador, Eden Algie. The Macallan 30-year-old single malt retails for over $1000, which might take some of the sting away from the $75 price tag on tonight's event.
If you're interested in tickets to the two-hour class, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Venue One is located at 1044 W. Randolph.
The mental_floss blog published a list today of ten cocktails named after famous people. The Violet Hour's Stephen Cole made the list with Rimbaud's Left Hand, a concoction of Pernod absinthe, Benedictine, Aperol orange liqueur, lemon juice, pineapple juice, egg white, and rosewater, named after the nineteenth-century French poet who was shot in his left hand by his fellow poet and lover, Paul Verlaine. In the mental_floss list, Cole is the only mixologist credited by name.
I can summarize my sophomore year of college by saying this: I haven't drunk bourbon since then. So last night when I went to The Southern for the unveiling of their new fall cocktails, a wave of nervous excitement ran through me as I saw that several of their drinks contained bourbon. Like any good champion of drinking, I felt it was time to get back on the bourbon wagon and confront my greatest demon.
To start I ordered the most intimidating of bourbon drinks: Southern Apple Pie. Sure the name is adorable, but this drink is anything but cute. Served neat in a snifter glass, this was definitely the right drink to start back on the bourbon train. The infused bourbon was sweet with hints of Moroccan vanilla and obviously apple. While I wouldn't say it tasted like a pie, it was just as comforting.
Next I ordered the Sasparilla (pictured). Much like it's name this drink is sassy. A cross between a rum and coke and a really good root beer, I could easily make this my daily libation. A combination of Galliano, Kahlua, cola, soda water, lime and rhubarb bitters, the Sas was unanimously voted as the best drink among our table.
To top off the night we went with the Mississippi Milk: a pecan infused vodka combined with cream. Wow. The drink was surprising light, and full of pecan flavor. The vodka still had a strong bite, but was nicely balanced by the sweetness in the cream.
Throughout the evening, appetizers like shrimp with andouille sausage and remoulade sauce, beef skewers with djion aioli, and pimento cheese on toast were passed around by the manager, Evan, who was incredibly nice and helpful in making our drink decisions. Being a Southern I can attest that the food was pretty on point and Chef Cary Taylor has done well with this menu.
This fall you should make an effort to try one or any of the drinks listed (I sampled them all and they're all good). On Saturdays the bar shows SEC or ACC football games with $5 Jack Daniel's cocktails and $3 SoCo lime shots - although I don't know if I am ready to head back to sophomore year just yet...
This Friday, October 1, is International Sake Day, and here's a list of some sake hot spots around the city to help you celebrate the Japanese rice beverage (also known as "the drink of the gods"):
It might be hard to get into Chizakaya, since it just opened a few weeks ago and it's getting a lot of buzz, but, considering izakaya means "sake house," you're going to get a pretty large selection of the stuff.
If you want sake without the sushi, try Mana Food Bar (1742 W. Division St.). This small-plates vegetarian joint offers a selection of sake cocktails, including the refreshing-sounding coconut water and fresh lime, and the cucumber sakerita.
Staying on Division, the newly opened Makisu (1725 W. Division St.) has a huge selection of sake on its menu, with more than 20 different kinds and some unfiltered, sweeter sakes like Summer Snow -- which you can also find at Sunda (110 W. Illinois St.) in River North.
For a total experience of Japan (or at least how I imagine it), go to Murasaki Lounge (211 E. Ontario), which has an extensive sake menu -- and there's a karaoke room in the back.
Or you could always get a big bottle of sake from Binny's, a six-pack of Sapporo, and a few pairs of chopsticks and sake bomb deep into the night.
If any doubts remained in your mind that Craig Schoettler has one of the best jobs in the world, he and the Aviary viral video team are back with more proof that, well, your job sucks and his is definitely awesome. In July, he began aging liquor in different types of oak barrels, from a maple syrup barrel to a Heaven Hills Bourbon barrel. Today, he and fellow mixologist Josh Habinger bust out their calibrated syringes, tap the barrels and test the fruits of their labor. Delicious, alcoholy fruits. [YouTube]
When I moved to Chicago three years ago I was introduced to the world of craft beer. Living in Minneapolis I didn't have the interest, or funds, to drink good beer and I didn't realize what I had been missing until I moved to Chicago.
Last weekend I went to the Chicago Food Film Festival and watched a great documentary called "Beer Wars." The movie opened my eyes to the struggles that craft breweries experience. In 2005 the big three breweries (Anheuser Busch, Miller and Coors) controlled 85 percent of the market share, leaving the nearly 1,400 craft breweries to compete for the remaining 15 percent.
I always love to see the little guys succeed and during the movie I found myself cheering for the craft breweries throughout the country. I left the festival thinking of all the great places to get craft beer in Chicago and immediately made a list of my favorites.
In an effort to help the little guys come ahead and, hopefully someday, take over the big guys, I'm going to share my favorite places to go for delicious craft beer.
Most of us here at Gapers Block love a quality cocktail. Who wouldn't, right? The first sip that makes your entire body relax, that coats your palate in promising hues of sweet and bitter, that signals that things will only get better. Thankfully, GQ Magazine does, too. They've rated the top 25 cocktail bars and we're delighted that The Violet Hour comes in third. Having had a very tasty cocktail at Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, I have to say I believe they get their first place slot because of the bartender, not the bar. But not to be out-done, we're also happy to share that The Whistler was graced with 20th on their list. They suggest the "Blue Color Cocktail," but I suggest you give the "Beretta" a sip. I promise that two of these will turn your frown upside down.
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the day Miguel Hidalgo, priest, academic and revolutionary, called on his Mexican compatriots to rise up against their Spanish colonizers. It's a historic day, to be sure, one deserving of serious reflection and oration -- as well as celebration.
For those of you who have yet to know the true pleasures of the margarita, make today the day you vow to cast off your sour mix and unfetter yourselves from the inhumanity that is frozen-margaritas-in-a-bucket! Join us in our ongoing quest for the best margarita in Chicago!
And, though we can't be together, know that today we raise a well-balanced margarita in salute to Mexico's Bicentennial!
Sure, it was Happy Hour. And, yes, it was Friday. But neither of those circumstantial details diminishes the potency of El Jardin's margaritas. I've had some strong margaritas this summer, most memorably at Cesar's, another Lakeview institution, but El Jardin's went over-the-top to easily take the lead in The Happy Margarita Summer Project's Most Obliterating category.
Let's not mistake Most Obliterating with Best Tasting. They're not bad -- certainly tasty enough to go down without a fight -- but not particularly well balanced. But if what you want is a tequila buzz, you'll get it after just one of El Jardin's generous Classic Margaritas ($9), thanks to the healthy dose of Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila.
Since it was Friday, I ordered a second, this time venturing into unknown territory with the Margarita Swirl, a frozen margarita topped with sangria. I hear Uncle Julio's also serves up a pretty brain-numbing swirl, but I can't say I'm compelled to order another, despite that they are so potent I couldn't even finish mine. I'm just not into the flavor of red wine mixed with tequila mixed with a whole bunch of sugar.
Finally, I should note that we went to El Jardin Restaurant at 3335 N. Clark St., not El Jardin Cafe at 3401 N. Clark St. (El Jardin Cafe is on the corner, El Jardin Restaurant has the nice patio in the back.) Same family, different owners, according to our waitress. So does this mean I have to go to El Jardin, too?
The hubby and I took a mini-vacation to Evanston on Sunday, packing a picnic lunch from Piatto Pronto in Andersonville -- the Milano sub for him, packed with the requisite Italian meats, and the Sardinia salad for me, a hearty but healthy combination of artichokes, canellini beans, chickpeas, roasted peppers, green olives and shaved grana padano cheese, all on a bed of spinach. After feasting at the beach, we decided to take a stroll around downtown Evanston. And like our cat hearing the siren song of the tuna can popping open, we found ourselves drawn to That Little Mexican Cafe for a mid-afternoon margarita.
We lucked out: On Sundays, TLMC's standard marg is just $4, a real deal, especially considering that (drum roll, please!) ... These are the new top contenders in the Happy Margarita Summer Project.
Not only were the margaritas perfectly balanced -- which for me means a bit on the tart side, with enough tequila so that I can taste it, but not so much that it burns going down -- they were also consistent from the first round to the third. This has not been true elsewhere.
And they were served up by Jorge, the best bartender I've met so far on this summer long sojourn to find the best margarita in Chicago.
The beer pioneers over at Half Acre have been busy lately. Last Friday they introduced 'Freedom of '78' - a guava-infused, Wheat India Pale Ale (see reviews here). Now we have word that they will be releasing three new, limited edition specialty brews over the next month.
So to what can we attribute Half Acre's newfound, pre-Autumn prolific spell? Perhaps it's a response to Goose Island's release of ex-three-namer Graham Elliot's lychee-flavored 'Grahampagne'. Or perhaps it's because they know that Chicagoans demand uniquely-flavored, craft beer like New Yorkers demand dumpsters to swim in.
August appears to be the month of funky, offbeat beer collaborations. Earlier this week we learned of Graham Elliot's joint venture with Goose Island - a lychee, ginger, pineapple infused beer that he self-effacingly dubbed 'Grahampagne'. Now we have word that, tomorrow Half Acre's collaboration with Piece's Jonathan Cutler and the fine folks at Short's Brewing Co. will finally see the inside of pint glasses. It's called "Freedom of '78" and it's a Guava Wheat India Pale Ale brewed with -- not joking -- 1,000 pounds of actual guava. If you think it sounds, well, kinda weird, it's okay -- they do too. From Half Acre's blog: "We're aiming for an IPA that's kind of outlandish, much like the inspiration." Anticipating the public's generally insatiable craving for guava-flavored things, the Half Acre team warns not once, but twice that they won't be tapping it until "late afternoon" tomorrow. Better take the day off work and get there early just to be safe.
Tasting Table Chicago just announced via Twitter that Goose Island's collaborative effort with Graham Elliot Bowles will be launching this week. The beer is called "Grahampagne" and it's an infusion of "yuzu, ginger, coriander, lychee [and] pineapple." Elliot tweeted last Friday: "Naming it "Grahampagne"...mmm, tastes like branding & ego ;)." Here is a hilariously arty video of Goose Island brewing it.
Ever since Day One of this project, fans of El Cid on Kedzie in Logan Square have been imploring me and my research partner, Claire, to sip margaritas on the restaurant's spacious backyard patio. "It's like being in Mexico," they said, "and these margaritas are the best in the city." So on Friday we arranged to meet a group of friends right after work to grab a plum patio spot in the prime of margarita-drinking season.
Now this, my friends, is how you drink margaritas: Gather a nice-sized group of buddies and nab a spot in the sun, order a couple of pitchers, snack on some food, order another couple of pitchers, and when everyone has had their fill, say "adios" for the evening. Margaritas are not the sort of drink that promotes bar hopping; on the contrary, a good margarita simply makes you want to sit and savor the company.
El Cid's patio captures this vibe perfectly. While we were unable to fully enjoy its charms due to a pesky severe thunderstorm that shooed us to the upstairs lounge at around 7 p.m., we didn't let that stop us from enjoying these fantastic margaritas -- which, fans will be pleased to know, are now our top contenders.
What makes these margaritas so special is that their balance tips in favor of tart lime and good tequila, with just the right amount of sweetness to make them very, very drinkable. The classic margarita was so good not one person at the table decided to deviate with a frozen or flavored version. We did order both individual drinks and pitchers and noticed a slightly stronger hit of tequila in the former, at least for the first round of drinks. The second, third and, uh, subsequent rounds of pitchers seemed to have more tequila (no, really!) (Side note: I think I'm starting to become immune to tequila hangovers. I feel great today!)
For the salt fiends among us: Claire and I really like El Cid's salt. Big, crunchy salt crystals can detract from an otherwise delicious margarita. El Cid uses a finer grain than some of their competitors, which we think "seasons" the glass perfectly.
We all enjoyed the food, especially the burrito suiza, which is my Logan Square friend's "usual." The chicken sope, which I chose at the suggestion of my friend's daughter Serra, was generous and delicious.
In sum, El Cid took the lead last night, edging out former frontrunner Zocalo, and setting up some stiff competition for the remaining contenders, which include De Cero, Adobo Grill, Frontera, Twisted Lizard, Los Mananitas, Salud, Garcia's, Blue Agave, El Jardin, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, May St. Cafe -- and who else?
By the way, it's starting to become clear to us that this little project may creep into the fall. So many margaritas, so little time ...
Oak Park will be hosting August's microwbrew sipping party of the month. Brought to you by the same folks that hosted the sudsy, green, sold out"Beer Under Glass", the Illinois Brewing Craft Brewers Guild is rallying for a good cause and bring with them 25 of our favorite local microbreweries.
Once you buy your $35 ticket, you'll arrive in Oak Park via Harlem Green Line stop, grab a specialty beer tasting glass and get at it. Unlimited sippings from 25 of your local favorites? You can't miss it.
Oak Park Micro Brew Review is happening Saturday, August 21st from 3-7pm. To name a few: Founders, Goose Island, Half Acre, Metropolitan, New Belgium, Rock Bottom and Two Brothers will be there. Plus local bites from Marion Cheese Market and others.
Let's face it, store-bought maraschino cherries are just too darn sweet. If you're cocktail-savvy, perhaps you've had straight bourbon-soaked cherries. Last week I stumbled upon a recipe I thought I could tweak to fall somewhere in the middle.
The idea was to make a bourbon-soaked cherry with a twist. Straight bourbon might be a little much, so I grabbed my partner's bottle of homemade limoncello, picked up a quart of sour cherries at the Logan Square Farmer's Market, and got to work. After some tinkering and tasting, I came up with the following recipe:
1 pint sour cherries, pitted
1/3 cup limoncello + 2/3 cup bourbon (I used Maker's Mark)
First, if you are pitting the cherries yourself, might I recommend you not wear a white shirt? If you're anything like me, you'll end up with cherry boob. Second, I'd recommend you get a $13 cherry pitter, because pitting cherries is tedious work.
Next, heat the liquor in a small saucepan until it just starts to bubble; on my gas stove this took maybe a minute. Pour in your pitted cherries and swish around to cover with liquor. Let sit and cool to room temperature, then place in glass containers, and refrigerate. It's recommended that you let them soak for 48 hours before using, and it took all of my willpower to wait that long. They will keep in the fridge for quite some time (several months, if you can make it that long).
May I also recommend that you tinker with other liquor combinations? For the second pint of cherries, I used 1/2 cup cherry liqueur with 1/2 cup bourbon. The limoncello/bourbon cherries came out slightly sweet with a prevalent lemon note, while the cherry liqueur/bourbon cherries had a bit more heat to them--almost bitter; but both cherries remained firm and retained their sour flavor as well. Use of sweet cherries will give you a different result, but likely pleasing nonetheless. For my next batch, I may try an orange liqueur, or perhaps some brandy or calvados; it'd be nice to make some flavored for the warmer months, but to be honest, I don't see them lasting that long.
Located kitty-corner from the Green City Market at Clark and Lincoln, Perennial has first dibs on the freshest local fare all summer long. To show off this good fortune, the restaurant is hosting a free monthly event through September featuring cocktails made with ingredients purchased at the market.
I attended the July event last Wednesday, which set up a friendly competition between Benjamin Schiller, head mixologist at Boka Restaurant Group, and Danny Shapiro, head bartender at Perennial. Whose cocktail was the (market) freshest? Find out after the jump.
So I'm just going to get this out of the way right up front: I'm a Cubs fan, not a White Sox fan. Thus, this post is inherently biased. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I consider it my duty to give fellow fans something to cheer about this season, and this, my true blue friends, is it: The margarita at Wrigley is better than the margarita at U.S Cellular.
Now, you may be asking yourself, "If she's a Cubs fan, what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks was she doing at U.S. Cellular, anyway?"
Avery New World Porter
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Cerise by Founder's
Dark Horse Amber Ale
Eel River Certified Organic Porter
Fort Collins Chocolate Stout
Goose Island Summertime Ale
Harpoon Summer Beer
Iron City Lager
Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam
Krankshaft by Metropolitan
Louie's Demise by MKE Brewing Co
Moose Drool by Big Sky
New Belgium Springboard
Ommegang Hennepin Ale
Pullchain Pale Ale by MKE Brewing Co
Red's Rye by Founder's
Summer Shandy by Leinenkugel
The Poet by New Holland
Unibroue La Fin du Monde
Victory Brewing Golden Monkey Ale
Xingu Black Lager
Young's Double Chocolate Stout
Ziedler-brau by MKE Brewing Co
Last Thursday a few friends and I got the night -- and my vacation -- rolling with an after-hours event, after which the Happy Margarita Summer Project made an unplanned stop at Flaco's Tacos in Printer's Row. The HMSP's rules were flouted. Prior drinks skewed our powers of perception. Thus, the "Extra" on today's Flaco's Tacos review. If I make it back under proper circumstances before summer's end, I'll be sure to update this post.
For now, I've got to give Flaco's props for serving strong, cheap, decent frozen margaritas and really solid food in a casual, friendly South Loop setting. This place is all about bang for your buck. For just over a 10-spot, I had a frozen lime margarita with salt, a tilapia taco with chipotle crema and slaw, and a decent skirt steak taco. Our table shared a basket of excellent, if slightly greasy chips that were the perfect foil to those margaritas. The guacamole is good, as were the tangy tomatillo-based salsa and the smoky red guajillo salsa.
As for the margaritas, they're frozen, so they're obviously made with a mix. But for $4.50 (or $3 if you're smart and come on Mondays, when glasses of sangria are also $3), this baby is as easy on your budget as it is rough on your tolerance. My group sat in the window seat for a couple of hours working on two margaritas apiece, and the entire group agreed Flaco's doesn't skimp on the tequila. In short, I'll definitely keep Flaco's Tacos in mind next time I want to meet a friend after work, and you should, too: It's counter service, so you'll save on the standard 20 percent tip, and they're open until midnight on weeknights.
Now, because I'm on vacation this week, the plan is to head to the lakefront tomorrow to test the theory that margaritas always taste better on the beach. Can you guess where I'm headed? Keep your fingers crossed the rain holds out!
If you're going to emblazon "The Killer Margaritas" above your restaurant's entrance in hot pink and lime green fluorescent lights - and use Killermargaritas.com as your URL - then you better serve up some seriously damn good margaritas. In my experience, it's truth in advertising at Cesar's on Clark bear Belmont. The Killer Margaritas have capped off or kicked off several memorable events in my nine years in Chicago, including the afternoon my husband and I ran into then-Gov. Blagojevich - or Rod, as my husband greeted him - on our way from Cesar's to Wrigley Field. But that's a story for another day; today, we focus on the margaritas.
