Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Evolving Beer Scene, From Binny's to Burbank

It's been years since I had the chance to spend a few days in Chicago- since 2013, to be exact. So let's see, is Zombie Dust still flying off the shelves, if it can be found on shelves to begin with? This has been a beer-crazy city for years, with tales of people sleeping out overnight for Bourbon County and chasing the beer trucks to get the hot item of the minute. So what's it like in 2019? Flying beer trucks?

A lot has changed, as evidenced from my first stop after getting off the plane at Midway and taking the train to the River North area of downtown Chicago. That first stop was Binny's, the family-owned chain that rules Chicago liquor stores. The first thing that struck me was seeing an entire half-aisle devoted to Chicago area breweries and how few of them I was familiar with. It's a bit embarrassing for someone who thinks they are so up on all things beer to pull out the phone to look up this 16 oz. can with the wrapped label and the next one that looks the same. Lots of hazy IPAs. It looked like the majority of beers being produced by Chicago breweries, not counting Half Acre. They still crank out a ton of IPAs, but hazy is not their focus. Further down the aisle was midwestern stuff, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri. Lots of Surly, Founders (of course), and look at this: tons of Three Floyds. Like Dreadnaught, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Space Station Middle Finger, Yum Yum, and plenty of Zombie Dust. It was almost sad to see in a weird way, beer that used to be so coveted that people would go to Indiana for and line up at the to-go area of Three Floyds brewpub. There's a lot of beer to be had in Chicago, which is as it was years ago, but the tastes have changed. And that's not to say that just because it's hazy that it will sell. Toppling Goliath Fire Skulls and Money was sitting there for the taking, but with a canned on date of 3/18, people just aren't going to buy it, 4.3 rating on Untappd be damned.

But that's not to say people aren't buying Toppling Goliath beers. I sought them out myself, not thinking I would find anything very close to my hotel in the touristy area on the edge of Magnificent Mile. But on a tip to try Timothy O' Toole's Sports Bar (I know, not promising), I checked out their website. And would you look at that??? A plethora of local craft from Pipeworks and Maplewood, plus a few Toppling Goliath, including King Sue, which was a real treat to find. The sports bar atmosphere was in full force and the place was packed (who knew there were so many St. Louis Blues fans in Chicago??), but the tap list made up for it. And the best part: they do flights, a practice more bars with 40+ taps should offer. As good as that experience turned out to be, minus the drunk Boston Bruins fan, one may ponder, "Hey, it's your first time in a city in six years and you can't be bothered to venture out past 0.4 miles from your hotel?" I'd agree that that is a valid question. But it was a long day of travel with our first flight getting canceled and then getting sent to Las Vegas before making it on a plane to Chicago so I was kind of beat, you know? Plus, walking from Binny's to the hotel with a suitcase and $75 worth of beer wore me out even more.

If you're not up the the challenge, Chicago will wear you out quick. It's a drinking city with a sports problem, as our obviously drunk bartender at one unnamed beer bar remarked more than once. There's a reason Chicago was chosen for the first Taco Bell Cantina, where you can drink alcohol alongside your Nachos Bell Grande. Too many renowned beer bars to hit on a short trip, and I didn't even get close to Hopleaf. A lot of new (to me) places on this trip, including cocktail bars like Longman and Eagle, where a 2 oz. pour of an 18 yr. Old Stagg bottled in 1933 will set you back $480. I went with the Stiegel Zwickel instead, thank you. Also checked out Ludlow Liquors (pictured) which was just named one of Esquire's 25 best bars of 2019. And they still let me in. I wasn't in the mood to get wasted on liquor so I walked down the street to Beer Temple.

Beer Temple had just opened when I first visited in 2013 and has since moved to a bigger spot, complete with a full bar next to the beer store. The store is separated into two rooms, one refrigerated and holding the temperature finicky stuff like IPAs and the second at room temperature with lots of Rare Barrel and Casa Agria sours. The bar has the feel that many Chicago bars give off, old-fashioned and homey. If you want to feel like you're drinking in the same place that your great-grandfather drank in, go to Chicago. And go to Queen Mary in Wicker Park.

Next: Part 2- more Chicago and some California love

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