The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Is/Was Brewing, Chicago (preliminary report)

Welcome to stop #113 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Is/Was Brewing, 5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago
Train line: Union Pacific North, Ravenswood (Also CTA Brown Line, Damen)
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone 2)
Distance from station: 600 m (1.6 km from CTA)

If this façade seems familiar, it's because this storefront has a long history of making adult beverages. Until September 2022, Urban Brew Labs lived here; before they moved in, Koval Spirits called it home. And last week, Is/Was opened their long-awaited taproom after buying much of Urban Brew Labs' equipment and furniture at auction. I popped in for a couple of minutes last Sunday.

They opened a week ago Thursday, quietly, hoping to build some buzz around the neighborhood while they finished getting everything together. Currently, their quasi-outdoor space contains a bunch of boxes and bottles of beer, and they haven't gotten their custom-made, 4-meter communal table, which will go roughly in the center of the area shown above. They plan a Grand Opening in August, which Cassie and I will attend, but until then they're only open Thursday and Friday evenings, and weekends.

Most of their beers are Saisons, a style I don't particularly like. But I did try their Table Beer, a 3.2% delight I expect to have if I take Cassie over there on a weeknight. They plan to add some more bourgeoise beers, including an English pale and possibly (they grimaced when they told me this) an IPA. You know, for the people who don't appreciate Saisons.

But I do appreciate that the newest taproom in Chicago is only 350 meters from my front door, and they welcome dogs and people who just want to drink a 3.2% beer while hanging out. I can't wait to see everything come together for them.

Beer garden? Not yet
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? None
Serves food? No; BYOF encouraged
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

18th St Brewery, Gary, Ind.

Welcome to stop #112 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: 18th Street Brewry, 5725 Miller Ave, Gary, Ind.
Train line: South Shore Line, Miller
Time from Chicago: 57 minutes
Distance from station: 200 m

It turns out, 18th Street Brewery's Miller Taproom doesn't have a production facility, so it wouldn't qualify after the July 2023 update to the Brews & Choos Criteria. But it was on the list from the beginning, so it stayed. And Saturday's visit might have been the only time I've ever been in Gary voluntarily.

The thing is, their beer is really good. We only tried three, mainly because of the heat and that we'd already tried 12 beers throughout the day (but, nota bene, only about 500 mL—one EU pint—in total volume for each of us). I got myself a Candy Crushable APA (5%), which was light, malty, with a great hop profile, and great flavor. We also tried the King Reaper DDHIPA (8%), which was much lighter than expected with a lot of fruity notes, and the Patio Pills (5%), just the right beer for a 37°C heat index.

I might not go back to the Miller Taproom, but unfortunately the main 18th Street Brewery is 2.4 km through Hammond, Ind., from the South Shore Line. (There is a proposed South Shore Line extension from Hammond down to Munster that could not only bring the main 18th Street Brewery facility into the Brews & Choos Family, but also make 3 Floyds accessible, depending on where they site the stations.)

Would we make a special trip to Miller? Probably not. But Miller has some vacation homes by the beach less than 2 km from the brewery, and I hear the Miller Pizza Co. has some good pies. Not to mention, a brand-new, double-tracked South Shore Line that gets there in just under an hour.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? None
Serves food? Some pub grub, BYOF allowed
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Zorn Brew Works, Michigan City, Ind.

Welcome to stop #111 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Zorn Brew Works, 605 E. 9th St., Michigan City, Ind.
Train line: South Shore Line, 11th St/Michigan City
Time from Chicago: 84 minutes
Distance from station: 800 m

Zorn Brew Works provided a nice contrast to Shoreline Brewery, as tourists seemed to make up 90% of Shoreline's clientele and about 25% of Zorn's. It makes sense, as Zorn is in a more residential/transitional area, and Shoreline is about ten steps from the beach. It does help that Michigan City has signs pointing to both along all of the major streets, though.

Once again, we tried a handful of 150 mL samples. The Pilsenzorn American lager (4.8%, 10 IBU) had a lot of flavor for a Pils, with a long finish and a good malty balance; my buddy, who generally hates Pilseners, liked it—like Mikey. The Hey Man! New Zealand pale ale (6%, 33 IBU) also had a lightness and a malty, full flavor that was perfect for the mid-July heat. The Red Devil Red IPA (6.6%, 70 IBU) had bitter, big hops, and a strong citrus finish. That left the Major Galaxy's Full Nelson DDH hazy IPA (7%, 35 IBU) and it's weird (to me) finish that only one of us liked, and the Golden Grain cream ale (6%, 15 IBU), which my notes say was "Huh.  Smooth. Interesting. Unusual."

They definitely have an aesthetic. And food, which, after our big lunch an hour earlier, we didn't try but we heard was pretty good. But between the two Michigan City breweries, I would probably hang out at Zorn more often.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Somewhat avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Shoreline Brewery, Michigan City, Ind.