My co-conspirators met me at Cesar's at around 6 p.m., and I had a case of the Mondays, even though it was already Tuesday going on Wednesday. So we decided to divide and conquer: Claire ordered the standard margarita, lime on the rocks with salt, and I chose frozen guava, no salt. That way, we'd each only drink one (albeit one jumbo, which is Cesar's medium, a hefty puppy at 26 ounces for $10.) Per our standard rules, we both tasted the regular margarita first, then the flavored; Claire made an unorthodox but understandable request to stir the standard margarita and resample, after which we compared the following notes:
The name Beer Hoptacular conjures a carnival of beer -- an apt description of the two-day event that drew several thousand craft brew lovers to the Aragon Ballroom in Uptown last Friday and Saturday. Breweries included local legend Goose Island and new(er) kid on the block Half Acre, as well as Sam Adams, New Belgium, Bell's and 31 others sampling more than 100 beers. The mood was festive, but a crowd of beer-swilling frat boys this was not: As Flossmoor Station's head brewer Bryan Shimkos put it, the crowd was a nice blend of savvy beer drinkers and home brewers, and people who wanted to try more unusual beers "without having to pay $8 a bottle and then not like it."
I'm the kind of person who handles hard liquor better than beer, so I knew I'd need a strategy to guide my evening, one that didn't include sampling every beer. I decided to focus on fruit-forward beers, skipping roasty stouts and hoppy IPAs in favor of beers that hinted at summer's farmers market bounty.
If you still haven't made it to Big Star -- Paul Kahan's tacos-and-whiskey joint in the revamped Pontiac Cafe space on Damen near Wicker Park (the park) in Wicker Park (the neighborhood) -- the vast, sun-drenched outdoor patio is beckoning you this summer.
People-watching here is guaranteed to put you in a good mood, thanks to the wonderfully eclectic mix of adorable hipster families, sexy singles on the prowl, and puppy-toting dudes just happening by. Chef Kahan's tacos look like modest portions but the rich fillings will get ya, so go easy -- if for no other reason than to save plenty of room for the guacamole, which is arguably the best dish on the menu.
Now, I didn't come for tacos or whiskey. My friend Claire and I gathered some girlfriends together last Friday for one reason: Round Two of the Happy Margarita Summer Project.
In case you missed my announcement earlier this week, my friend Claire and I are taking on the challenge of searching out Chicago's best margaritas. It's going to be a rough (and by rough I mean fantastic) summer.
El Tapatio, 3400 N. Ashland (at Roscoe Street), is so well-liked that the owners situated a bar across the street to satiate the many would-be diners waiting for a table. I've eaten at El Tapatio many times, and I can attest the food is better than average. The a la carte chicken taco, with a healthy portion of perfectly seasoned, cooked and shredded chicken, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and a side of guacamole, was the perfect snack to accompany my margaritas.
Per our rules, we each ordered the standard margarita first, on the rocks with salt. It arrived in style in a lovely hand-blown glass with multi-colored swirls. The salt was a bit unevenly distributed on the rim, but I'm not going to quibble; overall, the presentation was lovely.
Though it's not yet officially summer, this weekend's near-perfect weather convinced my friend Claire and me it was the right time to kick off our Happy Margarita Summer Project 2010. You, dear reader, are invited along as we tour Chicago's Mexican restaurants in search of the city's best margaritas.
How does one get to work on such a fun project? asked one of my Twitter followers. Well, friends, this is the sort of project one assigns to oneself. Lest you think we're a couple of amateurs, though, we've developed both categories and standards to which we plan to adhere as strictly as possible. (Disclaimer: We will be drinking margaritas.)
About the categories: We acknowledge that flavored, frozen margaritas have their place (who wouldn't enjoy a frozen strawberry margarita while lounging poolside?), but we realize they cannot be compared with the standard margarita. Likewise, some establishments aim to get you hammered, while others' raison d'etre is to encourage you to sip, savor, and appreciate the finer things in life. Thus, we've established four awards categories:
When I think about made-at-home gin, I usually imagine a bathtub to be involved. But local food-writer Michael Nagrant discovered otherwise. After reviewing several books related to cocktails, he discovered an inexpensive way to turn a bottle of Smirnoff into gin by adding your own juniper berries and herbals and citrus. It sounds fantastic and is perfectly timed for the gin and tonic days we have ahead of us. Any day now. No, really.
It's a frappuccino miracle! After 15 years of existence, the iconic Starbucks beverage is moving up to the level of the rest of the coffee giant's drinks by becoming fully customizable.
Starting May 4, Starbucks locations across the country will be serving what's called the "However You Want It" Frappuccino. Options for the coffee-based beverages will include choice of milk and syrup (including sugar-free syrups and syrup combinations), and the coffee-based drinks will be available in regular or decaf, double or triple strength.
Believe it or not, this introduction (which does, in fact, mark the 15th anniversary of the frappuccino's invention by baristas in a Santa Monica Starbucks) required some significant retooling of the way frappuccinos are mixed. The coffee bases and frappuccino mix syrup (which is what makes the frappes frothy) are separated from the milk and available in different incarnations, making it possible to have a low-sugar, decaf, or non-dairy blend in more flavors than previously available.
Paradox of choice got you down? Chad Cruz, manager of the Gold Coast's Chicago flagship Starbucks, recommends trying the strawberry crème frappuccino (now with all-natural strawberries) with soy milk. Personally, I'm a fan of any of the double-strength coffee blends, especially with whatever syrup is seasonal. But you don't have to take my advice, or Chad's; go ahead and try one "however you want it" starting May 4.
Two Brother Brewing Company is at it again. Hosting this year's For The Love of Hops Festival 2010 June 12 at their brewery in Warrenville, they're celebrating that delicious bittering agent during the second annual release of their Hop Juice Double IPA!
There will be guest beers from around the country. Four bands (TBA) will be playing during the day, admission is free, and 50 percent of sponsorship funds will go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. You can find out more at the event website here!
For the fourth year running, we made a spring pilgrimage to Munster, Indiana to wait in line with thousands of other beer enthusiasts to buy bottles of Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout at the 3 Floyds brewery.
Every year the crowd grows substantially and the process of securing a limited number of bottles become slightly more complicated. Ticketing servers crash, legal parking is nearly impossible to come by, and finding the end of the mammoth line becomes surprisingly difficult. To be sure, 3 Floyds has created demand for an unnecessarily exclusive product and elicited plenty of complaints along the way, but at the end of the day 3 Floyds makes a damn good beer and throws a damn good party.
So you've heard of wine and cheese pairings, and maybe even wine and chocolate pairings. But tequila and chocolate? Not so much.
Chicago's own fine chocolate emporium, Vosges Haut Chocolate, has teamed up with Corzo tequilas to show the world that blue agave and cacao are a match made in heaven.
Vosges' Armitage flagship has a liquor licencse, and has been offering wine and beer tastings for some time, as well as selling bottles of wine. This new relationship with Cruz will bring a tequila pairing to their summer menu, and the shop will offer appropriate chocolate bars along with bottles of each mark of the fine tequila-silver, reposado, and añejo.
If you'd like to take part in this celebration of two of the New World's greatest culinary treasures, you needn't wait any longer. Tonight, Vosges Lincoln Park hosts a special ticketed event where the public will be able to try lots of delicious confections (along with complementing tequilas) first-hand.
951 W. Armitage. Tickets are $40; call 773.296.9866 to reserve your spot.
This week is a special one for microbrewery's: the Craft Brewer's Conference brings together wholesalers and (who else?) craft brewers for a week of business, pleasure, and some serious beer drinking. I was lucky enough to be present for Ale Night, held last night at The Gage, by Arcadia Ales. The Battle Creek, MI brewery debuted new packaging for their Sky High Rye, Whitsun brews as well as appropriately elegant new looks for Cereal Killer and Big Dick's Olde Ale, and offered generous tastings of these fine brews.
Arcadia's owner, Tim Suprise, was on hand to present the four beers, which were widely varied but equally excellent. On draft, there was the Sky High Rye, a rye and pale-malt blend with an exceptionally drinkable bitterness. Hoppy pale ales are not normally my thing, but this one had enough flavor to please my palate. Upon seeing the new label for Whitsun, however, I knew it would be more my speed. A wheat beer with an orangey color and flavor, its relative mildness compared to the Sky High made it as easy to drink as a soda pop. Which was a good thing, because I still had two ales to go!
If you're a true beer lover, you cannot continue living without trying Arcadia's rich and decadent Barleywine-style ales. Both the Big Dick's Olde Ale and the Cereal Killer have a sweet, madeira-esque flavor, with the latter's intensity and syrupy texture kicked up a few notches. At 8% and 10% alcohol by volume respectively, these bottles are reminiscent of bourbon stouts, and pack a punch that will likely hold you to a single serving. But it will be an enjoyable serving indeed.
Suprise told me that Arcadia specializes in British-style ales, and utilizes British equipments and English barley (among other things) to preserve the authenticity of the ales. Suprise carried the Briton influence beyond the pint and into his wardrobe: he donned a fashionable kilt. He also shared a short list of places where Chicagoans can try these and other Arcadia Ales firsthand:
What do you do when you see an unfamiliar produce that looks and smells fabulous? Would you get it and hope that you'll figure out what to do with it later with the help from Google? Or would you walk away, and hope to get it when you actually know what to do with it? (This sounds a bit like Epimetheus vs Prometheus thing...) I can be either, depending on the level of motivation and adventurousness at the moment, but last Saturday, my inner Epimetheus won. It was mainly because the fresh guava was smelling too good to pass up. The Ping-Pong ball-sized yellow orbs had a few bruises and scratches, but they smelled so sweet and tangy--it was like there was a tiny sphere of the tropic right above the guava stand. So, without knowing what to do with them, I grabbed a dozen or so.
Once home, I looked up what to do with them. The consensus in the cyberspace seemed to be that guavas are edible raw, skin, seeds and all. Somebody mentioned a guava milk shake he had in Egypt. I almost drooled on the idea, but didn't have ice cream on hand, so I decided to make guava squash instead. Though I didn't have any recipe to rely on, it turned out fantastic--a perfect drink for the summery Saturday. This left me with enough fresh guava for another round, and I had a brilliant idea for that: add a shot of tequila. We had a beautiful bottle of Don Julio Añejo (a gift from a few years ago that we've been savoring slowly), so I added that to the squash. The result? It's pure danger in a glass. My husband proclaimed that he could drink two gallons of the stuff, and I had to agree. The alcohol balances out the sweetness nicely, and the slightly oaky flagrance of the Añejo added another layer of complexity to the drink.
For the beer lovers in Chicago, today represents a pretty good day. Two Brothers Brewing Company is releasing not just one, but two new beers that have been aged in French oak fermentation tanks (called "foudres"): an IPA and a Session Ale.
According to Two Brothers the Resistance IPA is 6.9% alcohol by volume (abv) and clocks in at a whopping 70 international bitterness units (IBU). For comparison's sake, Budweiser clocks in somewhere around 10-12 IBUs and Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale (a pretty hoppy ale in its own right) charts at 37 IBUs by their own reckoning. According to Two Brothers, the Resistance IPA is:
"Complex aromas of oak, honeyed malt sweetness, and piney citrus hops leads to a full hoppy middle and a finish that's crisp, oaky and pleasantly lingering."
Their other offering, the Long Haul Session Ale, is a light 4.2% abv and 27 IBUs, and is described as:
"An incredibly drinkable ale, light in body but full of flavor. Oaky notes blend with the complex balance of malt and hops. This is a beer you can enjoy for the long haul."
Both are being released on March 15, 2010, and will be available year round in both six-pack and on draught in and round Chicagoland.
I've been a bad writer recently. Which, in my particular case, means mostly that I've been a bad eater recently. With long hours at my office, little energy in the kitchen and, after finishing my taxes this past week, less cash on hand, eating out has become a recent luxury. Ham sandwiches, yogurts and granola bars have been more of the recent norm than a new dish on Lula's menu or special charcuterie option at Old Town Social (or getting a table after a reasonable wait at Revolution Brewing -- still unsuccessful!) However, a recent business trip has taken me to the westernmost reaches of our fine state, and while there has been little time for much more than work there has, blessedly, been eating out! Should you find yourself across the river from Iowa and looking for a bite, I feel I can now advise your gustatory tour of at least one of the four Quad Cities with a smidgen of authority and the warm glow of an impending food coma.
Microbrew fans will soon be able to get some local beer in a tall boy container. Half Acre Brewery announced to their mailing list today that they'll be installing a canning line at the end of the month and will transition from bottles to cans.
According to the newsletter, Daisy Cutter Pale Ale and Gossamer Golden Ale will be the first two beers to switch to cans. Although they're currently available as a 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles, they'll soon be packaged in 4-packs of 16 oz. cans. It will take a good month for the transition to take place. As Half Acre wrote, "That means Half Acre cans will be a reliable friend come late April."
Half Acre's jumping on the canning bandwagon. Many microbreweries are making the switch to cans, now that technology exists to help keep the beer from acquiring a metallic taste. Although many people may still prefer bottles to cans (much like the cork vs. screw-top controversy in the wine industry), canned beer actually has a tighter seal and prevents the possibility of skunky beer. One other benefit of cans is that they're a little easier to tote around, since they don't break nearly as easily as bottles.
The Gold Coast's Drawing Room is my newest favorite destination for cocktails. It is a much more relaxed space than its connection to nightclub Le Passage would suggest, and spirits are serious business here.
On my most recent visit, I had the pleasure of table-side cart service driven by the formidable skills of Chief Mixologist Charles Joly. One of the cocktails Joly crafted for me and my friend was the Chicago Dog Caipirinha, The Drawing Room's take on the national cocktail of Brazil. A basic caipirinha is built from a muddle of lime and sugar and filled out with cachaça, a distillate of fermented sugarcane juice.
When I first noted the Chicago Dog on The Drawing Room's menu, I thought I had discovered my first hot dog-infused cocktail. Had Drawing Room mixologists figured out how to fat-wash the Cabana cachaça they use with classic Vienna Beef wieners? Then I noticed that the Chicago Dog Caipirinha was marked "vegan friendly."
This summer Uncommon Ground (1401 W. Devon) officially cut the ribbon on its rooftop farm. The first certified organic urban rooftop farm in the nation, it hosted a kick-off party for one of the nation's newest sustainable beers: Goose Island's Green Line Pale Ale
Several regional breweries across the United States have taken steps to reduce the environmental impact (I'm looking at New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada among others), and here in Chicago, Goose Island looks to be leading the way. Taking time to study the environmental footprint of their brewing, Goose Island commissioned a study from the Chicago Manufacturing Center on the production impact of a keg of 312 Urban Wheat Ale. The results of that study can be found here.
What this study provides is a target against which more sustainable ales (like the Green Line) can be measured. So what makes the Green Line Pale Ale some much more "green"? Glad you asked!
According to the Wall Street Journal and Eater and Grant Achatz is planning a bar/lounge named Boom that will focus on cocktails that use ingredients playfully. One such cocktail is a Sazerac served in a edible syrup-poached kumquat. You'd sip the tiny cocktail and then eat the glass.
But Helen Rosner of Grub Street says Achatz isn't creating a molecular bar anytime soon. It's just something "Mr. Achatz envisions." And even if it is a hypothetical opening, and even if we couldn't afford to go very often, the cocktail porn we're sure would come out of it would be amazing.
But alas, even the chef himself posted this on Twitter:
In the last article (found here), we discussed the four essential ingredients of beer. In this article, we're going to take a look a the equipment you'll need to set up your own homebrewery. Most brewing suppliers have a kit version of this equipment, and on average it will cost you anywhere from $75 to $150 depending on what's included. This may seem like an expensive way to get started, but a starter kit will usually save you quite a bit (as much as 20%) as opposed to collecting all this equipment individually.
Another advantage is that a well-considered starter kit should be customizable or expandable depending on your experiences and desires.
Once we've taken a look at the necessary equipment needed to brew beer, we'll also look at some of the "nice-to-haves" for the homebrewer.
There is a practice in Chicago that's as traditional as the old world, yet as robust and proud as the American Dream itself: Brewing.
Taking water, malted barley, hops, and yeast, and with a little bit of work and patience transforming those four ingredients into a magically delicious beverage that is the third most popular in the world and found in nearly every culture on the face of this planet throughout history.
As the Midwest metropolis, Chicago has history of brewing that goes all the way back to the city's founding. German immigrants built the first brewery in Chicago in 1833, the same year the city was incorporated. Beer was the reason for Chicago's first civil disturbance during the Lager Beer Riot in April of 1855. And by 1900, Chicago was home to 60 breweries that pumped out more than 100 million gallons a year.
20 years later, Prohibition put paid to that industry as the majority of those breweries closed their doors.
While walking down the carbonated beverage aisle at my local Jewel, I noticed a new package option for Coca-Cola, an eight pack of 7.5oz Coke cans. I'm calling them Wee-Coke. Though Coke already makes an 8oz can in the more traditional size and shape of its 12oz brother, the new Wee-Coke can looks like a shrunken version of the 12oz as opposed to the stubby 8oz. Apparently Coca-Cola is experimenting with "portion-control" sizes, each single serve can is only 90 calories and is part of a "broader effort to adjust to the demands of consumers trying to make better decisions about their health." I've also seen Coca-Cola's new 8.5oz aluminum bottles the Chicago area as well, but I don't know how available those are as of yet.
City Provisions, a catering and event company, hosts monthly events designed to showcase local food and beverage providers. During growing season, they're called Farm Dinners, but now that the harvest is over, it's time for their Supper Clubs.
Because City Provisions is turning their event space into a deli (to open this winter), their monthly gatherings will be held at various venues around the city. Supper Club season kicks off on January 12 with a cocktail party at Architectural Artifacts (4235 N. Ravenswood). Starting at 7 PM, the event will feature Wisconsin's Death Door Spirits, heavy finger foods from City Provisions, and desserts from Floriole Bakery. All Supper Club events cost $75--and that covers everything, including food, drinks, tax, tip, and entertainment.
Half Acre Beer, who graciously provided the beverages for last night's Gapers Block Holiday Party, debuts their latest brew, Big Hugs Imperial Stout, today at the brewery store, 4257 N. Lincoln Ave., and at a tasting at West Lakeview Liquors, 2156 W. Addison St., from 6pm to 9pm tonight. Keep your eye open for it at certain beer-specialist bars as well.
The beer is a big, heavy brew, weighing in at 9.5% ABV, and will be available in 22oz. bombers -- basically, you can expect to only really need one for the night.
Around this time last year, my husband and I visited Montreal, the northernmost culinary paradise on this continent. We ate and drank our way through the city during our regrettably short stay. Montreal is a city that's proud of its terroir. So proud that the city is inundated with innumerable forms of local bounty, from vegetables to wines to jams to craft beers. The city even has a little store, Le Marche de Saveurs, that sells Quebecois goodies.
It was at this marche that I discovered ice cider--through a family-owned cider mill operator who had set up a little tasting table. Like most ice cider that's produced in Quebec, the birthplace of ice cider, his operation is a small orchard with a mill, he said, handing us tiny plastic cups of amber-colored liquor. As he explained it, the apples are left on the branches until after the frost. The fruits freeze in the arctic chill, which concentrates the naturally occurring sugar, as well as the apples' flavor. Once picked, the frozen apples are cold-fermented for months.
Released just in time for holiday gift-giving, the 2009 release of Samuel Adams' Utopias could knock any beer lover's socks off--literally.
