By Charlie Puckett
The alley air outside of a whitewashed, re-appropriated chop-shop is swollen with the warm blunt smell of grains and botanicals turned into award-winning gins and whiskeys. Inside, Paul Hletko, founder and master distiller at Few Spirits, boils the waters, more than a thousand casks after his first distillation in 2011, to make some of Chicago’s most notable artisanal spirits.
As a resident of Evanston, once the incubator for America’s infamous Woman’s Christian Temperance movement, Hletko especially understands the high threshold for success a nascent craft distiller faces no matter which city they call home. It’s as if the weather of the temperance movement, decades since past, still alters the national dew point in the way that start-up distilleries are still few in number and face high infant mortality rates. According to a survey conducted by the American Distilling Institute, approximately 208 craft distilleries currently operate nationwide as of mid-2012, a featherweight comparison to the hundreds of thousands of stills operating prior to Prohibition. “The greatest success so far is that we still have our lights on,” Hletko says. “In our business world, the first two years are the toughest, and we just hit our second year.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Sara Tenenbaum
If you asked any of the employees at Scofflaw why they were still handing you a spring drink menu a week into July, they explained that the gin joint’s newest set of signature drinks were still being crafted. They’re putting a lot of thought into this one, they told you, and you nodded and accepted the explanation because even if your cocktail felt a little out of season, it’s still one of the best in town. Despite its youth and its odd location, Scofflaw’s superior drinks and reasonable prices have made it one of the most popular and lauded bars in the city. This spring, Chicago magazine deservedly called it the best bar in Chicago, a little bit of extra pressure to keep churning out delicious and innovative cocktails with each season change. Perhaps that’s why it took a little longer to get a summer menu out there. The good news: it’s done, it’s out there, and it’s delicious.
The summer menu skews tropical, cold and refreshing, and is at its best when using the holy trinity of summer spirits: gin, rum and tequila. The Sleeper is probably the most refreshing drink on this menu, a bright concoction of gin, Escorial (a dry German herbal liqueur), honeydew, lime and orange bitters, chilled with big blocks of cucumber ice. Honeydew is not my favorite melon but it sings when allowed to play with gin, somehow boosting and mellowing the juniper notes simultaneously. Also deliciously refreshing is Alfonso, a neon orange mixture of gin, mango, lime, Peychaud’s bitters and berries. Served over heaps of crushed ice, it’s bright and fruity without even edging toward overly sweet. The New Toy is essentially an updated margarita but it is a spectacular update; instead of simple syrup they use Orgeat (an almond syrup) and Mole bitters, and the salt is in the drink instead of rimming the glass. The bite of lime and tequila is unmistakably margarita, and the twist on sweetness and salt has all the charm and sparkle of, well, a new toy. Read the rest of this entry »
By Keralee Froebel
Cal’s, arguably the world’s best—or worst, depending on who’s speaking—dive bar, has closed, and not because of economic pressure, but because the owners, the brothers Cal and Fred Feirstein, are heading into their long-anticipated retirement.
Open since 1947 at the corner of Wells and Van Buren, Cal’s thrived simply because it refused to change with the times. Painted baby-shit brown on the inside, with band posters and playlists for wall art, the decor was virtually nonexistent, the bathrooms didn’t function and no matter how many times the bartender mopped the inside of the bar it managed to always look filthy. And yet, Cal’s was beloved by the chosen few who either found it quite by accident, or heard strange murmurings of its mythical existence. “Two dollar PBRs in a downtown bar? Real punk music after dark downtown? Cheap drinks with no attitude? Lawyers, traders, UIC hipsters, bike messengers and postal workers drinking side by side?”
