By Tom Lynch
It all started when that first guy put that first lime inside of his Corona.
Beer cocktails. What has this world come to? We’ve grown into an age when things like Miller Chill happen, which is a little different than adding an orange to a Blue Moon.
Despite some friends’ claims that I’m a purist in all fields, I’ve never viewed myself as such. I just kind of, sort of, fear change. But that’s a bit of another story for another bit of time.
When the idea arose that I scavenge the city to find adventurous beer concoctions, I cringed. I don’t do new things very well. I’m a member of that crowd who will try anything, just as long as we’ve tried it before and liked it. But, I thought, what the hell—I’ll just make someone come with me, so I won’t puke alone.
That wasn’t easy. But to be fair, I didn’t sell it all too well.
“Hey man, would you come with me when I somewhat aimlessly run around the city trying out different gross beer mixtures?”
“Is this gonna be like that time you made me run around the city eating fish tacos?”
“I have to work.”
But beer is beer and my roommate finally gave in. First stop was Wicker Park’s Handlebar, where I had heard the Guinness Float, a pint of Guinness with soy vanilla ice cream on top, was actually pretty good. (You’ll notice all of the following locations are in the general Wicker Park/Bucktown area because: 1) I wanted to keep everything within walking distance and 2) Well, just because. I can do whatever I want when I’m doing something that frightens me.) I ask the bartender for the float. He says they’re not serving ice cream.
Backfire! This is exactly what I feared. Now I look like that guy who ordered a stupid drink and can’t get it. Nevermind that it’s summer and there’s no ice cream. When do they serve it? I improvise and order a Stiegl Radler lemon beer, a creation that’s half Stiegl beer and half lemon soda. It tastes… nice? More like a watered-down beer, sweetened with sugar. It’s refreshing, make no mistake, a lighter-than-light excursion that, honestly, smells better than it tastes. I would imagine a homemade lemonade-beer (Shandy is what it’s called, for me and the other ignorant saps) would be far too candy-like, and would be impossible to drink with food, let alone drink a hundred of them during a night, ahem, on the town. And that’s really really important for me.
Next up was over on Division Street, at the Adobo Grill, where my roommate and I were destined to sip what we idiotically kept referring to as the “spicy beer.” I know what the drink is called, but I also have a fear of mispronouncing things, so I won’t say it aloud. It’s Sunday afternoon, and the place is dead. We sit at the bar.
“Hey man,” I, goofy and nervous, say to the bartender, “can I have one of those spicy beer things?”
He looks at me with grated amusement. “A Michelada?”
We get two. And they’re good. Similar to a Bloody Mary, but with beer, a Michelada is mixture of bottled beer (the bartender recommended Pacifico) and various hot sauces, bloody Mary mix, tomato juice, salt and lime. The mug is rimmed with salt and hot pepper, and you drink it through a straw.
Once you get over drinking beer with a straw, the spice sticks to the back of your throat. The aftertaste is the best part, as the residue settles in the corners of your mouth. People like this, I think to myself. Mexican emo plays overhead. The Cubs just lost because they couldn’t hit. No one is in there but me and my accomplice. I’m getting dizzy.
After about a half an hour, I realize half of my drink is still left, and that, in the end, it’s probably not for me. I respectfully finish it, but feel the fireball brewing in my belly (I hadn’t eaten anything) and we decide to venture homeward, tired and hungry. We did stop at Jerry’s Sandwiches down the street—where if the original plan worked we would have scarfed some beer-and-vanilla-custard dessert they’re supposed to have—picked up some food and called it a day. “Flight of the Conchords” was soon on, and I was exhausted from being embarrassed for two hours.
The next night, I’m at Silver Cloud, somewhat late, and I get the adventurous bug—I needed to try that Guinness Float, because, first of all, out of everything I was set to sample, it sounded the best. Also I needed, deep down, to not have this disappointed feeling, this feeling of exclusion, that everyone else enjoys these specialty beers but me. Because, well, I fear being left out.
It’s not on the menu, of course—I’m convinced you have to have bars make this special; Hamburger Mary’s, a great burger and shake joint in Andersonville, didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I called them and inquired, but said they would make it nonetheless—and when I ask for it the bartender smirks, but agrees to whip one up almost immediately. Don’t ever order it if the bar is busy—you may be killed.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of Black Cows (big surprise), but let me tell you, this thing is amazing. As you could probably imagine, the vanilla ice cream blends rather successfully with the creamy, smooth goodness of Guinness, one of the world’s finest beers. Eat beer with a spoon. I love it. The friend I was with had one as well, and she was delighted (she’s also a pretty, going-against-the-wind drunk, so, make of that what you will).
Everyone at the bar seemed interested. We only had good things to say. This was, indeed, the success I’d been looking for. “I’d drink these all the time if I was total asshole,” I said aloud to no one in particular. And I meant it.
After the Guinness Float had sunk deep into my stomach, there was that desire for normalcy you feel, like when you’re on your way home from a vacation, where you just want things to fall into place and get back to routine. I ordered a PBR, to wash down this bizarre trip. Aaaaaahhhhh. Now that’s tasty.
Handlebar, 2311 West North, (773)384-9546; Adobo Grill, 2005 West Division, (773)252-9990; Jerry’s Sandwiches, 1938 West Division, (773)235-1006 (try that beer and vanilla custard experiment, let me know how it is); Silver Cloud, 1700 North Damen, (773)489-6212.