Utopias is in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the title of "World's Strongest Beer." The 2009 edition of the brew is a whopping 27% ABV -- 54 proof. But before you run out to Binny's (where they have a few bottles while supplies last) and plunk down $150 for a 24 oz. bottle, what should you expect?
Sam Adams hosted a media dinner at Branch 27, where I got the opportunity to try this beer, and I have to tell you, it's so unlike any other beer I've tasted that I could argue it might not even be a beer.
If you are anything like me you picked up a bottle of egg nog a week before Thanksgiving and you have a little glass every night as dessert. By now, you are egg nog-ed out but holiday party season is just now getting into full swing.
Good thing that the Sassy Radish has now come to the rescue. Olga, a food blogger in NYC, wrote about a Rosemary Gin Fizz last week and I can't just get it out of my head. Light, boozy, but still festive? Perfect.
My work as a chef has incorporated the latest industry buzzwords -- i.e. local, sustainable, organic -- for many years. On a project in Dublin we tried to not use any food product sourced from more than 100km away, quite a task for a 15 million Euro-a-year five-star hotel food program.
Sometimes our demands far outstripped the supply. The amount needed just wasn't available locally, but we at least tried.
It's with some interest then that I view the same values being embraced on the other side of the kitchen -- at the bar.
It's only been within the last few years that my bar managers have asked to join me on my frequent farmer's market pilgrimages, or wanted some quality one on one time with my turbo Vita-mix blender or candy stove.
During a visit to IntelligentsiaJackson today, something caught my eye, the Mypressi TWIST. I had read about this portable espresso device in a trade magazine a few months ago and thought it was a novel idea. When I gave a slightly puzzled look to my barista friends, they all informed me that the TWIST pulls a surprisingly decent shot. This tool uses hot water and air pressure from rechargeable N20 cartridge to deliver a single or double shot of espresso. Unlike other home espresso machines, the TWIST doesn't require electricity, though you will need some way to heat up the water, a slight drawback, and you can get about eight single shots out of the N20 cartridge. Retailing at $160, the TWIST is making me rethink my home espresso and coffee brewing options.
If you haven't gotten the wine you'll be serving (or bringing to) Thanksgiving dinner, hit up Randolph Wine Cellars (1415 W. Randolph) this evening. They've extended their daily Happy Hour tasting to 5:30-8 PM, and they'll be showcasing some Thanksgiving-friendly wines in a variety of price ranges. Best of all, the tasting is free.
News broke this week that Woodridge-based Pabst Brewing Co., the company that produces Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Old Style and other old-school brands, is putting itself up for sale. Apparently, the move is being forced by the IRS because the company is owned by a charitable foundation, which is against federal tax law.
A grassroots effort to buy Pabst through crowdsourcing is underway: if you want a piece of the theoretical action -- the asking price is $300 million, and less than $6 million has been pledged so far -- go to BuyABeerCompany.com and pitch in. (Thanks, Tankboy!)
Pause Café has apparently been sold. The venerable coffee shop on Berwyn closed over the weekend and will reopen as Kitchen Sink Café (1107 w. Berwyn) in early December. The new owners, Jeff and Ally, are former Pause Cafe baristas and plan on keeping many of the things that made Pause a great spot, they will continue to serve Metropolis Coffee and offer free wifi for customers. Jeff and Ally plan on stepping up the food menu with gourmet sandwiches and panini, some breakfast items, fresh salads, hot soups and fruit smoothies. The shop its self will be getting a makeover, most of the décor was being sold off during a weekend garage sale, yet some items remain such as the old phone booth, e-mail if interested.
I'm the kind of person that doesn't mind a bit of seasonality in my drinks. A little pumpkin in my beer, a little mulled spice in my wine...but easy on the apple pie, okay Leinenkugels? So I gladly accepted an invitation to Stoli's new Gala Applik launch party, the Moscova Affair, earlier this fall at Manor. I am not generally a vodka-drinker, nor a club-goer, so arrived thirsty, slightly early, and with all the scattered nervousness of a kid on the first day of class. With corset- and leather-clad servers and an Adam and Eve-themed silent circus tableau by San Francisco's Vau de Vire Society that more than lived up to the smoke-swilling lush-lipped ad campaign Stoli has plastered over CTA bus stops for months, I felt appropriately out of my element. At least the place was lousy with vodka, featuring at least five different suggested mixers for the new apple-infused Stoli blend, which I was expecting to taste more like Apple Pucker but has actually a mild, almost perfumey character. Applik and ginger ale was probably the best of the combinations I tried, though the signature "Applik Temptress" featured sour mix and a dash of bitters. Vanity Fair suggests a sangria-like white wine and fruit cocktail called, appropriately or not, the Rio 2016. Ouch. And, mmmmm!
I don't know that there's anything particularly seasonal about champagne, unless you feel the end of Daylight Savings Time should be celebrated with bubbles. But I still stopped by Pol Roger's Jazz Celebration last night at Pops for Champagne, an institution that I've been meaning to try for years. The White Foil Reserve Brut was the drink of the night, comprised of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and fermented early in its life to a precise 46 F degrees, a process apparently distinctive to Pol Roger. A bottle of the White Foil retails for about $60, according to our pourer, though Pops has several other Pol Roger varieties on their menu as well, starting in more like the $115 range and rising steadily from there. The Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1998 is aged in the deepest, coldest cellars in Pol Roger's operation, and has a dense, almost edible quality to it, with bubbles so fine you barely notice them and a mouth-feel much more like wine than champagne. My favorite was the Brut Blanc de Blancs 1999, which was both demi-sec and a bit tart, I thought the most interesting in terms of flavor of the bunch.
In other drinking news, C-House, in the Affinia Hotel, continues its prix-fixe Goose Island beer menu through the end of this week, and more paper seems to peel back every day from the windows of Lush Wine and Spirits' new location on Chicago Avenue. Whatever causes you to raise a glass this fall, be it circus folks, or grain alcohol, or the pleasing pop of a champagne cork, there are plenty of places and things to drink this time of year.
On any given day, you never know what you'll find when you open up your inbox. Color me surprised, then, when I opened my e-mail to discover an invitation to represent Gapers Block as a judge in a semi-final for DeKuyper's Mix Master Bartender Contest.
Not one to say no to the difficult task of judging cocktails, I joined the judges panel, and on September 30th at Martini Park, we sent one lucky bartender on his way to the Chicago final.
Contestants had to create a shot or drink that had no more than three ingredients, one of which had to be a DeKuyper product. It had to be a drink that was fairly simple to prepare, so no mashing or muddling, and no energy drinks. We judged the entries on taste, appearance, creativity of name, simplicity, and originality.
Roof on the 27th floor of The Wit rolled out new cocktails for fall, and I had the chance to sample them when I dropped by a media event for Telluride ski resort on Thursday evening.
Several tempted me: the Spiced Pears & Honey, with Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka, housemade honey syrup, and lemon; Ipanema, with Leblon Cachaca, apricot nectar, and Madeira; and Blood Orange Sidecar, with Landy's Cognac, orange bitters, and blood orange simple syrup.
But Roof's Great Pumpkin won me over, first with its nostalgic name, and then with its not-too-sweet, nice-and-warm-going-down taste. Maker's Mark Bourbon anchored a hint of citrus and the namesake ingredient, pumpkin simple syrup.
This drink oozed autumn and was a perfect choice on a chilly, rainy night. Makes me want to spend the weekend in search of more great pumpkin cocktails in Chicago. Anyone have any tips?
Goose Island took home three silver medals: Red Woody took the honors in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category; its IPA placed in the English-Style India Pale Ale category; and Demolition earned its silver in the Belgian and French-Style Ale category.
Piece Brewery won a gold and a bronze this year. Its Top Heavy Hefeweizen won the South German Style Hefeweizen category, and Fornicator placed third in the Bock category.
Last year's winner for Large Brewpub of the Year, Rock Bottom's Chicago outlet added another two medals to their stash of awards. The Crow and The Sparrow placed second in the American-Belgo-Style Ale category, and Drunken Angel won a bronze in the Specialty Beer category.
Whether you support the Olympic bid or not, I think one thing we can all agree on is the deliciousness of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Luckily for us, regardless of the Chicago 2016 outcome, Dunkin' Donuts will toast us all with a free medium coffee all day, Monday, Oct. 5.
The free coffee is Dunkin' Donuts' way of saying thank you to Chicago for all the hard work in showcasing our city. The free coffee is available all day, Oct. 5, at all of the nearly 500 Dunkin' Donuts locations in Chicago and suburbs. No purchase necessary and limit one per customer.
Thank you, Dunkin' Donuts, for letting us all be winners.
Although whisky and whiskey fans may not get a catchy tune like the po-ta-to/po-tah-to people, they do have a chance to debate the proper spelling tomorrow night at The Great Whisk(e)y Debate. This free event (for ages 21+) features whisk(e)y professors from Canadian Club, Knob Creek, and Laphroig who will talk about the merits of each of their whiskies during this interactive (i.e.--tasting) event. Even if you're not the biggest whisky buff, I'd recommend going--these are three really good and varied whiskies, and this is a good opportunity to learn about and taste the differences to see what style (or styles) you like best.
Humboldt Park has a new spot for coffee in the form of Knock Box Café. Taking over the former space of Humboldt Pie at 1001 N. California Ave., Knock Box Café is warm and inviting space with plenty of room to stretch out without that feeling of sitting on top of other customers.
Knock Box serves Chicago's own Metropolis coffee brewed by knowledgeable and friendly baristas; one of the things that I tend to look for is coffee made correctly, and this place does just that. You might get a bit overwhelmed by the great smells due to the fresh baked cookies and other pastries straight from the oven, but that's a good thing. They also have sandwiches, utilizing Red Hen Bread and Boar's Head meats, so they can also serve as a lunch spot.
Of course it wouldn't be a coffee shop without free wifi, and Knock Box has that as well, making it a comfortable space to get a bit of work done.
If you are wondering about the name, after every shot of espresso pulled, the barista "knocks" the portafilter onto the knock box to dispose of the espresso grind, making way for fresh espresso and another perfect shot.
It is intimidating. The blades from which it will undoubtedly be a pain to scrub leftover fruit pulp. The noise. Are we sawing down trees or making a delightful breakfast treat? The overwhelming number of possible ingredients. These are understandable drawbacks to making a smoothie. Yet, this summer, I made the decision to face these fears. It started a couple of weeks ago, and now I would consider myself a full convert. Smoothies are not as hard as they seem. Buy some earplugs, allow yourself the luxury of leaving the blender in the sink to clean in a few hours, think of the smoothie as an art project, and you will be surprised with what you can create.
I don't have the perfect smoothie recipe to share. What I am supplying here is the confidence to move forward on that lingering desire you already have. The basic elements I would suggest for a healthy and tasty indulgence include flaxseed, plain yogurt, frozen berries (of any variety), banana, frozen peaches, cranberry juice and honey. My basic philosophy is to throw it all together, mix it up, taste, adjust. The frozen berries and peaches can be replaced with the fresh thing if in season. Though, I would recommend always having some frozen goods for back up as they are especially nice when you want a smoothie fast (no cutting of stems/pits required leading to limited clean up). The trick to the flaxseed is putting it in first and grinding it into a fine powder thus allowing it to fully infiltrate the smoothie with its healing powers. Once the flaxseed is ground, just starting loading it in. Don't be scared. Most fruit really does taste wonderful together.
Ever make a smoothie with a bicycle powered blender? Last Saturday many Chicagoans came out to enjoy Open Streets. The organizer, Active Transportation Alliance, handed out free smoothies with ingredients donated by Green Grocer on a blender bike from Uptown Bikes.
Summer drinking usually conjures Pinot Grigios and piña coladas, or mint juleps and margaritas. Good drinks to sip standing on dry grass, or out of plastic cups pintucked after multiple pours. Drinks that might look good sporting thick sprigs of herbs or little paper umbrellas. Throwing its hat into the summer drinking ring this past week is Rosangel, Gran Centenario's venture into flavored tequila. The company unveiled the blend of award-winning Resposado and hibiscus flowers at Nacional 27 last week, accompanied by vegetable empanadas, plantain croquettes, and a watermelon and tuna ceviche that paired wonderfully with the strong, sweet tequila. Rosangel is aged in barrels previously used for port, which gives the liquor the pink hue so nicely accentuated in its packaging, an art deco design that recalls a vintage perfume bottle--an effect heightened by the floral notes of the hisbiscus addition. One whiff of the fumes coming off the drink will dispel any notions that it could be a girly tequila, however. This stuff will put hair on your dainty, effeminate chest.
On hand to help guide the tasting were Nacional's own Adam Seger and Jane Lopes, sometime bartendress at the Violet Hour. Jane's drink recipe for a Jalisco Blinker is below. Sweet, tart, and flowery, it could be the perfect new addition to your summer drinking palette (and presumably would work with any sweeter tequila as well).
I visited my family in Japan earlier this month. Alas, the trip piled up more tasty foods than my stomach could accommodate (I would have needed two extra stomachs to accommodate everything that called to me). One of the best discoveries, though, didn't take up much room: a pitcher of cold-brew iced tea that always sat in my mother's fridge.
In the cold-brew method, tea leaves are steeped in cold water, right in the fridge, instead of being steeped in hot water, cooled and transferred to the fridge later. Because the flavors of the tea are extracted much more gently, the cold-brew method takes longer, usually overnight. In terms of the actual active time, though, the method requires a lot less engagement than hot-brew. You just leave a bag of tea steeping in the fridge overnight, take out the bag in the morning, and it's ready for the day. You don't even need ice cubes to fast-cool it. There's an additional benefit: it's a lot tastier than hot-brew tea, in my opinion.
Tea brewed cold doesn't get that astringency and bitterness that you sometimes find in your hot-brew tea. This is because these flavor elements are released only when the tea is exposed to intense heat. What you get instead is a subtle, but very clean, essence of each tea, unmarred by off-flavors. I've tried all the teas I have lying around in the cupboard, from higher-end Earl Grey from Julius Meinl to a $1.75 can of Jasmine tea from a Chinese grocer, and all have come out wonderful. Trust me, you'll be amazed how sophisticated your cheap Jasmin tea can taste, when brewed in this method. (This cheap Jasmine tea has been the winner so far.)
- Use plenty of tea, a bit more than you would in a hot brew. I use a generous tablespoon of tea for a 2-quart pitcher.
- If using tea bags, try a Japanese-style tea bag that you can fill yourself. (They are available in many East Asian grocery stores, and of course, at Mitsuwa or Tensuke.) Buy the largest-sized one you can find so that the tea leaves have enough room to expand.
(20 wine samples/$20) + commentary by Alpana Singh + tray-passed h'ors d'oeuvres = A DEAL
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this equation, but it seems to be completely valid. Osteria Via Stato's hosting a wine-tasting event called "20 Wines for $20" on Wednesday, August 12, from 5:30-7 PM. During this event, Chicago's well-known Master Sommelier and host of Check Please! Alpana Singh will talk about the 20 fruit-forward Italian wines available for sampling. H'ors d'oeuvres by Executive Chef David DiGregorio will complement the wine, and other wine experts and importers will be on hand to discuss the evening's offerings.
Not surprisingly, space is limited, so if you want to get in on this deal, call Allison Gallese at 312-642-8450 to make a reservation.
Goose Island Brewery has been rolling out new looks for its products over the past six months or so, starting with its small-batch Reserve and Clybourn Heritage beers and most recently its line of sodas.
The beer labels, particularly on the Reserves, are elegant and stylish, almost looking more like wines than beer. But my favorite new look is on Goose Island Root Beer, the granddaddy of the soda line. It's probably no surprise -- after all, it shares the red Chicago star motif with Gapers Block itself -- but between the star and the overall retro feel of the label, it just looks incredibly cool. I'm not sure what defines it as "Chicago Style," as the bottle says, but it remains one of the better root beers available here in the city.
Lincoln Park's River Shannon (425 W. Armitage), which claims to be the oldest Irish pub operating in Chicago, is celebrating their 63rd anniversary next month. They've decided that with this milestone, it's high time they had a signature drink, and they're looking to you to come up with the recipe.
From now until August 1, you can stop by the bar and submit your recipe. Recipes must use Tullamore Dew whiskey. The River Shannon staff will choose five finalists on August 6 at a tasting party where you can sample all five drinks from 9-11 PM. For the next week (through August 14), you can vote online for your favorite.
On August 15, River Shannon will hold their anniversary party from 4-8 PM. At the end of the party, they'll reveal the winner of the competition and present him or her with a plaque. Another plaque commemorating the event will hang permanently in the bar.
Didn't get your fill of inebriation and nationalism last weekend? Well, thank goodness for France, as you can try again with a couple of Bastille Day celebrations this weekend. On Saturday the 11th, Pops for Champagne is holding their Bastille Day Celebration (details in Slowdown). For members of the Third Estate who don't feel like spending money to celebrate La Fête Nationale, Lush Wine & Spirits will be holding free tastings at both of their locations. On Saturday, they'll be sampling various French wines and cider all day, with more wine tastings from 2-5 on Saturday; on Tuesday the 14th (Bastille Day proper) from 5-8, you can taste French wines from regions other than Bordeaux and Burgundy.
This Saturday, July 11, your bicycle is your best drinking buddy. The day kicks off at 9am with the Tour de Fat, New Belgium Brewery's annual Fat Tire-fueled day of bikes and the brewer's art, over in Palmer Square Park. $5 Fat Tires and plenty of bike- and environment-related fun should keep you busy for most of the morning.
From there, ride north on Kedzie and then east a bit on Belmont to Kuma's Corner, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary with a block party featuring free food and a performance by awesome Baltimore band CLUTCH. It starts at noon, but you may actually want to hold off till after this next stop if you want to catch the band.
Down at Soldier Field, Alefest gives you the opportunity to sample up to 20 beers from the dozens offered by more than 50 craft breweries for just $40 -- and you get to keep the glass! Afterward you can take a nice, leisurely ride on the Lakefront Path toward wherever home is... or to wherever food to sober you up might be.
Many people celebrate Independence Day with cold beers and fireworks... The Fifty/50, for reasons known only to itself and its PR team, has decided to up the ante by celebrating the entire week leading up to Independence Day with that most storied American beer-product (beloved by NASCAR enthusiasts and hipsters alike!), the 40 ounce malt liquor. I strolled over for a sip of Colt45 earlier this week, served appropriately in a brown paper bag. I find Colt to be one of the better malt liquors out there, certainly putting King Cobra to shame, and $5 a bottle just seemed too good to pass up. But 40 ounces of just about anything gets difficult to drink down to the last dregs... And through, hrmm, experimentation conducted with the utmost scientific rigor, I can categorically tell you that two 40s is too many. (On a Monday night at any rate.)
If you'd like to try your hand at the Fifty/50's week o' 40s -- no frat-party inspired duct tape required -- the party continues with hip hop, Cubs viewing (it is the Fifty/50, after all), an Olde English all-day party on the 4th, followed by a Schlitz hangover brunch on the 5th. I would advise steering clear of the Cheesy Cheese Balls on the menu -- never has a bar food been so structurally off-base, falling apart into clumpy half-melted strings as soon as you pick it up. People who have had a 40 and a half cannot gracefully contend with that kind of mess. But there's plenty of other good-looking grease on the menu to keep you properly fortified against all that barley. Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, let's hear it for those amber waves of grain.