The actual existence of Cal’s was a dream come true for the class-smashing flaneur and urban adventurer. Where else could one go to get such a particular and delicious reduction of urban society? Coming to Cal’s was like tasting a fine, long-simmering bouillabaisse: it took time and patience to cultivate the contrasting flavors that co-existed there, and it rarely got as real and flavorful as it used to get at Cal’s on a random weeknight happy hour. Read the rest of this entry »
Top 5 New Local Brews in 2012
E. Normagene, Revolution Brewing
Van Horn English Bitter, Half Acre
Augustus IPA, Haymarket Pub & Brewery
Thunder & Son, Half Acre
Bourbon County Stout, Goose Island Brewery (Seasonal)
Top 5 New Cocktails in 2012
Tipsy Tortoise, The Tortoise Club
Oaxacan Sunset, Mezcalina
Clover Club, Maude’s Liquor Bar
R. Franklin’s Original Recipe Malort, The Violet Hour
Sarah Stegeman started beer blogging to save her marriage.
She and her husband were in counseling when their therapist recommended they find a hobby to enjoy together. The two settled on sampling new beers each week to keep up quality time, and before long, they had trouble keeping track of their discoveries.
So in April of last year, Stegeman started her blog, Hoppy Beer Girl, which has since evolved from a digital chronicle of date-night beer explorations to a dedicated outlet for her beer enthusiasm.
“I had looked around at other beer blogs just to get ideas, but I wasn’t really following anything,” the twenty-eight-year-old Stegeman says. “Once I started to blog, there was such a huge outreach from the beer community. I know people across the country because of our shared passion for beer.”
As Chicago experiences its own craft-beer renaissance—many local breweries are less than five years old, and more than a dozen are opening in the next few years—the online beer community has also taken on a life of its own. Now, beer-blogging women like Stegeman are a bigger part of the conversation, both across the country and here in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »
Here in Chicago, winter months are meant for drinking a beer that’ll stick to your ribs. A tall pint of stout as dark as the 5pm sky and a head of chocolate frosting foam will nourish the heart and warm the soul against biting winds and seasonal captivity. Small Bar on Division is getting a jump on welcoming winter’s tonic with a Stout Blowout—an event featuring more than a dozen different thick and frothy brews. Read the rest of this entry »
All you can drink for three hours? Now if that’s not how Chicagoans celebrate Black Wednesday I don’t know what is. It’s happening at Bar Umbriago. For $40, guests will enjoy unlimited drinks starting at 9pm and ending at midnight, and a live DJ until closing time. The only drinks this special will not include are shots, which means all of Bar Umbriago’s signature cocktails and house-infused vodkas are up for grabs. Bar Umbriago, 6 West Hubbard, (312)494-1200, 9pm-12am, $40.
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Vodka just got a little gayer. Halsted Vodka, which launched last month, gives fifteen percent of its profits to local GLBT charities in Chicago. Now after three years of development, it’s spreading from the gay bars to the rest of Chicago and beyond. Jennifer Schulze, one of Halsted Vodka’s five founders, explains how they got started and where the brand is headed.
What came first, the idea for vodka or the idea to give back to the LGBT community?
We were looking for a way to give back to the LGBT community. We did a lot of research and a lot of focus groups to come up with the product that has the most impact, and that led us to vodka. The gay community drinks more vodka than anybody else. It’s a huge part of the social fabric in a very positive, celebratory way. It is the spirit of choice in the community, so that’s how we ended up vodka. Read the rest of this entry »
“It’s nice being the prettiest girl at the dance,” laughs Wes Henderson. The day is excruciatingly hot, but we’re secreted underground in the new River North speakeasy-style bar and restaurant Untitled—as safe from the heat as we would have been from the cops almost a hundred years ago. Henderson isn’t talking about a new dress, but Angel’s Envy, the craft bourbon he produces with his father, master distiller Lincoln Henderson, and his son Kyle.
“We wanted to do something different,” explains Lincoln. The elder Henderson spent four decades at the distilling giant Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s, among other brands. As Lincoln knows well, the industry standard for bourbon has always held that “a bourbon had to be very robust. When I say robust, that means it had to have a lot of wood in it.” Read the rest of this entry »
At the 2012 edition of the New York Bar & Restaurant show at New York’s Jacob Javits center, countless brands old and new were vying for consumers’ attention. Not everything was specifically about booze, though—it was also about new ideas that might bring extra profit for bars and restaurants.
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