Chicago's "new wave of microbrews" is highlighted in the travel section of this Sunday's New York Times. Metropolitan and Half Acre both get shout outs, as well as the venerable institutions where their beers are sold, such as the Hop Leaf and the Map Room.
This Friday, June 26, from 7pm to 10pm, Chicago-based Bottlenotes is hosting "Around the World in 80 Sips," an exploration of more than 80 wines from, as the name implies, all around the world, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.. It's an opportunity to try wines from less well-known regions like China and Lebanon alongside the more established wine spots. An assortment of artisanal cheeses and food from local restaurants will help soak up some of that wine.
Tickets are $50 in advance, $75 at the door, but Gapers Block readers can get an exclusive $10 discount by using the code GAPERSBLOCK at checkout. Cheers!
When you talk to distiller T.A. Breaux about his product, after a while you get the vague sense that he's talking like a parent (or teacher) who has to patiently (very patiently) explain the same fact to a child (or student) over and over again until said person finally gets it.
But that's because Breaux distills absinthe, one of the most misunderstood spirits on the market.
This time the two companies are celebrating spring, with two different types of packaging. The first, available only at Fox & Obel (and F&O is one of the few places in the country that will have this), is a bottle of Laurent-Perrier's Cuv
Brut with a large Baccarat crystal vase. It retails for $1200.
The second item contains a smaller vase along with a bottle of the Ros
This week, many Chicago restaurants may have a little extra going on in their wine offerings thanks to Riesling Week. While it may not be much more than a PR move to train the spotlight on German, Austrian and Alsatian wines just when spring is beckoning oenophiles towards Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon blancs, and everyone else towards Memorial Day Miller Lites, Riesling Week couldn't have come at a better time. The first few perfect days of spring, a participating restaurant on my way home from work...patio seating. Sold.
Located in the Affinia hotel, C-House specializes in imaginative seafood and features a nicely tiered menu of bites from the bar, appetizers, entrees, and sides -- all of which work in endless combinations to appease big and little hungers, sushi-enthusiasts and anti-raw stalwarts alike. And many of which work really nicely with the sweetness of their featured Riesling flight. Our server noted that rather than pairing each wine with a course, the chef rather intended all three to be tasted with everything we ate to see how the different flavors played off each other with each individual sip. It certainly took the concern out of ordering. We tried various combinations of bites and apps, standouts being the crab salad (wrapped up in paper thin slices of apple to create something resembling more of a candy than a summer salad), lobster club sandwich, and the seemingly grilled and freeze-dried corn kernels that accompany the very popular yellowtail fish tacos.
The wines were a relatively dry 2006 Keller Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen, Germany; a sticky sweet 2007 Monchoff, Robert Eymael, also German and with a sweet and tart punch that made me think of mead; and a 2004 Schloss Lieser, Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spatlese, which was the most balanced of the three, though try ordering another one of those after you've had a few. A classic, dessert-friendly Riesling which went really nicely with the tartness of the fish tacos' pickled onions, the buttery richness of the lobster and yellowtail, and the sweetness of the crab salad. Bites at C-House start at $4, and the wine flight runs $22 through the end of this week. Zum Wohl!
I love it when one of the things I'm interested in (food and drink, for example) appear on a blog in relation to something else I'm interested in (local artists and crafters, for example). So it made me happy twice over when I realized that Dan Grezca (pronounced Jet-SAH) is designing the label for a new beer for Three Floyds called Apocalypse Cow. No mention of it on their website, and no clue what type of beer it is, but the name and label will be enough to make my try it.
Although New Belgium Brewing is known primarily for their Fat Tire amber ale, they've also got a pretty cool program called "Lips of Faith," a group of experimental beers that they make in small batches and share with a select group of establishments.
Oak Park's Marion Street Cheese Market has just gotten accepted into this program, so for the next year, they'll be awash in some ultra-cool, hard to get brews from New Belgium. They're kicking off their participation in the program by tapping a barrel of Biere de Mars next Wednesday evening, May 6. Along with $3 pours of this ale brewed with barley, oats and wheat malt, Marion Street will be giving away a bunch of New Belgium swag, including glassware and Belgian chocolate.
The Cheeseburger Show will be hosting a tweet-up at Sheffield's, 3258 N. Sheffield Ave., Friday night from 8pm to 10pm, and they'd like to buy you a cheeseburger. That's right -- free sliders. You can RSVP on Facebook if you like -- or, you know, just show up.
And, as Chuck Sudo notes, Sheffield's Beer School is hosting a "DarkLord Eve" party the same night from 7pm till 1am. "Kuhl and the Sheffield's staff will be tapping some choice selections from Three Floyds, Dogfish Head, Surly and New Belgium, including a cask -- not a keg, a cask -- of Three Floyd's Robert the Bruce ale." No need to register, it's pay as you go.
Two upcoming events promise to provide unique opportunities to sample some great wines and food -- but you've got to hurry to get tickets before they sell out.
On April 26 at the Crimson Lounge in the Hotel Sax, Chicago's Best Palate brings together some of the city's top sommeliers -- Scott Tyree, formerly of Tru; Chef Alain Njike of Park 52; Italian Village's Michael Taylor; and Lucas Henning of C-House -- who will tasting three mystery wines and attempt to determine the the region, varietal and year of each. You'll be able to play along, answering the same questions and possibly even besting the wine experts. It's hosted by The Local Tourist's Theresa Carter and the Windy City Wine Guy, Michael Bottagliero -- no slouch in the wine department himself. Tickets are just $30.
The Local Tourist teams up with Tweating Out for the Chef's Table dining series, which ventures to Via Ventuno on April 29. For just $25, you'll sample food and wine from the latest in restaurateur Jerry Kleiner's stable (it had been Room 21 before a full re-imagining), and enjoy some face time with Kleiner himself. Tickets for this one are likely to go fast, so register soon.
Ipsento is a quality coffee shop. That is their goal. That is what they effuse. I stopped into Ipsento on a rainy night with my friend Leah. I had come here once before last summer and had a pleasant enough experience. But after reading on their website that ownership has changed as of April 4th and they intend to give all profits back to the community, I was intrigued.
This living room-esque coffee shop is soul stroking. The décor is mostly found and second-hand objects giving the small space a feeling of familiarity. When you walk in the front door you are greeted with a coffee-roasting machine. That is because the new owners, the Coffee Ambassadors, are a direct-trade coffee roaster, which is actually a step above fair trade coffee. After talking with the barista I learned that their vision goes far beyond just supplying direct trade coffee to Bucktown residents. They want to be a place of community, sustainability and mutual learning. The vision is formidable. But some may argue that a vision is not enough. To that I say, have their soy chai latte! This chai latte is by far the best I've had in Chicago. I rejoiced after the first sip, literally yelling about how wonderful it was across the quaint coffee shop to the next customer at the counter. My friend had a sip and concurred that there was something unique in my mug. Soon after, I realized it tasted like a cup of campfire and all the good sentiments that go along with a campfire. It was one of those drinks that after the second sip I was already sad thinking about the last.
Currently, Ipsento is in its budding elementary stages. Run by a group of young people they welcome the input of community members. This place breathes creativity, tasty flavors and community engagement. Come spring, they hope to be serving mostly local foods from farmer's markets. Stay tuned. I believe this is the beginning of something beautiful.
Ipsento Coffee House, 2035 N. Western Ave., 773.517.4123
Ted Haigh (aka Dr. Cocktail) has a vintage cocktail column in Imbibe magazine, and after reading this recipe for the Violet Fizz, I had to try it. It's especially good for spring days now that the flowers are starting to bloom.
The Violet Fizz features creme de violette, a formerly "lost ingredient" in classic cocktails that hadn't been available in the United States for years. It's an Austrian liqueur made from Queen Charlotte and March violets. You can buy it at Drinks Over Dearborn for $23.99.
Yes, it's bright purple, but in this gin-based drink, you'll get only a hint of that color.
1 1/2 oz. gin
.5 oz. creme de violette
1 oz. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sugar (I tend to use powdered sugar)
Shake the gin, creme de violette, lemon juice, and sugar in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with soda.
>Picture a ballroom full of booze and you with a tasting glass in your hand. You look around and hundreds of people (some in kilts) crowd around tables, getting tastes of the best whiskies in the world. This is WhiskyFest.
After thinking about going for several years, I finally attended my first WhiskyFest. While the event was a bit overwhelming, I came away with a different impression of both whisky and the event.
First off, there's no way you'll be able to try all the whisky that's available. The event had 68 exhibitors, most pouring more than one option at their table. If you wanted to talk to the distillers and maybe get a bite to eat, you had to map out your evening pretty carefully.
Secondly, I was really surprised to see the amount non-whisky options. Gin, vodka, rum, absinthe, and beer were all available, which means that even someone who doesn't fully appreciate whisky can find enough to enjoy at the event.
Thirdly, the Midwest could very well become a power player in niche, small-batch alcohols. Sure, the fest was dominated by Scotland, Ireland, and Kentucky, but some local distilleries had some amazing and unique offerings as well. Read about them after the jump.
We've posted about foodie Twitterers and culinary elite Twitterers before, but some of my favorite local Twitterers focus on beverages. Perhaps it's because their tweets feel more actionable than most; Lush Wine & Spiritstweets regularly about what they have in stock, free wine and beer tastings in their store, and events they'll be attending. Goose Island posts about their tastings, dinners, and beer releases, while the streams for Flossmoor Brewery, Half Acre Beer, and Metropolitan Brewery document the goings-on of the breweries and the brewers. I learned about North Shore Distillery's new limited-edition chocolate and chile liquor, Mole Poblano, via tweet, and now I can't wait to taste it. On the non-alcholic front, while Intelligentsia is pretty new to Twitter, they're realizing its power--a tasting of single origin espresso announced via tweet drew so many people to the Monadnock store last week that they ran out of espresso well before the event was scheduled to end.
Whether you're Irish or Catholic or neither or both, you can enjoy Irish music and fare at the Fifth Province within the Irish American Heritage Center. Every Friday through April 10, the Center hosts a fish fry and Irish music from bands like The Dooley Brothers and Seamus O'Kane & Jimmy Moore. Plenty of Irish beer and cider on tap, too. Music starts at 9pm. $12 cover.
Since Chicago is all things whisky for the next several days, I thought this week's cocktail should be based on it.
A whisky sour is a refreshing sweet and sour drink. Sure, it looks like lemonade, but it packs a punch. It's also not very complicated to make, despite the fact that you sometimes see whisky sour mis in the store. You really don't need to have that. The basic recipe just calls for having a lemon on hand (or if you don't have a fresh lemon, bottled lemon juice will do. Trader Vic wouldn't think it's optimal, but it'll do).
2 oz. whisky
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1/2 oz. or 1 tablespoon)
1/2 tsp. sugar (or powdered sugar)
club soda or seltzer
cherry and orange section for garnish
Add whisky, lemon juice, and sugar to a shaker, fill with ice, and shake. Strain into a chilled sour glass (if you have one--a rocks glass is just fine though). Add a bit of soda/seltzer. Garnish.
Note: Obviously, the size of the lemon will dictate how much juice you get out of it, so if you're using bottled juice, you may need to play with the proportions a bit.
You can also substitute brandy for whisky, which will give you a brandy sour.
Actor Dan Aykroyd will be at Binny's South Loop store (1132 S. Jefferson) tomorrow from 1-3pm to talk about his new winemaking ventures with DeLoach vineyards, as well as a separate project, Crystal Head Vodka. He'll sign bottles, pour a few glasses for the audience, and if you're lucky, he'll show you his webbed toes. I'm serious about the toes.
Malt Advocate's WhiskyFest may be next Wednesday, but bars in Chicago start celebrating tonight. If you're going to WhiskyFest, attending some of these is a great way to get in the mood for the big night; if you're not going, it's a great (and cheap--most of these events are free) way to get in on the action and learn more about the complexities of whisky, weather it be scotch, Canadian, bourbon, or Kentucky.
This past Sunday I joined 200 other beer geeks (including GB-er Mandy Burrell Booth) at Goose Island Clybourn for their Stout Fest, where we got to sample over 30 stouts and porters from 16 breweries.
I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of the stout and porter styles. So why bother going to a beer fest that's solely featuring styles I don't normally drink? Simple--I got the opportunity to try a lot of different beers in these styles, which allowed me to quickly learn about them and gain an appreciation for them. And frankly, some of them blew me away.
Sunday is the start of World Water Week (which kicks off with a one-mile walk and other festivities at the Field Museum) and the Tap Project, a chance for the nation's restaurants and restaurant patrons to help bring clean water to children around the world. For the week, restaurants around Chicago will charge $1 for the tap water they normally provide for free, and the money raised will go to UNICEF's clean-water works. The Tap Project web site has a list of participating places in and around town. There's an inspiring variety, in terms of location and price point, including the Goddess & Grocer, Naha, Southwater Kitchen, Big Bowl and C-House, the kitchen featuring Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef and UNICEF Ambassador (and, some might say, tall, cool glass of water himself).
Maybe you're watching a lot of basketball this weekend, and you'd rather enjoy a cocktail instead of drinking a bunch of macrobrews. Try the Godfather--it's simple enough to describe to a bartender who's never heard of it, yet remarkably complex:
2 parts scotch
1 part amaretto
Pour liquor into ice-filled rocks glass. Stir. Garnish with a cherry.
The amaretto helps to smooth out the harshness of the scotch, but the drink isn't overly sweet. However, be careful of its smoothness--this is still pure alcohol, so slamming too many of these is really not a good idea.
If you're not a scotch fanatic, you can replace the scotch with vodka, which makes the drink a Godmother.
Hart Davis Hart Wine Co., Chicago's fine wine auction house, hosts a BYOB night at Blackbird for a wine friendly dinner paired with the cuisine of Chefs Paul Kahan and Mike Sheerin. Here's an occasion to break out that special bottle you've been saving or some gems from the cellars of HDH. The evening includes a Champagne reception and a four-course meal in the private dining room. Start perusing your cellar or the local wine shops now. Reservations required.
I've recently become a fan of gin. When I first started drinking, vodka and rum were more my liquors of choice. I did try a gin and tonic once but didn't like the flavor--the gin was a little too much (or maybe too cheap) for me. I also associated gin with old ladies and the Queen Mother, and since I was definitely not either, I snubbed gin.
Then came the vodka martini craze, which meant drinking in happiness. Now that pre-Prohibition and classic cocktails are all the rage, vodka has taken a backseat in my life. Why? Vodka isn't that classic.
My 1947 Trader Vic Bartender's Guide is 437 pages. Exactly two of them contain recipes for vodka drinks, a total of four recipes in all. Vodka apparently wasn't very popular back in the day because it doesn't have any distinct flavor or scent. If it didn't have either of those, why bother drinking it?
Needless to say, I wasn't convinced. Then I went to the Whistler, and their limited cocktail menu didn't contain any vodka drinks at all. So I tried a gin drink and was pleasantly surprised by how good and flavorful it was. I continued experimenting with gin, and I find that I've really taken to it (or maybe I'm just turning into an old lady).
I got this recipe from a Diageo kiosk that was set up at Binny's in Lakeview, and it's a variation on the Gin Rickey, which was writer F. Scott Fitzgerald's favorite drink.
.75 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
1.5 oz. gin
4 dashes bitters
lemon wheel (for garnish)
Pour the lemon juice, simple syrup, gin, and bitters into a shaker. Add ice, shake well, and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass (it's also good straight-up). Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Give it a try, and maybe you'll discover your inner author. Happy drinking!
If you've been waiting to get a swig of Popskull, the German Brown Ale collaboration between Three Floyds and Dogfish Head Ales, your wait is over. In Fine Spirits (5420 N. Clark) is the first bar to get one of the four cask ales that were produced, and they'll be tapping it tomorrow, starting at 4 PM. Both pints and half-pints will be available, but In Fine Spirits warns that the cask holds about 80 pints, so quantities will be limited.
If you get there too late, you can still drink other fine Three Floyds and Dogfish Head brews and chat with John Freyer from Dogfish Head Ales and Lincoln Anderson from Three Floyds.
A limited number of barrels of Popskull will be released during Three Floyds' annual Dark Lord Day celebration at the end of April.
Mike Phillips, a barista at Intelligentsia's Broadway store and last year's Great Lakes Regional Barista Championship winner, is one of the six finalists in the U.S. Barista Championship. Three other finalists are from Intelligentsia's Los Angeles outpost, and another, Scott Lucey, is from Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee.
Wondering what goes on at a barista competition? The finals will be streaming live at the USBC website; they're scheduled to run from 2-4:30 Central time this afternoon, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter.
UPDATE: Phillips is the winner! His final score was 730 points, besting second place Nick Griffith of Intelligentsia LA (719.5 points) and third place Scott Lucey of Alterra Coffee (697.5 points).
I won't beat around the bush--the Cuba Libre is basically a Rum & Coke, but this is what it's called in the 1947 Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide (relied on by the owner of Weegee's, and if that's not a ringing endorsement for this book, I don't know what is).
I chose this because I really want to talk about the importance of measurement in mixing a proper cocktail. This week I went to a bar for a Rum & Coke, and the bartender filled a small glass with ice, poured a lot of rum in it, and then topped it off with not much more than a splash of cola. It tasted awful. After a couple of sips, I actually went back to the bar to ask to have it poured into a bigger glass with more coke added. Only then was it palatable.
A lot of bartenders think they're doing you a favor by pouring liquor with a heavy hand. They're not.
For those of you who appreciate a good rare whiskey, you can now order your very own bottle of the 1964 Cellar Collection from The Glenlivet. This limited-edition bottle joins their Cellar Collection lineup of whiskeys from 1959, 1969, 1972, and 1983. The U.S. market will get less than 300 bottles, so run right over to Binny's, Sam's, or Drinks Over Dearborn to place your special order right now. Oh, and it's $2,000 a bottle.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a food writers panel, and one of the questions posed to the panel was, "What's your favorite restaurant?" As the writers came up with their answers, I thought how I would answer the question. All of my choices were based on the establishment's cocktail menu.
Well, then. Although I do love a good meal, I apparently love a good cocktail more, so I've decided to regularly post cocktail recipes that you can either order when you're out, or try making at home. This week: The Satin Manhattan.
I love cinnamon. No really. I try to find interesting things to do with it. I'm totally biased, I know. But I love it. So when reading recently about different infused vodkas I got to thinking about the best way to infuse vodka with cinnamon. Using powder seemed like it would create an awful texture in the final drink, but I worried that the sticks wouldn't release enough flavor.
I had no reason to worry. Vodka, as I learned, is incredibly easy to infuse. All I did was take this inexpensive bottle of vodka, throw in a handful of cinnamon sticks (of course I got really good ones from The Spice House) and I let it sit on a counter for a couple of weeks. I think it only needed a week, but I wanted to make sure I had enough time to redo it if necessary. But I didn't need to.
Once it was infused I set about trying cool ways to use it. It tastes fantastic with Coke (which makes me think homemade vanilla or cherry vodka may be in my future as well), superb with spicy ginger beer, great with ginger ale and a dash of grenadine or bitters. It also matched well with chocolate liqueur (and a splash of milk), Irish cream, hot cocoa (or coffee if you're into it), and might even be tasty drizzled over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. I feel like so much more could have been done with it if I'd really gotten creative with the mixing of spirits. I think I'll be doing it again and experimenting further.
Well, maybe not save, but the local distributor of the distinctive New Orleans whiskey (and its namesake, the first official American cocktail, if sources are to be trusted), is helping drum up support for New Orleans revitalization projects by pushing all proceeds from Sazerac sales to the the rebuilding of the Museum of American Cocktail (bien sur) and the Second Harvest Food Bank of the city in need. What better way to celebrate Mardi Gras and the coming Lenten season than a little debauchery that does real good?
Participating Sazerac speakeasies include the Violet Hour, Nacional 27, The Drawing Room, Sepia and The Whistler, and the drink itself is usually a combination of Cognac, whiskey, absinthe, and/or bitters -- each bar is likely to have its own twist on New Orleans' official drink, judging by their pedigrees. The party starts Fat Tuesday, February 24, and ignores the post-Mardi Gras spirit to keep pouring through March 31.
Starbucks announced today that it's closing 300 more stores and laying off 6,000 workers. No word yet on which Chicago stores are closing, if any, but we'll keep you posted. Follow local blog Starbucks Gossip for employee reactions and more news.
We've also learned that local chain Intelligentsia has changed the type of chocolate it's using in its mochas and hot chocolate, and the new stuff is not vegan. There has been no official announcement, but baristas have been telling customers as they order as a precaution. Vegans, consider yourself warned!
Five Star Bar in River West has got a fantastic list of bourbons, whiskeys, and scotches--nearly 100 to keep you occupied. That's great, but if you don't know much about these liquors, you wouldn't even know where to start. Enter Whiskey University, a new monthly class series led by Whiskey Professor Steve Cole. Cole is one of three Whiskey Professors who travel the globe for Beam Global Spirits & Wine.
Each two-hour class will feature different aspects of the liquor. The first session, this Saturday, January 31, will look at bourbon, its history, and how to read a bourbon label. You'll also sample four different bourbons: Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek, Baker's and Booker's. Coming months will feature different liquors and topics.
Class is in session from 4-6 PM. Tuition is $10 per class, $5 for industry professionals. It's highly recommended you reserve a space, so call the bar at 312-850-2555.
I got a jump on the rest of the city on Thursday, when Gapers Block hosted a "staff-tivity" at the brewery in Ravenswood. We got to sample two of Metropolitan Brewing's delicious beers, the Dynamo Copper Lager and Flywheel Bright Lager, while noshing on sandwiches and fries complements of Hopleaf. I loved the Dynamo, a beautifully balanced beer with a crisp finish -- very drinkable. The Flywheel is a bit sweeter up front, but still has a smooth, dry finish befitting a German lager.
Entertainment was on point: to help celebrate Metropolitan's kick-off, the Neo-Futurists are using the brewery as a stage for the aptly-named "Beer," running Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between Jan. 31 and March 7. We got a sneak peek at the show, which tells the story of 10-year-old Boon, who passes out drunk after drinking his stepfather's crappy beer, and awakens to find himself and his puppet buddy, Puke, in a mysterious brewery. To get home, they must learn how to brew delicious beer. It's a great idea -- the Wizard of Oz meets Willy Wonka, for beer-lovers -- made that much better by staging it at a real brewery.
So, to recap, here's an idea for a fun night out next Thursday: check out "Beer," and then go drink some (of Metropolitan's) at one of the lucky bars featuring Chicago's newest brew.
Patrons of West Lakeview Liquors might notice that employees Devon Cunningham and Beejay Olson have taken a little sabbatical. They're currently in Belgium for six weeks with apprenticeships at De Struis Brouwers, where they'll learn the intricacies of traditional Belgian brewing practices. They're blogging about the experience here.
During the holidays, a lot of liquor companies have offers for free personalized gift labels that you slap on the bottle to make the gift of booze a little cooler. But gift-giving knows no season--what if you'd like to spruce up your bottle for a friend's birthday this spring or a housewarming gift this summer?
Never fear. Knob Creek bourbon offers free customized labels year-round through their website. Type in your message, and they'll print out a label and ship it to you with instructions on how to attach it to your bottle of Knob Creek. You do have to allow 4-6 weeks for shipping, but it's worth it to give your gift that extra-special touch.
Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery is kicking off 2009 by releasing two new bottled offerings. The first is Wooden Hell, a bourbon barrel-aged barley wine that has won gold twice at the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer. Only 360 bottles will be available for sale, with a limit of two bottles per customer. See their blog for details on how to pre-order this brew.
The second beer they're bottling will be the Killer Kowalski Baltic Porter, which won a silver medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival. Flossmoor Station will have about 120 cases for sale, and they'll be available starting Saturday February 7th at a release party that starts at 1:00 PM.
On the chance that neither of these beers sells out, Wooden Hell will be for sale at the Killer Kowalski party, and Killer Kowalski might make its way into distribution. However, just to be safe, you should pre-order the barley wine and be there to party with the porter in February.
The Wall Street Journal reported this past weekend that more than a few cocktails are showing up on Chicago bar menus in "honor" of His Honor, Gov. Rod. The drinks at Harry Caray's and Nacional 27 are name-checked, but most concoctions seem to include some pun on "impeach," mostly through peach-flavored or -infused alcohols, which leads the WSJ to wax historical about one particular Chicago drink -- the Cohasset Punch. The story is neat, and the drink sounds nifty -- give it a whirl at your politically themed holiday party!
From the Wall Street Journal:
1½ oz dark rum
1 oz sweet vermouth
juice of ½ lemon
½ oz syrup from canned peaches
½ oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes orange bitters
Start by putting half a canned peach in the bottom of a saucer champagne glass; then half-fill the glass with shaved ice. Put all the liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass.
Last week, Jill Jaracz and I tried (and posted about) some Laurent-Perrier champagne at the Four Seasons. Where, you may have asked yourself, could I try this intriguing yet pricey beverage before purchasing myself or my loved ones a bottle? Fox & Obel has you covered. They're hosting a Laurent-Perrier champagne tasting tonight, from 6 to 7pm, and $25 will get you sips off several L-P bottles, including Ultra Brut and Grand Siecle, as well as a discount on anything you purchase in the store following the class. Reserve a place here. (Or sometimes, if you just happen to pop into Fox & Obel after one of their classes is over, there are occasionally half-empty bottles that need some help before landing in the recycling bin, nudge nudge.)
If you miss tonight's session, Fox & Obel is hosting another champagne shopping event, this time featuring Egly-Ouriet, next Monday, December 22, same time and price.
Baby, it's cold outside -- but that doesn't mean we must suffer. River North spot mk warms up customers with free hot toddies every time the temperature dips below 20 degrees. I'd say tonight qualifies.
Here's the recipe:
1½ oz. whiskey
1 oz. honey
1/3 oz. lemon
3 oz. African amber tea
Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Then add whiskey and lemon juice. Boil water and add the tea bag to make hot tea. Pour the steaming tea into the glass and stir.
Morton's turned 30 this year, and to celebrate, you can get free mini cheeseburgers this Sunday, Dec. 21, at any of their locations from 5pm to 6pm. (They also have a $49.95 three-course prix fixe deal if you're interested.) UPDATE: Morton's will also be handing out complimentary steak sandwiches on Friday, Dec. 19 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm at the Wacker Place (65 E. Wacker Place) and State Street (1050 N. State St.) locations.
On the other hand, The Reader's Free Shit blog reports that only half of McDonald's downtown locations are prepared to make good on the promise of free McCafé coffee on Mondays. The others either aren't participating or can't because the new machines aren't set up.
What could be cooler than being in culinary school and winning a trip to the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal because of your talents? Next year two Kendall College culinary students will do just that, having won the first Cockburn's Culinary Competition, which put students to the test of pairing entrees with Cockburn's Special Reserve Port.
Last Wednesday, Kendall hosted the final round of this competition, where three teams of two vied for this prize. Fellow GB-staffer Lori Barrett and I attended this event, where we got to sample Cockburn's ports and taste all three finalists' dishes.
Yes, it's the season for giving yet again. And what better gift than champagne, that most sparkly and celebratory of all beverages? Yes, you could break out the Andre and a sheepish yet hopeful smile, but it's Christmas! Lexus and Best Buy and every other merchant in America would have you believe we can wish and spend this recession into the past -- so why not go for the good stuff and pick up some Laurent-Perrier this year? Or if you're really feeling flush, the 2008 Laurent-Perrier holiday gift set, featuring a magnum (i.e. the one that's "juuuuuust right") of Grand Siecle and six hand-blown Baccarat crystal champagne flutes based on a design commissioned by the champagnerie in 1965 reflecting an inversion of the bottle's shape. Thanks to the Laurent-Perrier press unveiling at the Four Seasons this past week, fellow GB-staffer Jill Jaracz and I can vouch for the fact that it is lavishly lovely -- and the champagne is good as well. More details (and the price!) after the fold.
Dale Degroff is often credited with bringing fresh ingredients back to the art of cocktails. While bartending at Manhattan's Rainbow Room, Degroff stripped their drinks of mixes and artificial ingredients and brought back honest cocktails long forgotten in the states.
The Essential Cocktail is a definitive book with hundreds of recipes, variations, and drink histories. Best of all, the book boasts 150 full-color photographs -- a detail that is often missing from other cocktail books.
Degroff was recently a guest on the Rachel Maddow Show, where she admitted to being an "amateur, low-level, hobbyist bartender" (swoon). Degroff shared a brief history of the American cocktail and the recipe for his version of the East India. See the recipe after the jump.
Surly Darkness, a gorgeous limited release Russian Imperial Stout from the Surly Brewing Company, is currently back on tap in Chicago.
Only a couple dozen barrels are brewed each year and most bars have a two glass maximum per person. (Which isn't a bad idea at 10.3% ABV.) The beer pours thick and is a deep brown/black with a silky brown head. The flavors run through chocolate, blackberries, molasses, coffee, chicory and roasted malt.
The supply may not last the weekend, so it may be a good idea to call ahead to your favorite bar to see if it is available. Three great bars that still have it (as of this afternoon) are:
In the refrigerated beverage section at Dominick's: a new line of grape juices from First Blush, named for the varietal grapes that normally make wine. These bottles of nonalcoholic Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah stand out from the other drinks on the shelf, the has-been Odwalla smoothies and POM pomegranate drinks. First Blush has drawn some notice before for its packaging, and word on the street is that Kate Hudson imbibes, as do other fashionistas. This juice just might be worth getting to know: Here's a Cab that claims to fight signs of premature aging (with super antioxidant powers), as opposed to other Cabs that tend to show up under your eyes the next morning. But, like anyone new in town and desperate to make friends, we hear these juices can be cloyingly sweet.
My youngest brother looks forward to this time of year for one reason, and one reason alone: eggnog. As soon as it hits the shelves, he switches to the sweet stuff instead of milk, and keeps it up all the way into January.
If you're an eggnog freak like my brother, you might be interested in an upcoming cooking demonstration at Room21, 2110 S. Wabash Ave. On Dec. 4 from 6pm to 7pm, Chef Daniel Tucker will show you how to make homemade eggnog -- the old fashioned, boozy way, presumably. The demo costs just $10, and if you stay for dinner you'll get $10 off your bill.
Space is limited, so reservations are recommended; call 312-328-1198.
Autumn is one of my favorite eating times of year. Heavy hearty dishes are not only acceptable but encouraged again after the light, fresh dishes of spring and summer. And while a glass of rich red wine may go perfectly with your braised meats and casseroles, what if you're in the mood for an autumnal beverage? Throw an oak leaf in your whiskey and call it a Fall Julep? Thankfully a few drinks, alcoholic and otherwise will happily spare you this fate.
I recently sipped some seasonal offerings at Crust, which is well-know as a organic gem but more should know for its fervent vodka infusions. The current menu sports an abundance of in-house flavored Rain Vodka concoctions, including red hot, horseradish and root beer varieties. The Forbidden Fruit, despite its fairly silly name, is a wonderfully sweet and sour cider cocktail made with cinnamon-brown sugar infused vodka. The cinnamon-toast sweetness is tempered by the scratchy dryness of the cider, icy cold and topped by a shaker layer of bubbly, breakable foam. The Peach Impediment (again with the name -- I dare any of you, gentle readers, to order two of these consecutively without slipping on the second word) is a gently flavored drink with an end-of-summer lingering sweetness, made with honey and bergamot infused vodka, made with honey from the local and totally awesome Chicago Honey Co-op. The whisper-soft sweetness of peach swirls around the perfumy bergamot flavor -- just enough to ready your palate for whatever stronger winter warmer will show up next on the bar menu. At $10 a pop, these aren't exactly your bargain basket well drinks, but maybe worth the extra few bucks in moderation.
And of course, what could be a more appropriate beverage for October than sweet, spicy apple cider. Always available in plastic quarts at the local supermarket, cider always seems to taste best at its orchard source, perfectly tart and quenching after a long day of pulling hiding fruit from heavy-laden tree limbs. County Line Orchard in Hobart, IN seems to be a popular destination for large sectors of Chicago on fall weekends -- if you can find it despite Indiana's refusal to mark major streets, you can not only pick your own apples and pumpkins, but buy up jugs of cider, canned goods (dilled green beans! green tomato pickles! piccalili!!chow-chow!!) and other locally inflected goods. Also, there's a corn maze. And if you spend an afternoon there with your other young, childless friends, you're sure to need one of those Crust martinis when you get back to the city. Trust me.
Crust, 2056 W. Division Street, (773) 235-5511.
County Line Orchard, 200 S. County Line Road, Hobart, IN 46342, (219) 947-4477.
Half Acre Beer received the new tanks and other brewing equipment at its new brewery at 4257 N. Lincoln Ave. in North Center this morning.
The equipment was purchased from Ska Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado, and shipped here on four trailer trucks. The fermenters looked a bit like space capsules on the flatbed when I arrived at the brewery to watch the unload for a little while.
Oh, Alpana, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Riesling, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris, viognier... That's at least four, right? Throw in that musical laugh and adorable stories about hanging with Argentinian wine magnate Ernesto Catena in his maze-shaped vineyard with sommeliers-cum-belly dancers. (Whoa.) Even if you're not an avowed Alpana Singh fan, you have to admit the woman knows her wines, and was sharing her knowledge for the benefit of the city's BYOB diners at Chicago Gourmet this past weekend. Focusing more on the bounty of available ethnic cuisine the city offers rather than individual restaurants, the pairing of six wines with six neighborhood styles was a great introduction to thougtful BYOB shopping. Rather than picking up some two-buck Chuck or "whatever Trader Joe's has with a cute animal label," Alpana suggested springing occasionally for a $20 bottle of wine at the supermarket, especially since the restaurant mark-up of the same wine would put it closer to $70. All the advice and a few more delightful anecdotes below the fold.
When it comes to brewing beer, it's safe to say that Germans know their stuff. So the brewers at Goose Island Brewing Company were mighty pleased when Harald Stueckle, brewmaster for German stalwart Beck's who was in town promoting Beck's Oktoberfest, sampled Goose Island's IPA and proclaimed it "great" and "interesting."
When Andrew (chief of Gapers Block clan) managed to secure press passes to the Chiago Gourmet for us, I immediately wanted to cover a seminar on sake. Normally, it would be $60 to attend (on top of the already hefty $150 day pass, I believe), which is a bit out of my budget. I was curious to see how sake is presented and received, given the recent surge of interest in sake in the Untied States. On top of that, as a relative newcomer to the world of sake myself, I was eager to try new varieties and listen to a sake expert describe their aromas and flavors. So I jumped to the opportunity.
After picking up the press pass and walking past a glassed-in seminar room with maybe eight people listening to a suit-and-tied presenter from an exotic winery, I sat down by the grand staircase on the first floor of the Cultural Center. I was a few minutes early. When I was checking the setting of my camera when I noticed a middle-aged, Eastern Asian guy sit next to me. I didn't think much of that; I just thought he was a tired visitor taking a break for a moment.
The man turned out to be the chef Takashi Yagihashi of Takashi, the seminar's presenter. As he walked up to the front of the seminar room, I kicked myself for not looking at him closely enough--I could have talked to him about the Chicago Gourmet and about sake without anyone milling around for their turn to speak to him. There were probably about 30 people in the room for the seminar. Some wore press passes, while others were paying guests (with occasional flashes of ritzy jewelry). It was interesting to see the sake seminar much better attended than the preceding seminar on wine--although, to be fair, there are more than fifteen wine seminars to choose from, whereas on sake there is only one.
Yagihashi's sake cup collection, along with his Starbucks cup, made an eclectic tableau at the Sake for Everyday seminar.
Yagihashi started with a little biography of himself -- growing up in Mito as a grandson of a sake retailer, moving to the U.S., working his way up in prestigious restaurants, and opening his own in Bucktown -- and moved on to the brewing process of sake. Within a few minutes, everybody was intently listening to his charming and informative talk with occasional self-depricating humor (which reminded me of Japan so much!).
For the tasting part, there was generous pouring of one sake from each of the major sake category. A guy from Yagihashi's distributor joined and gave us a lively commentary on each sake. From the "Junmai" category, which uses rice grains polished at least to the 70% of their original size, we tried "Hitorimusume" from Yamanaka Brewery in the chef's hometown (link in Japanese). To my palate, it tasted a little harsh and alcoholic, although, after listening to Yagihashi describe it as "neutral and good with food," I could see it that way, too.
I hosted a potluck at my place for Drive-Thru's fabulous writers on Tuesday night, and I needed a quick, fall-inspired, non-alcoholic beverage to supplement the bottles of wine others planned to bring. I got inspiration at - where else? - my local corner store.
I bought a gallon of apple cider and mixed it with a two-liter bottle of ginger ale in a very large pitcher. Then, just for a little bit of fancy, I simmered two cinnamon sticks and some star anise in a homemade simple syrup of water, sugar, and a few spoonfuls of honey. I added the cooled syrup to the pitcher, mixed, and served the sweet and spicy sipper over ice.
Yu suggested I punch up the ginger flavor next time by simmering some fresh grated ginger root with the simple syrup.
I just got a sample of Froose, a new beverage for kids that aims to be a whole food rather than a sugary liquid. The little juice boxes were created by a mom who grew concerned about the way her son was eating less yet gaining weight. Once she figured out that it was the sugars in the juice killing her son's appetite and filling him with empty calories, she teamed up with some scientists to find a way to make a fruity beverage with whole grains.
I thoroughly enjoy a refreshing and balanced cocktail. The blend of liquors with mixers and other flavorings is a fine craft, and a craft that I've enjoyed partaking in at restaurants and bars. But the last few months, I've been experimenting with a few mixed cocktails at home. And I do actually follow these recipes and measure the ingredients, because I'm not comfortable with my ability to measure by eye. A little extra garlic isn't going to ruin a dish, but a little extra vermouth can ruin a cocktail.
There were three different cocktails to sample from the book and the two I had were delicious. Since then I've made a Fresh Tomato Bloody Mary (essentially a Bloody Martini) made from fresh muddled cherry tomatoes and fresh basil and oregano. Tonight I'm drinking a Cinnamon Fig Sidecar since I have a few figs left from researching the One Good Meal column this week. And I'm glad I had a leftover fig to try it out. The mix of fresh fig, fresh sour mix, orange curacao and cognac is a great blend. It's not quite as refreshing for a hot summer night as I may like, but it will be a great cocktail for this fall and the cooler, cuddly nights we have coming up.
And the best part of the recipes is that the authors include recipes for making your own sour mix, simple syrup, and a plethora of other infusions and mixers. They also break down all the bar tools that you may find at a store and tell you which ones you actually need and what they do. So whether you're likely to just make an occasional cocktail for yourself at home, or whether you envision tastefully decadent cocktail parties, this book will provide you with what you need to know and tell you which recipes you're likely to find at your local farmer's market (or grocery store). And if you blanch at the $18 price tag for the book, may I remind you that two martinis at almost any martini or cocktail bar will set you back at least that, or more, especially if you factor in the tips. Because of this book, I was able to grab a handful of cherry tomatoes off our tomato plant along with a few basil and oregano leaves to come up with a refreshing cocktail that made me crave brunch food at 11pm. Yum.
You'd think, being a fan of all three, that Bloody Marys would be right up my alley. Wrong. I've been on a hunt for the past four years to find a Bloody Mary that I actually like. Every three or four months I'll order one, only to be disappointed (and completely baffled - I SHOULD like these). I was about to come to terms with the fact that I just don't like the combination of the three when I found myself ordering a Bloody Mary at The Globe Pub.
Some friends and I frequent The Globe Pub on Saturday mornings to watch English Premier League football. That particular morning, I couldn't bring myself to drink a Carlsberg so I decided to give Bloody Marys one more shot. For the first time in four years I was not let down. Just enough spice and the perfect combination of tomato juice and vodka. Garnished with a lemon, lime and two green olives this cocktail has renewed my faith in the popular hangover remedy. The food at The Globe is pretty great too. And the football - don't forget the football.
The Globe Pub
1934 W. Irving Park Rd.
After every party we've ever had, we've always had far more of a bottle of cheap gin than we've wanted. I unabashedly admit that I'm a gin snob. Bombay Sapphire is the lowest I'll happily go on the gin scale and since having Hendrick's, I've preferred the less-junipery taste with my tonic, or with my vermouth and olives. But I had about 12 ounces of cheap gin in a large plastic bottle that kept getting in my way. I was tired of moving the jug of rotgut and put it on the counter in plain site where I knew I would have to find a way to deal with it.
I was wishing it was Hendrick's when I remembered that Hendrick's suggests adding a slice of cucumber to your gin and tonic instead of a lime. The clean, crisp, green taste of cucumber is well-matched to the herbal flavor of gin. So I got out a clean quart-sized jar from my cabinet and sliced up a cucumber into 1/4" rounds. I layered the cucumbers in the jar and poured the cheap gin over the cukes.
After sealing it up tightly in the refrigerator for about two weeks, I finally got over my reticence and decided to make myself a gin and tonic. I put some ice in a glass, poured in a shot of gin, added two of the cucumber slices to my glass for garnish and topped it all off with some tonic water. I nervously took a sip and I was in love. The bitterly alcoholic taste was gone from my cheap gin and what I was left with was a tasty cocktail. Now I just need the summer weather to return so I can enjoy my summertime cocktail before it's too cold.
In these lean times, I like to brew my own coffee at home to save some change. However, the process can be trickier in the summer when what I really want is iced coffee. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way:
First, the guys at Intelligentsia's Randolph Street location tell me that my brewing method is perfect: I just make a pot of coffee like I always do, nice and strong. They recommend avoiding darker roasts, which don't taste as good on ice.
Once the coffee is ready, I pour a big glass and stick it in the freezer. By the time I'm finished showering, the coffee isn't exactly cold, but it's not piping hot, either. I fill my thermos with ice cubes made from coffee leftover from the previous day, and then pour in my chilled coffee and a spot of half and half.
Lately, I've been sweetening the brew with a homemade almond simple syrup. I bring one-third of a cup of water and one-third of a cup of sugar to a boil, then let it simmer for just a couple of minutes until the sugar dissolves completely. I take the pot off the heat and stir in a bit of almond flavoring to taste.
Incidentally, Intelligentsia's new summer drink, GG's Horchata -- rice milk, espresso, simple syrup and a dash of cinnamon -- is a refreshing change of pace on days when I don't feel like firing up my pot at home.
At least that was the price a friend of Drive-Thru unwittingly paid on a recent evening. The scotch list didn't show prices, but our informant assumed that a glass would run the typical $10-15 it is at other bars, maybe a bit more considering the locale. But a greater than 100-percent markup? Ridiculous.
...Um, because One Trick Pony and I drank it all. Okay, not technically true. But after sampling the spirits of 20 different distilleries, featuring over 50 different rums, cachacas and other sugar-cane based liquors, it certainly felt as if we had. This past weekend, the newly opened Bottom Lounge played host to the First Annual Chicago Rum Festival, the inauguration of what we can only hope will be a long-running addition to Chicago's venerable tradition of drinking under the el tracks. More details on what 50 tiny tiny sips of rum will do to a girl, as well as some locally available stand-outs to satiate your own inner pirate, after the fold.
Sirène has a beautiful deep emerald hue. The aroma boasts a very pungent anise, with some citrus and pine notes. The highly herbal flavor is spicy and well-balanced. It tastes delicious neat, but is also refreshing in the traditional "La Louche" style. Mix 3 parts very cold distilled water with 1 part absinthe (or alternatively, add 3 ice cubes to your absinthe for a slow transformation). The absinthe will mellow slightly, allowing you to better taste the myriad herbal flavors. It will also take on a beautiful opalescence as it clouds.
You won't experience any of the purported psychoactive effects, but at 60% ABV you could easily get quite drunk.
On an excessively hot and muggy day last week, I traveled to Hyde Park for a dinner party with some friends. The host greeted me with a cool, refreshing glass of Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. This "green" wine from Portugal is so called due to age, rather than hue. Typically, vinho verdes should be consumed within their first year.
The wine is lightly effervescent and has a crisp citrus taste with, a bit of apple and melon, and a dry finish. It is bright and refreshing and pairs well with salty foods. We enjoyed it with a bruschetta appetizer. I immediately went out to buy a few bottles of my own. At $6, this has become my summer white. (I bought mine at Foremost, 2300 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
If you've been considering ordering a bottle of wine from an out-of-state vineyard that you maybe visited, or enjoyed in the past, you better hurry. After June 1 it becomes harder to order wine directly from out-of-state vineyards. You can order up to 12 cases of wine directly from vineyards who have a state-shipping license, but you can't order wine from out-of-state retailers. Even though you've been able to order wine from out-of-state retailers for the last 15 years, and even though the US Supreme Court decreed that states can't enact burdens on out-of-state producers or shippers, the fine liquor distributors who are supporting our legislators in IL have passed this new legislation. For more coverage of the ban, check out Hungry Magazine.
Last week, the Mid-American Club played host to the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Grand Tasting road show. An 80th floor view of the Chicago skyline -- and suburb-line at that height -- is an impressive backdrop for any event, but perhaps more impressive to me was the discovery that this "zinfandel" stuff is... kind of delicious.
I'm a white wine kind of girl. I know, I know, it's lame and puts me in stereotype-land rather than the company of connoisseurs, but it's worth pointing out: connoisseur I ain't. I just like me some fermented juice of the grape variety from time to time. And zinfandel has never been at the top of the list -- but after the ZAP event, I could absolutely will look forward to sipping some zin in the near future. More details on this revelation, and some excellent locally available wines, after the fold.
North Shore Distillery will be releasing their newest product to stores this week -- Sirène Absinthe Verte. Sirène is produced using the traditional ingredients of anise, fennel and grand wormwood, as well as a special blend of herbs and spices.
The distillers recommend drinking Sirène the traditional way; with a 3:1 ratio of water to spirit. They have also put together cocktail recipes on their website for further experimentation.
Just a reminder that Dark Lord Day begins at the Three Floyds Brewery tomorrow at 11 am. Get there early to mingle and be prepared to wait in line. Bring cash.... and possibly a coat.
More information and directions can be found on the Three Floyds website. I'll be there with my boyfriend, my dad and my dentist (!), and I'll be posting a full write-up in the feature section next week.
Gourmet.com ran a story today on John Kinder, a renowned mixologist who has worked at many local establishments and earned a loyal following among Chicago's cocktail aficionados. Apparently, he sends out a weekly email newsletter to keep his fans up to date on his latest concoctions.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the 800 North Clybourn Goose Island brew pub location will be closing at the end of this year due to lease renewal issues. The Wrigleyville location will remain open and the closing is not expected to interrupt brewing services.
My husband and I have lived in our new apartment for about a month, and we love it. But on weekends we've missed being within walking distance of both a good coffee shop and a bakery on par with our old haunt, Dinkel's on Lincoln. This morning, we searched Google Maps in desperation and finally unearthed a solution: a short bus ride down Irving Park Road to Sheridan satisfies both cravings with Emerald City Coffee and Artemio's Bakery.
Our friends at Half Acre Beer let us know that owner Gabriel Magliaro is turning the ceremonial hand delivery of the first case of their beer to the Heartland Cafe into a fundraiser called the "Half Acre Hike." He'll be walking from Monroe Harbor, approximately 0 North, to the cafe at 7000 N. Glenwood -- about 9 miles north, carrying a case of beer the whole way. The walk will raise money for First Slice, a nonprofit that provides healthy, hearty meals to underprivileged children.
The walk gets underway at 4pm on April 26, and a party at the Heartland, featuring Chicago Samba, starts at 8pm when the walkers arrive. You're welcome to sponsor Magliaro -- or join him on the walk and raise money yourself (no need to carry a case). Call 312-492-8494 or email email@example.com for more info.
• Also on April 26, there's a great event for fans of beer ...and zombies. Chicago is finally getting its own Zombie Pub Crawl! The drunkard zombies will be invading Andersonville, and it's $10 in advance, $15 day-of.
Thanks to Chicagoist for passing along some great news: Flossmoor Station is bottling! Look for it beginning April 5th.
Flossmoor has consistently impressed me since I first tasted their beers at the Great Taste of the Midwest a few years ago. Their brewpub serves up delicious food and is an easy and highly recommended trip from the city.
Tomorrow, March 10, is Founder's Day at Peet's Coffee & Tea. That means a half pound of free beans for every customer who buys a half pound. And, as others Peet's enthusiasts know, a free cup of coffee is always part of the deal when you buy beans (yup, every day of the year.) Alfred H. Peet, the founder of the company, died just this past September, almost 42 years after he opened his first shop in Berkeley, CA. Because it's a California company, there are only two outposts here in Chicagoland: the first, in the city, at 1000 W. North Avenue and the second, in Evanston, at 1622 Chicago Avenue. While not exactly a homegrown, local business, Peet's is, on the whole, more committed to quality and community service than some of those other chain coffee joints out there.
Join members of Logan Square Walks tonight at Weegee's (3659 W. Armitage) at 7pm for a happy hour event and drink-naming competition. Weegee's is creating a signature
drink in honor of the group--a concoction of champagne, sloe gin, sherry, and orange liqueur--and those in attendance will vote for the best name. My suggestion? The "Sippy Skipper."
I celebrated Presidents Day a few weeks ago by having brunch at Lincoln Restaurant, which is just north of the intersection of Lincoln, Damon and Irving Park. What better way to celebrate our country's revered heads of state? Aside from the gut-busting portions of eggs, pancakes and breakfast meats, our stomaches were just as full of soda at the end of the meal. At least one of us could not turn down the giant frosty mug full of 32 ounces of root beer (pictured above, behind a regular 12 oz. portion). I don't think Honest Abe himself ever ingested such a large amount of carbonated beverage, but if he had wanted to, he surely would have come to his namesake restaurant to do so.
Beer lovers, brace yourselves: thanks to bad weather in Europe and a reduction in crops here in the States, there's a severe shortage of hops, one of the key ingredients in beer. As a result, prices have skyrocketed &mdash as much as 600 percent for rarer cultivars.
The increased costs are squeezing smaller brewers in particular. I recently spoke with Gabriel Magliaro of fledgling Half Acre Beer about the situation.
Andrew: I know your beer is contract brewed in Wisconsin; is this bill being passed on to you by the brewery, or are you purchasing ingredients directly?
Magliaro: "Yes, this bill is being passed on to us by the brewery, and we're lucky that we're contract brewed right now because they have long standing relationships and a bit more buying power than we would have on our own. We're having to buy our entire year's worth of hops now because we need to insure that we can continue to brew our beer without compromising quality. Our brewer is asking us to help them out because they can't afford to absorb this kind of spending and are forced to buy this way. We have been actively searching for hops to buy on our own with the hope of buying for our Over Ale (Half Acre's planned second offering]) and beating the price coming down from our brewer, but have been either unable to find the necessary variety of hop or completely blown out of the water when we have. The Saaz hop that we use for the lager was generally found for about $5 a pound. I was just quoted $30 a pound for hop that aims to mimic its qualities."
I finally had the chance to stop in The Original PapaNicholas Café, "Chicago's #1 whole bean coffee roaster," and I was presently surprised. Located in the former spot of Frappe Coffee Lounge, this Portage Park coffee shop has everything you would expect from a coffee shop in this day and age, free Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions all in a comfy contemporary space. The Batavia-based company has been roasting coffee in Chicago for years, selling a variety of blends in area grocery stores such as Treasure Island, Sunset Foods and Jewel. This is their first stand-alone café; a few mini cafes have been in area Jewel stores in the suburbs.
The café has an impressive and affordable menu, standards of muffins and scones, deli sandwiches and grilled paninis -- the Grilled Chicken and Apple sounds interesting. One of the more attention-grabbing items PapaNicholas Café offers is Nick's 96, 96 ounces of coffee to go -- most likely a big container of coffee intended for the office, but I could see some monkey trying to drink it all himself.
The Original PapaNicholas Café
4431 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Monday through Thursday 5:30am to 9pm
Friday 5:30am to 10pm
Saturday 7am to 10pm
Sunday 7am to 9pm
Mark your calendars, ale fans: the Chicago Beer Society's Night of the Living Ales IV will be held March 1 at Goose Island (3535 N. Clark) and will be a celebration (and competition) of locally brewed ales. The ticket price ($35 for CBS members, $40 nonmembers) includes a tasting glass, a load of samples, and appetizers. Take CTA or a cab, folks. You'll be in it to win it and therefore in no shape to drive home afterwards.
Most wine shops are charging a premium this week for sparkling wines, but Randolph Cellars is offering 10% off all the bubbles in house through Saturday. Use the extra couple of bucks to buy your sweetie some truffles or a decent card. Cue the Barry White...
Five weeks have expired since the ringing in of the New Year and by now all of those pesky resolutions have long been annihilated. Fortunately, you now have a “do over” as we kick-off the Chinese New Year today, beginning a 15 day celebration to commemorate the “Year of the Rat.”
While China is out of reach for most (regardless of how deep you have dug that hole on the beach), you can bring a bit of China to your Chicago celebrations with Tsingtao Beer. Tsingtao is the number one Chinese beer in America as well as being the top branded Chinese export product -- period. It's a refreshing international Pilsner style beer that is available in many Chicago retailers, bars and restaurants. The brand has planned several events commemorating the holiday this week; a listing follows after the jump.
Be prepared to find out. Miller Brewing Company is launching a new low-cal brew--Miller Genuine Draft Light 64--in several Midwestern states (including Illinois) in March. MGD Light 64 will be the lowest calorie beer on the market from a major brewer (both national and regional).
According to the Miller Brewing Company website, MGD Light 64 has 64 calories and 2.4 grams of carbohydrates per 12 ounce serving. By comparison, per 12 oz., Bud Light has 110 calories and 6.6g carbs; Coors Light has 102 cal. and 5.0g carbs; Heineken Light has 99 cal. and 6.8g carbs; Amstel Light has 95 cal. and 5.0g carbs; and Michelob Ultra has 95 cal. and 2.6g carbs.
And for some reason I can't help but think that this beer will be targeted towards women...
Jezebel pointed me to an article in Portfolio by Lew Byrson encouraging beer companies to begin considering women as part of their marketing demographic. Women reportedly make up at least a quarter of beer drinkers these days, yet marketing campaigns from major breweries still continue to predominately show woman serving beer or flanking male beer drinkers.
But lest you think that beer companies completely ignore women, according to the article, "[Women] are supposedly the reason beer comes in six-packs rather than eight-packs--a sixer was presumed to be as much weight as a woman would feel comfortable carrying in one hand." [!]
Most of my female friends and I love beer, though we typically stick to smaller, higher quality breweries. While I will never be a Bud Light or Coors drinker, I am surprised that these major companies have yet to make a real effort to court female drinkers. (Though, I am by no means suggesting that sexist advertising is entirely unique to beer companies.)
Apparently at Chicago's Exsalonance Salon, you can get a beer pedicure. The salon claims that the enzymes and hops in the beer help reduce calluses.
If you absoutely have to go out for dinner on amateur night, best make your reservations right now. Luckily, a quick scan of opentable shows plenty of early res's available at lots of swanky spots throughout the city. They even offer a special page that shows some of the fixed price deals and promos for the big night out.
Standouts include Anteprima, Copperblue, and Naha offering their regular menus and others with special tasting menus and the ever popular Champagne toast. BOKA, Gejas, Le Lan, and Bin 36 all have tasty looking options that range from $50-$135 depending on your seating time and number of courses. The best bargain seems to be The Park Grill with a five course tasting menu, live jazz, and free trolley rides home within a two mile radius all for $55. As an added bonus, you can order $10 glasses of Veuve Clicquot NV all night long.
When I was in Kraków a few years ago, my family flew out to spend Christmas with me. We crammed 5 people into the tiny flat I was renting, spent time reading at Massolit, drank at Alchemia, wandered through Kazimierz and staved off the cold by drinking cups of Grzaniec Galicyjski-- a mulled wine served from street stands in Rynek Glowny.
I was very pleased to find this delicious mulled wine in my local liquor store upon my return to Chicago. Few things make me feel like the holidays have arrived like the smell of Grzaniec Galicyjski warming on the stove.
December 5th isn’t a real holiday, though some people think it ought to be. What’s so special about December 5th? It’s the anniversary of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors — or as it's more commonly known as, Prohibition.
Repeal Day is something Chicagoans should celebrate. Chicago’s close ties to the era of bootlegging and gangsters, Al Capone controlled the flow of illegal alcohol and as many as 10,000 speakeasies by the end of the Roaring Twenties. Repeal Day isn’t just an excuse to drink, it is also a day to celebrate U.S. history. So have a drink and celebrate your Constitutional rights. Have a drink with friends — preferably a small, American craft brew or micro brew, since many smaller breweries went out of business during Prohibition.
Although New Year's Eve is still a few weeks away, I've noticed that liquor and grocery stores are already starting to carry an abundance of Champagne. Not just for weddings and special occasions anymore, Champagne and Champagne cocktails are becoming more popular. What kind of cocktails you ask? Here are a few you may not have heard of:
The Poinsettia: A perfect addition to your Christmas spread, this drink features Champagne, triple sec and a splash of cranberry juice. The French 75: Not for lightweights, this cocktail mixes gin and Champagne, plus a splash of simple syrup and lemon juice. Nelson's Blood: This one mixes tawny port and Champagne. Pretty sure you never thought you'd see port in a cocktail. The Black Velvet: This drink is a strange combination of Champagne and black Irish stout. (And you thought the port was weird!)
And for those who want to learn how to pick out the perfect Champagne for your holiday parties, attend a tasting at Pops for Champagne. Tastings occur weekly, with a different Champagne variety to be featured each time. Prices vary. Click here for more information.
I have long been enamored with antique seltzer bottles. However, I decided that I should wait until I stumble upon one in a resale store rather than pay the premium collectors prices that I typically encounter online. I am also somewhat unclear as to which antique bottles accept carbon dioxide cartridges to aerate liquids and which are simply delivery mechanisms.
Recently, I have noticed modern versions up for sale. They are reasonably priced and certainly take CO2 cartridges. I may have to buy one next year to employ for summer cocktails.
Has anyone had experience with either the antique or modern seltzer bottles?
Wine geeks in the South Loop have two new spots to shop in the hood.Binnys Beverage Depot and Sam's Wine and Spirits have both opened giant new stores on Roosevelt in the South Loop. The new Sam's features a wine and cheese bar and fine wine room, with two floors of wine and spirit selections in a landmark building circa 1928. Binny's new location, less than a mile west, is simply gigantic. In what looks like even more floor space than the Lincoln Park Sam's location, Binny's South Loop has a tasting room with over 100 wines and 16 beers to sample, a rare wine cellar, walk in humidor, and special section of their gourmet market dedicated to chocolate. Both stores have Grand Opening events scheduled for the week.
Holidays with my family always mean delicious food, warm conversation and a healthy amount of booze. If you are looking for a festive cocktail to enjoy while stuffing your bird this week, may I suggest turning to the bittersweet Negroni.
I tasted my first Negroni a few years ago when I met up with my uncles in Venice. They make a point of enjoying this beverage whenever they visit Italy, I make time for it a bit more frequently. When made with care, the bitterness of this drink is quite refreshing and appropriate any time of year.
The fabulous North Shore Distillery recently sent out a recipe in their newsletter for their take on this favorite:
North Shore Negroni Developed by Josh Kaplan at MK Restaurant in Chicago
1 part Distiller's Gin No. 6
1 part Aperol
1 part Vya Sweet Vermouth
Shake ingredients with ice, strain into martini glass.
Aperol has only recently become available in the United States. This Italian apertivo is similar to Campari, though a touch milder. (Incidentally, a typical Negroni includes gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.) I might suggest pouring your Negroni over ice into a cocktail glass if you will be running around your kitchen while enjoying it.
I worked late last night and decided to stop at the Division Small Bar on my way home. I was pleasantly surprised to find two new beers on tap from the Surly Brewing Company in Minnesota: Darkness and Furious.
Darkness, a limited release Russian Imperial Stout, was the star of the night (though the super-hoppy Furious is one of the best IPAs I have had). Only 25 barrels were brewed and Small Bar had a two glass maximum per person, which is probably a good idea for any 10.3% ABV beer. The beer pours thick and is a deep brown/black with a silky brown head; a truly beautiful beer. The texture is smooth and medium-full bodied. The flavors are sweet at the beginning with chocolate, blackberries and molasses. An unexpected hop level (80 IBUs) moves the middle flavors into coffee, chicory and roasted malt and finally back to a bitter chocolate.
The fourth Thursday of every November marks Thanksgiving, a holiday made for foodies. Wine lovers, on the other hand, have their sights set a week earlier on the third Thursday of the month, the annual release of the fun-loving wine Beaujolais Nouveau.
Around the world on midnight and throughout the day on Thursday, Nov. 15, lushes everywhere will be swilling this season’s fruity red from the Beaujolais region of France. Some consider Beaujolais the white wine lover’s red because it’s barely aged – just weeks ago, this wine was hanging on the vine as Gamay grapes – and very low in tannins found in bigger reds like Cabernet. In fact, the beauty of Beaujolais is that it’s not meant to sit around: the sooner you drink it, the better. (My kind of wine!)
Newcity Chicago's latest paper edition features a "selective indie coffeehouse guide," helpfully organized by neighborhood. The collection of reviews is fun to read. Did you know there's a coffeehouse in Ukrainian Village where you can take tango lessons several nights a week? Or that you can get a tamale, Viennese breakfast, or even sushi with your coffee at shops around town? Despite the loss of institutions like Filter in Wicker Park, it's nice to see that so many indies are still serving it up hot and quirky in Chicago.
The Web version of the Newcity's guide is more extensive -- though my one minor gripe is that I wish it linked to the coffeehouses' Web sites, when available, so readers could more easily check out the menu and hours of operation.
Is it just me, or is bacon everywhere these days? And I'm not talking about the bacon on your "Enormous Omelet Sandwich" from the BK Lounge. I'm talking about bacon gone gourmet. Unique items like Bacon Ice Cream (Blackbird) and Bacon and Almond Brittle (Crimson Lounge) are popping up on menus at hot spots all over Chicago. And believe it or not, you can even satisfy your pork and salt cravings in liquid form.
Belly-up to the bar at Osteria Via Stato and order the Baconcello, a cocktail that mixes house-made bacon and green apple infused vodka with maple syrup and fresh lime juice.
Or, give Sepia's Bacon Bloody Mary a try. It's your basic Bloody Mary: tomato juice, black pepper, horseradish — but with bacon-infused vodka. Cheers, everybody!
Have you ever watched "Check Please!" and wished you could sit down with host/sommelier Alpana Singh to get some good advice on a wine selection, or ask questions about an episode of her show? A new part of the current season of "Check Please!" is a feature called Ask Alpana, an online form where readers can send her a question that could be answered on a future episode and posted online.
My fiancee and I finally replaced our broken coffee pot, and our timing couldn't be better: this week, seasonal, holiday-inspired coffee blends hit the shelves at coffe shops across the city.
We've lived within walking distance of the Caribou Coffee at Ashland and School for six years. Favorite baristas have come and gone, but the Reindeer Blend remains our wintertime ritual. The "serious coffee with a playful name" is a blend of aged Sumatra, Indonesian and Columbian beans, creating a rich brew with hints of caramel and spice. It's in stores this Thursday, and I fully expect to enjoy a steaming cup on Friday morning.
If you can't wait until Thursday for your cup of cheer, Intelligentsia's Celebration Blend arrives in stores Tuesday. The coffee has hints of red currants, caramel, citrus peel, molasses, clove and cinnamon -- warm and fuzzy fuel for Christmas gift shopping.
If you're a Starbucks fan, you can get yours Wednesday, and you have options. Choose the Christmas Blend or the more neutrally named Holiday Blend, which also comes in decaf. Both pair well with gingerbread cookies, according to Starbucks' Web site, so either way you can't go wrong.
Ever wonder how your barista got that cool little leaf design on the top of your latte? Learn how to turn your cup into a canvas at Intelligentia's Espresso Enthusiast Class--a basic course in barista training. Topics include espresso preparation, milk steaming and of course latte art. You'll even receive a free bag of Black Cat coffee for your efforts. There are a variety of dates available and reservations are required. Fulton Street Roasting Works, 1850 W. Fulton, Chicago. $200 per class.
Hellllooooooooooo! (please imagine in a spooky voice)
Back by popular demand, I have created another wine n candy pairing challenge! Yes indeed, you can count on me to suggest things to drink after the kids (or your roommates) are finally down from their sugar rush and zonked in their beds. Follow these three steps to play along at home.
First: Once the kids are asleep, strike quickly and snag the premium candy from their bags and plastic pumpkins. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey's Minatures, "Fun Size" real candy bars...stuff like that. (Leave the Smarties - even your kids won't eat those. Who hands that crap out anyway? Lame.) It should be noted that some children do keep track of their loot in great detail. If your kid has an excel spreadsheet detailing their haul, you will have to alter that too. Can't be too careful.
Second: Select one or two or eight of the wines mentioned below. You will need to purchase them ahead of time, so swing by the wine store on your way home from the Mega Mart when your getting candy for the neighborhood. You'll be glad you did.
Third: Pour yourself a sample of wine and taste with the recommended candy treats or anything else you could weasel from the little ones' stash. Relax and enjoy. You deserve it. After all, you created a Sponge Bob costume from foam rubber and an old swim suit. Note to self: try to sell the tyke on "ghost" next year.
If you go nuts for great Pinot Noir, you best get on the stick and register now for Pinot Days at Navy Pier. Over 50 producers of Pinot Noir from California, Oregon, Burgundy, New Zealand, and beyond will be in town from November 7th to November 10th for a muti-event festival celebrating the soft and sexy red grape. The grand finale is a tasting of over 150 different Pinot Noir-based wines from 1-4pm. $50 Lakeview Terrace at Navy Pier. More info is available at the Pinot Days website.
Chicago's homegrown Argo Tea has a new brand of vegan muffin made by the same company, Bake 'n Joy, that makes their conventional ones. I think I remember a gal behind the counter at Argo on Adams telling me that the staff there thinks that these new vegan muffins taste better than the non-vegan ones. I must qualify that with: I'm vegan, my note-less memory could have blurred, and she hadn't tried them herself. Thinking about the taste of the apple caramel variety and already pedaling home, I adjusted my route home to pass another Argo in order to try the other vegan flavor, blueberry. Both types tasted tender and moist, with a soft, slightly spongy mouth feel that sparkled with a touch of sweetness. Either would be brilliant with a morning's tea or coffee.
An impromptu beer run this week resulted in a pleasant find: all the New Belgium Skinny Dip had been replaced with 2 Below, the socially conscious and progressive brewery's Winter Ale. (Good thing, too, because I couldn't handle one more reminder that summer, while officially over, wasn't over. Like removing a band aid, I prefer to just get it over with quickly.)
The geeks (and I mean that in a good way) over at RateBeer have given it only an average rating thus far, but I happen to really like this cold-weather brew. Especially with hot soup. And the hissing of my radiators.
Bill Daley reports in The Stew that Governor Blagojevich signed HB429 into law yesterday. Starting next June, Illinois residents will be allowed to purchase and ship up to 12 cases of wine directly from Illinois vineyards and out-of-state wineries. This is in compliance with the 2005 Supreme Court ruling on Granholm vs. Heald which determined that states must allow all wineries to direct ship to their residents, regardless of their location, or none at all. Wineries within the state may not have preferential treatment.
There are a few more restrictions that legislators snuck in, though. Illinois residents will no longer be able to purchase wine from out of state retailers. Some of the larger Illinois wineries will be forced to sell all of their goods through distributors, which means price increases to the consumer and tougher competition from other brands.
While these details of the bill may seem trivial, they will impact Illinois consumers more than most folks realize. Winediva is investigating and will report more soon!
To celebrate the new fall television season, TV Guide (remember them?) will be hosting a "Free Coffee Friday" tomorrow. Several coffee shops will be offering free regular-sized coffee and copies of TV Guide from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Here's the lucky places: Letizia’s Natural Bakery (2144 W. Division St), Whispers Café Inc. (1031 N. State St), Ennui Café (6981 N. Sheridan Rd), Gallery Café (1760 W. North Ave), Mercury Cafe (1505 W. Chicago Ave), Alliance Bakery (1736 W. Division St), and Janik’s (2011 W. Division). If you miss it, the next opportunity will be October 5.
Millstream Brewing Company is a 22-year-old brewery (bought in 2000 by a new set of three owners) in Amana, Iowa. They produce a modest selection of beers that go in and out of season as well as root beer, cream soda and black cherry soda. Windmill Wheat, which is available all year round, is their lightest beer, and, in my opinion, it rivals any other light, wheat beer on the market. Unfortunately, it's not available in Chicago. La Salle, Illinois, seems to be the closest place to buy Millstream beer, but if you find yourself in Bloomington, Peoria or Galesburg, you might also be able to find some. I suppose it just doesn't make sense to sell something with the word "windmill" in its name in a major metropolitan area.
In an interesting bit of trickle-down economics, the rising cost of gasoline is raising the cost of beer. With the demand for corn-based ethanol, more and more farmers are planting this cash crop as opposed to barley, a key ingredient in beer. In Germany, a less than stellar barley harvest, estimated at about half of regular production, has raised the price of the crop 40 percent in the last two years, adversely affecting the smaller import beer cost as well. Barley isn’t the only thing that is raising the cost of your favorite ale — with higher transportation and energy costs as well as a rise in materials such as aluminum and glass bottles, everything is having some sort of effect.
In my never-ending quest to find new coffee shops, I tend to rely on many different sources, word of mouth, the Internet and sometimes dumb luck, as was the case with Sweet Bean and More.
I first noticed a sign in a window almost six months ago about this new addition to the Lakeview neighborhood and made note of it in one of many notebooks since lost. Recently, I drove by on a whim, and, lo and behold, people milling about and patio furniture outside signaled that they were open. Lucky for me it was their first day open and worth the wait. Situated below the newly-constructed Diversey Station condo complex at 1855 W. Diversey Pkwy, Sweet Bean is one of the most elegant shops I’ve seen of late, very comfortable and inviting with rust and gold wall treatments, hand-laid tile accents and a gorgeous wood and marble bar. This new offering just begs for people to sit and enjoy the day, and with plenty of outdoor seating for the warm months and free wi-fi, who could blame you? Sweet Bean serves Chicago’s own Metropolis coffee and espresso as well as a nice variety of baked goods both savory and sweet.
Sweet Bean offers a breakfast daily until 10:30am, the open-face sandwich on French bread with mushroom, red onion, feta and scrambled egg, as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches all decently priced around $8. All of the sandwiches and salads are prepared in-house to order. Sweet Bean is also offering a weekend brunch from 8am to 2pm with a special, elegant menu.
Sweet Bean and More is open daily 6am to 8pm Monday through Friday and 7am to 8pm Saturday and Sunday. It is located at 1855 W. Diversey Pkwy. (773) 857-3100
Somewhere between Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park, I forget just where the line is drawn, lays Star Lounge Café. Open for just about three weeks, this 20-seat coffee bar is yet another new offering to the Chicago coffeehouse scene. Down right comfy and warm, probably due to the orange hued walls, dark wood floors and the wood bar that runs half way down the shop, Star Lounge offers a bit of a different feel than the regular coffee shop. It’s more like going to the local pub than waiting in line for a double tall half-caff latte at some chain store. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about coffee; I talked to the barista, who seemed more like a bartender than coffee jockey, mostly about other coffee shops around the city and about different roasters around the country. He seemed to know what he was talking about.
Star Lounge offers a variety of breakfast and lunch items named for Chicago neighborhoods and streets, such as the Grand Avenue, crunchy peanut butter and sliced banana on your choice of bagel from New York Bagel & Bialy, or the East Village Veggie Delight, an iron-pressed flat sandwich, hummus, tomato, black olives, red onions on white or wheat. Star lounge even has a bit of a kids menu with PB&J and grilled cheese sandwiches. They serve all the standard specialty coffee drinks one would expect from a coffee shop: cappuccino and lattes, as well as some none coffee stuff like Jones Soda, Naked Juice and a variety of teas. The Cosmic Creations, like the Peppermint-mocha Macchiato, a traditional latte macchiato layered with a splash of peppermint flavoring and marked with espresso and chocolate sauce, are worth trying. And you’ve got to love a shop that calls there espresso blend “Dark Star.”
Star lounge has a few other things going for it as well, notably the backyard patio, for that chilling’ at home kind of feel as opposed to sitting on Chicago avenue watching cars speed by, and of course free wi-fi, the hallmark of any new coffee shop. Hours are a bit limited; they're open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. according to Menu Pages. Hopefully the hours will expand in the future. Of all the new offerings the city has at the moment, Star Lounge Cafe is well worth checking out.
Star Lounge Café is located at 2521 W Chicago Ave. (773) 384-7827
Half Acre Beer will be at the North avenue Whole Foods Market holding a tasting from 6-8:00 pm. If you have yet to try this new Chicago beer, this is the perfect time as some of the people behind it will be there answering all your important beer questions.
Whole Foods Market is located @ 1000 W. North Ave.
Plenty of opportunities to have fun with fish this fall with The Fish Guy. Take a sushi class from Hiroko Shimbo on October 14, 15, or 16 for just $100. Class includes lots of sushi and sake as well as signed copies of both of her cookbooks. You can also snag a coveted reservation at the once a week restaurant Wellfleet on September 7, 14, or 21 if you act quickly. Sign up now and get a free Caviar Wellfleet for each couple. 773-283-7400.
Do you already have Labor Day weekend plans? No? Well then get out of town for a quick trip up to America's Little Switzerland, New Glarus, Wisconsin, and visit the New Glarus Brewing Company. They offer free, self-guided audio tours every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a tasting room where you can get four, 3-oz tastings of their beers for only $3.50. The Web site says only three tastings, but our experience was slightly more plentiful. Of course, you'll want to spend a lot more purchasing cases of beer after the tastings: New Glarus isn't sold outside of Wisconsin. Be sure to get some Dancing Man Wheat and Copper Kettle if they're available. Both are nice wheat beers, the former being lighter and brighter in flavor and the Copper Kettle darker and maltier (check out RateBeer for more detailed and informed opinions on the brews).
In addition to the souvenir tasting glass, the brewery will also give you a coupon for a free small beer at a local restaurant. My suggestion: go to the Glarner Stube where you can enjoy big, steaming pots of cheese fondue, puffy fried cheese curds and my favorite, roesti, a dish of fried grated potatoes laced with Swiss cheese. While your heart my stop on your drive back to Chicago, I-90 is well traveled and rescue crews will be able to reach you quickly.
Intelligentsia is raising the prices of their drinks. Like Starbucks , Intelligentsia is citing rising costs of milk, paper goods and other raw material for the price hike. The Chicago institution hasn’t raised prices in some time, and it is something they don’t take lightly; the increase is between five and nine cents, a mere drop in the coffee cup. The average retail price of a gallon of whole milk in August was $3.87, and depending on what report you’ve read, the price may go above four dollars in the fall.
River North has a new coffee shop in Cyberia. This 30-seat shop on Wells, opened in early July, occupies a space that has been a few other places, including the Italian spot Calabria Coffee and before that a Seattle's Best. As you may have guessed, Cyberia offers free wi-fi with purchase and access to about a half dozen computers for a nominal $5 an hour, with print and fax services at a buck a page.
Cyberia serves Chicago's own Intelligentsia coffee and teas as well as an array of sandwiches, soups, fresh salads, cakes and pastries. With its comfy couches, warm and friendly space, attentive and friendly staff as well as good coffee and Internet, Cyberia is a welcome addition to Chicago's burgeoning coffee shop scene.
Cyberia is located at 701 N. Wells St. (312) 573-2789
Editor's note: We sent Cubs in Five columnist Jeff Webber and photographer Phineas X. Jones to the Chicago History Museum for an event on Monday; here is their report.
Iowa's Templeton Rye rolled into Chicago Monday night with a busload of flappers and gangsters and a couple dozen cases of the rye whiskey Al Capone used to call "The Good Stuff." The upstart distillery's tasting party, held at the Chicago History Museum on Monday, brought back a taste that Chicago hasn't had in more than 70 years. Come mid-September, the single-malt, single-barrel rye will begin showing up in bars and package stores across the city. And when you raise a glass, you can thank Templeton Rye founder Scott Bush... and his mom.
The pitch is so succinct, it fits on a cardboard coaster: "Prohibition Era Rye Whiskey available legally for the first time ever." The story: a tiny Iowa town, struggling against hard times, takes to bootlegging and ends up Prohibition's closest thing to a name brand hooch. Fast-forward to the present, where Iowan Scott Bush rescues the famed recipe from the pages of history and brings it to the market in its first-ever legally distributed incarnation. It's the kind of story that lends itself to barfly evangelism. And really, who wouldn't rather hear a fanciful yarn about Al Capone smuggling Iowa whiskey into Alcatraz than suffer through yet another flavored vodka? After umpteen lifeless versions of berry vodka, old school rye whiskey is a breath of fresh air.
After decades of declining popularity, the time is ripe for a rye revival. Even the Manhattan, a rye cocktail in its original recipe, is more often made with bourbon these days. But with small-batch bourbons and prestige whiskeys making their way onto the top shelf, it was only matter of time before the drier, cleaner taste of rye made a comeback as an alternative. Templeton Rye is just the thing to help re-establish the style. Deep amber, with a clean, reedy character, Templeton has a chewy, spicy goodness and a clean finish that makes old fashioned cocktails like the Sazerac, the Rock and Rye and, yes, the Old-Fashioned, seem new again. All of those and more were on the menu at Templeton's tasting party.
Now obviously, a well-appointed tasting party with free-flowing booze is going to win converts. Add fun touches like brand reps dressed as flappers and gangsters and even a pair of period-uniformed "coppers" on a mock raid and you've added some flair. But where so many liquor tasting parties drown themselves in marketing department approximations of cool, Templeton's party spotlighted a certain easygoing Iowan charm. Upon hearing a distributor's boast that Chicago was the first major city to receive the new Templeton Rye, company president Scott Bush's Iowa pride compelled him to assert that "Des Moines is a major city." This drew cheers from the flappers and gangsters, who were, it turned out, all Templeton natives, among them Scott Bush's wife, grandmother, father and, yes, his mom.
Friends, family and neighbors in Iowa have had a year to get hooked all over again on Templeton Rye, but you'll have to wait until the middle of next month to get your hands on it in Chicago. Until then, you can visit the distillery online at templetonrye.com.
After spotting my post about Half Acre Beer Company in Merge, the fledgling brewery contacted me to offer a taste so I could judge for myself how well they make their product. I accepted, and a few days later their point man, Gabriel Magliaro, stopped in the office with six-pack in hand and ready to chat.
Half Acre has been under development for about a year and a half, Magliaro said, and just started selling last week. The company is based on the West Side, but the beer itself is brewed by a contract brewer in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, a common strategy for small, start-up beer brands. Half Acre hopes to one day brew beer themselves here in the city.
Their first beer, a lager, is available primarily in Wicker Park and Bucktown; you can find it at the Charlston, Pint, Jerry's 2 and Bacino's, and in six-packs at the 7-11 on Damen and the Always Open on Milwaukee. They hope to expand to the rest of the city and beyond very soon (it's in the hands of their distributors).
So, what does it taste like? For a lager, it's surprisingly complex, far from the flimsy, watery Budweiser, the number-one selling lager in America. The beer has a dark amber color with a little cloudiness, and a somewhat bitter-tart aroma. I tasted a big orange-blossom note floating on top of a rich caramel flavor that provided depth to stand up to food, but not so much that it can't be drunk on its own. Very effervescent, with a nice balance of yeasty tartness and hoppy bitterness. This is definitely a beer worth seeking out.
If you’ve ever wanted to taste this famously fancy and expensive red from Robert Mondavi and the Baroness de Phillippine de Rothschild with out shelling out $150, here’s your chance. The new Whole Foods at the Center on Halsted has a Vino sample area like the one I blogged about earlier this summer, but the selections are a bit different. This location is offering some swankier tastes on tap and a few more boutique-y items than most other stores. You can get a sample of the 2003 Opus One for $8 at their tasting station, and if it really does it for ya, take a bottle home for $159. Best keep that bad boy in the cellar for a while though. I find Opus reaches its peak in about 10- 12 years from vintage, but that’s just me. I like my California Cabernets and blends to have a good deal of berry fruit tones still front and center, even if its at the expense of complexity.
Any Halsted Street bar owner or restauranteur will confirm that the boys love their bubbly, especially Veuve Clicquot. You’ll find a hearty supply here of both standard and half bottles, pre-chilled, in the cooler for you. While you’re there, pick up some of their sushi, a couple of made to order noodle bowls, and some Raspberry Cheesecake or Peach gelato for dessert. Then call me with an invite for dinner.
Citing higher materials costs, Starbucks will be raising the price of most of its drinks by nine cents starting July 31. Thankfully, the cost of the easy listening CDs for sale next to the cash register will remain abundant and at reasonable prices. Everybody gonna dance tonight!
If you're planning any kind of meat on the grill for this weekend, you owe it to yourself to snag a bottle of this smoky goodness. Kent Rosenblum, originally a veterinarian by trade, is an expert with hearty reds like Zinfandel, but he's really outdone himself with this inky purple black vino from the San Francisco Bay region. Aromas of blackberry, dark chocolate, mint, black pepper, and cured meats simply leap from the glass and really sing with BBQ pork or grilled beef. It’s a monster of a wine, but still well-balanced with a long, supple finish. Like a dark chocolate mint melting on your tongue as you take that first sip of post dinner coffee. Rarely, does a wine make me rattle off this kind of cork dork poetry, but this really rang my bell with some slow smoked spareribs and a spicy/sweet sauce. It’s about $18. Get some. Rosenblum Heritage Clones Petite Sirah 2005
By now you've probably read about Monica Eng's $1100 Taste experiment; having a bite of each and every offering at Taste of Chicago and living to tell about it. Today she reports back with a rating of everything she ate. A very useful "get it," "eh" or "forget it" system along with her top picks and best overall booths. So, if you're going to brave the greasy mouthed masses, you can make a game plan ahead of time.
The only thing Monica didn't hit was the booze. I did. Yes indeed, you can count on me to scope out the reasonably quaffable adult beverages at any outdoor festival. Read on for my less comprehensive, but all important, drink recommendations.
An article in today's Sun-Times uncovers the hottest new trend (huh?) in bars: groups of customers ordering a pitcher of alcohol to share, instead of (wimpy) individual glasses. The trend, according to the South Water Kitchen bartender who was interviewed for the story, has also extended to home entertaining, especially when grilling is involved, as "most [pitcher drinks] are more diluted than most cocktails." Well, he apparently was not collecting data at my apartment. The article also lists several recipes for popular pitcher drinks, one of which involves coconut flakes.
Currently, Trader Joe’s is carrying some of the finest little Clementine oranges I’ve seen in quite a while. Grown in Chile, this variety of mandarin orange is sold in 2lb. netted bags that retail for a very friendly $3.50. These “Premium Clementines” rate very highly in taste and have an uncommon juiciness that makes for a bit of a messy snack, but one heck of a cocktail ingredient. Sure, they work quite well in any recipe that calls for a little OJ, but a simple cocktail allows the Clementine juice’s uniquely tangy sweetness to take center stage. I’ve put together a distinctly summertime drink recipe that’s as simple as it is delicious. I’ve left the template loose to accommodate a variety of tastes.
Andersonville is getting a new coffee shop, The Coffee Studio, and they’ve been keeping a blog about the trials and tribulations of opening one, from the conception, the build-out of a space and choosing just about everything else. If you have ever wondered just how much work goes into opening an independent shop, you should take a peak at this blog. The Coffee Studio plans on opening sometime in July. Stay tuned for more information regarding just when.
I had a beer on a recent trip to Portland that caused me to ponder it the entire time I was drinking it. Upon returning to Chicago, I went by Sam's Wines and Spirits to see if I could find it. Unfortunately, the name escaped me and all I could remember was that it was called Summer Solstice and it was brewed by a company in Mendocino, California. I wan't expecting to be able to find it, especially without much information or recollection of what the bottle looked like.
The guys stocking the beer shelves came to my rescue. I described what I could remember, and one of them said, "Yeah, I think I was just looking at that beer this morning. Let me see if I can find it in the back." A few minutes later, he came out with three cases of the very beer I was searching for, all unopened and not yet shelved.
Although my beer didn't taste as I had remembered it, sweet and creamy, like straight vanilla and caramel, I can't help but appreciate that I have it in my fridge, thanks to those really helpful guys.
The discussion on LTH forum reveals that some beer enthusiasts are disappointed by the newly (finally) opened Chicago Ale House on Lawrence and Leavitt Aves.
"Pedestrian" is the word one commenter used to describe the beer list. I can't help but agree. I stopped by the bar on Thursday night excited to see what beers were on the more than 50 taps advertised on a sign hanging outside of the establishment for months before its opening. The Hopleaf, this 'aint. The underwhelming list includes all your predictable standards (Blue Moon, Stella, etc.) with little regard for great regional breweries. Three Floyds and Great Lakes are represented by a mere one beer each, and even Goose Island gets shunned with only 312 on tap.
Going to the Chicago Ale House is a lot like going to buy beer at Jewel, except that it's more expensive and there are giant flat screens broadcasting sports games galore. Oh, and a handful of Michael Jordan posters, just in case you forgot that its a Chicago bar.
If you have been wondering what happened to the back bar from the old Lava Lounge, it found a new home at The Blind Robin, the newly opened spot from the owners of Green Eye Lounge and Underbar. The Blind Robin promises to be a hip yet understated place to hang, with green walls hinted with orange — think robin’s breast — and board games, lots of board games. As an added plus, an exhibition of paintings by local artist David Rettker is up on the walls, and the logo was designed by Gapers Block alum Phineas X. Jones!
The Blind Robin, 853 N. Western Ave. 773-395-3002
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Friday; Noon-3 a.m. Saturday; Noon-2 a.m.
My good friend John and I sat sipping Arabic coffee at Petra Café in the Loop. "This is so good: the cardamom in the coffee," he told me. The green shells of the cardamom pods floated at the top of our rich, slightly sweet and very fragrant coffee. Arabic coffee is not strained. "It's a little thick at the end," John pointed out. It's ironic seeing this falafel spot serve it in tall disposable cups. It's traditionally served in a small one that you wouldn't be taking out. But perhaps it's in our future to see this type of coffee surrender to our to-go culture, too. Still, we loved the taste. Peta Café opens weekdays at 8 a.m. Allow a little time for them to make you a cup. You can dream about where this place is named after as you wait. Giddy up.
White peaches from California are available at Whole Foods in Lakeview right now, which means true Bellini cocktails are just a blender spin away. The famous Italian aperitif starts with a glass of cold Prosecco (an inexpesive sparkling wine from Italy), topped with a white peach nectar puree, and garnished with a berry or perhaps a little nugget of the stone fruit and a sprig of mint. Epicurious has a recipe from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice that is both simple and classic. Best make them quick. The white peach season is notoriously short.
Anyone even thinking about preparing a margarita today in honor of Cinco de Mayo (or any other occasion, for that matter) should definitely check out todays blog from The Thirsty Celt. Chicago's favorite Spirits Curmudgeon at Large, has indispensable spirits information and a pleasantly acerbic wit that makes him a joy to read, sober or otherwise. He is also the creator of BeverageExperts.com, a terrific resource for all kinds of booze related questions. His simple but classic margarita recipe is available here.
If you need to stock up on some nice stemware, now's a good time. The Robert Mondavi series by Waterford usually carries a price tag of $50 per set of two. CostCo on Clybourn has them for a mere $36.99 right now. While they're not as aromatically precise as competitors like Riedel, they are some of the most beautiful wine glasses around for the money.
"Food & Wine" magazine recently released Cocktails 2007, a book of some of the baddest ass cocktails from around the country, and Chicago represents well. From the usual suspects: John Kinder, late of Moxie, with his Bonds’s Cocktail No. 1 (Calvados, honey, Lillet Blanc and peach bitters); Eben Klemm’s Rush Street Highball from David Burke’s Primehouse (gin, apple and lemon juices); and a dark horse entry from Las Palmas’ La Melonada (a wonderful sounding frozen margarita laced with cantaloupe and ginger). Nacional 27’sAdam Seger’s lack of presence is a fairly glaring omission. Nacional does, however, garner a mention in the Bar Snacks chapter with a recipe for their Spiced Almonds.
While enjoying excellent seats at Wrigley Field on Monday, I was obligated to indulge in some gameday grub. I gleefully put back a few vapid Bud Lites and stuffed my face with a couple of brats that looked and tasted like they arrived to the ballpark in someone’s back pocket. But it’s all about tradition at ball games and if I hadn’t gone for the Bud Lite and hot dogs, it woulda been Old Style and peanuts. So, price aside, I had no complaints… especially since we split well before the Cubs’ inevitable collapse.
It wasn’t until later, at the Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville, that I had the opportunity to right the evening’s previous culinary wrongs. Still being a bit full from the doggies, I kept it light by ordering the famed muscles mussels appetizer and a pint of De Koninck Bolleke ale. The slightly fruity, slightly malty, crisp brew was an excellent foil for the succulent, nautical sweetness of the Hopleaf’s mussels.
As previously mentioned, Shiner Bock, Blonde and Hefeweizen officially hit Chicago on Monday. We've heard it's been hard to find, although ShinerChicago has a list of bars that carry it — the big ones, anyway. They're also available (assuming they didn't run out) at Sam's Wine & Spirits for $7.99 a six-pack ($7.19 during their 1040 sale going on right now!), but is that it? What about other bars and stores? Post in the comments where else you've spotted the beer that made, er, Spoetzel TX famous.
The beer company everyone knows is doing some good things for the world of beer, Anheuser-Busch has introduced three new beers to the Chicago market. Big deal right, but these beers are a bit different than your regular Bud. First off, Redbridge is made with Sorghum instead of wheat or barley, making a beer that people who live with Celiac Disease or are following a wheat-free, gluten free diet can enjoy. Celiac Disease is a genetic disorder that affects 1 in 133 Americans, or approximately 3.2 million consumers.
The other two beers are a bit trickier with their origins: Wild Hop lager and Stone Mill pale ale, organic beers both. Nowhere on the packaging does it say Anheuser-Busch; instead the brewer is listed as Green Valley Brewing Co. Apparently these beers have been around for a year or so but not available in Chicago until recently. I first noticed them at my local Jewel about two weeks ago and Whole Foods over the weekend. Both beers are made with 100% organic ingredients and are certified USDA organic — even the packaging is made up of 100% recycled materials. It’s nice to know that a big brewing company is doing some good, or at least noticing the lucrative market of organic foods and beer and pulling organics further into the mainstream.
Cafe Rōm at the Hyatt Center looks like an amazingly crisp and clean space. White mod tables and chairs, shiny white vinyl booths with low-rising and highly sloped backs, curved glass sandwich cases and a collection of brightly backlit white menu boards wrapped in stainless steel let you pretend you're in New York or Berlin. Even the restroom marked "WC" for water closet adds to the cafe's European flair. The recessed ceiling at the ordering counter suggests intimacy and, as the ceiling opens up to seating area, the cafe seems surprisingly roomy. Sitting down, I noticed the tenderness of my roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, basil and tomato contrasting quite well to the nice tear and slight chewiness of my ciabatta. The sandwiches are well endowed with oil. As my pal Rose pointed out, "The olive oil is dripping from my sandwich." It's too bad they're touchy about snapping photos, stating reasons of proprietary design. Most people who've been eating with me recently have seen me excited to photograph the food and setting, and know how a management's position on restricting this could drastically change my lunchtime activities. Chatting with the general manager, Kourtney, about their concerns was fun and lively - with short discussions ranging from bakery offerings and conspicuous coffee drinks to the space's design; and I was assured I could take more photos after my authenticity was verified. By far, this was the most interesting conversation I've had with a restaurant manager about taking photos. I'm going to return for a sandwich and a cup of their smooth and mild coffee, but I could do without reading "all roads lead to.." on Rōm's takeaway menu. At least until they open considerably more locations. Their next is due to open soon in the renovated Metra Market.
I just got back from SXSW Interactive down in Austin, and what did I happen to spot in Time Out when I got home but an ad that looked suspiciously like a Shiner Bock label. Shiner, for those unaware, is sort of like Austin's Old Style, the "official beer" of the city which most locals don't actually like all that much. It's not too different from Old Style to my tastebuds, either — maybe a little tarter, but otherwise solidly simple, basic beer.
The ad included a URL: ShinerChicago.com. Go there and you find three pages of information that add up to one thing: Shiner will be available in Chicago starting April 16, in yet-to-be-determined bars across the city. Expect a big to-do, a la Fat Tire, to begin shortly.
Plenty of places serve vegan food in the Loop, but muffins are another story. Luckily, locally owned Argo Tea carries vegan and trans-fat free muffins from Chicago Diner. Hints of apple, ginger and cinnamon come with the carrot raisin walnut variety. It'd be even more delicious if the nuts were candied, but my moderately successful attempts at swishing up an evading layer of chocolate syrup at the bottom of my soy mocha took care my quest for additional sweetness. On a previous visit, a barista pulled an incredibly smooth espresso into a very cute demitasse.
Sam's Wine and Spirits was quietly sold today to one of the family members and a group of outside investors. The store has been family owned and operated by the Rosen family since its humble beginnings on the Near North Side in the 1950s. Youngest brother, Brian Rosen, and his financial backers have purchased his brother Darryl's interest in the company and seem to be making changes rather quickly. Eight employees were let go this week, which continues a trend of many key staff members giving notice or receiving pink slips over the last three months. No word yet as to whether they intend to make changes to the business model or how the selection or service will be affected.
I grabbed drinks with a friend from out of town at South Water Kitchen on Monday night; she was staying at the Hotel Monaco upstairs, and as she worried whether her 6am flight would be canceled due to the snowstorm bearing down on the city, we enjoyed some well-mixed if questionably named drinks.
After a page of cocktails named after neighborhoods (my friend had a "Wrigleyville" martini), the drink menu listed several "healthy libations," including one with "a pinch of echinacea (to help boost the immune system)" in with its Rain organic vodka, carrot and tangerine juices. While the actual health benefits of such a concoction are dubious at best, South Water gets points for recognizing the silliness of the premise: the first drink under the title is called "The Oxymoron."
Developmental disabilities present obvious social and economic challenges, but solutions to problems are sometimes surprisingly found in the most unexpected places -- like on a small urban farm in the middle of Chicago. Read this feature »