Welcome to stop #110 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Shoreline Brewery, 208 Wabash St., Michigan City, Ind.
Train line: South Shore Line, 11th St/Michigan City
Time from Chicago: 84 minutes
Distance from station: 1.4 km

It took 4½ years of Brewing and Chooing to get to Indian, because the Northern Indian Consolidated Transit District added a second mainline track to the South Shore Line from 2021 to just this past April. This ended the street-running through Michigan City, but shortened the trip from Downtown Chicago by 30 minutes at rush hour. During the project, however, NICTD ran buses between Michigan City and Gary, effectively cutting off three breweries from the Brews & Choos Project.

I finally got out there yesterday, despite the heat and humidity. First stop in Indiana: the Shoreline Brewery, just steps from the Amtrak station and about 1400 meters from the South Shore Line. (Why didn't I take Amtrak? The train schedule would have stranded me in Indiana for six hours. Nobody wanted that.)

So, I mean, it's fine. It's huge, with four outdoor spaces and at least three indoor rooms, plus a half-open bar area where I sat with my Brews & Choos buddy. They do have good food and beer, though. To go with my elote mac & cheese, and my friend's Margherita pizza, we got seven (7!) samples.

From left to right, they are: Duality Steam Beer (5.5%), Don't Panic English-style Pale (5%), Shoddy Dock session IPA (4.15%), Sum Nug American IPA (7.5%), Hop Drop, and Roll American Pale (5.4%), Bleacher Bum session hazy IPA (4.7%), and Lost Sailor Imperial Stout (10%). My friend especially liked the Hop APA, while I wanted more of the Duality (which reminded me of Anchor Steam, my first real beer) and the Lost Sailor—the latter in small quantities.

Not a bad place, if you find yourself in Michigan City. And it's only a 5-minute walk from the beach.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Only in bar area
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Building a new train to Milwaukee

The High Speed Rail Alliance advocates extending the Metra UP-North (my line) all the way to Milwaukee:

Hourly trains departures will bring Chicago and Milwaukee closer together, strengthen the economic and social ties between them, and help revitalize both city centers.

Wisconsin and Illinois set a goal of 14 daily roundtrips, which is close to hourly, in the mid-1990s. More recently, the Federal Railroad Administration’s Midwest Regional Rail Plan called for 24 daily roundtrips.

But heavy freight traffic between Techny and Rondout on the existing route has made the current goal of 10 daily roundtrips difficult to achieve.

Here’s the value of bringing the UP-North into the picture:

  1. Almost no freight traffic. There are no freight trains south of Lake Bluff, and there are just one or two, daily, north of Lake Bluff.
  2. Stations in the Kenosha and Racine city centers will create synergies between these cities’ downtowns—and channel more passengers onto the trains.
  3. Downtown stations in Evanston, Lake Forest, and Waukegan will provide additional traffic and connections to Metra’s local trains.
  4. Metra’s ten daily Chicago-Kenosha roundtrips provide a strong foundation for this expansion.
  5. At one time, limited-stop trains made this trip in 75 minutes.

I especially like that they used a photo of the new Ravenswood station on the cover.

I'll be on trains for a couple of hours today; Brews & Choos reviews to come.

Guys, he's not dropping out

Everyone in the world knows that President Biden had a bad night two weeks ago. Since then, we've heard a steady drumbeat of calls for him to withdraw from the race. But did anyone watch last night's press conference? Here it is; I'll wait:

The convicted-felon rapist XPOTUS could not have done that press conference, because he lacks the knowledge, the focus, the sanity, and frankly the IQ to answer questions for that long.

And still, what did most press outlets report? That he bobbled the name of the Vice President.

Meanwhile, the convicted-felon rapist XPOTUS can't find a coherent thought with two hands and a flashlight on his best days.

Yes, the President is an old man, and he could drop dead before January 2029. But as he said, "I wouldn't have picked Kamala if she weren't qualified to be President."

Until something actually changes in the race, I'm done with the "will he drop out" bullshit. He's the President, and he's crushing it.

Other things happened in the last 24 hours that were more interesting than George Clooney's whining:

Finally, if Google Maps and Waze drive you crazy, you're not alone. Julia Angwin explains why, and suggests alternatives, like Valhalla.

Feeling stuck?

The New York Times had two opinion pieces today that seemed to go together.

In the first, literary critic Hillary Kelly notes the prevalence of pop-culture stories about people not so much in dystopia, but stuck in something else:

On one sci-fi show after another I’ve encountered long, zigzagging, labyrinthine passageways marked by impenetrable doors and countless blind alleys — places that have no obvious beginning or end. The characters are holed up in bunkers (“Fallout”), consigned to stark subterranean offices (“Severance”), locked in Escher-like prisons (“Andor”) or living in spiraling mile-deep underground complexes (“Silo”). Escape is unimaginable, endless repetition is crushingly routine and people are trapped in a world marked by inertia and hopelessness.

The resonance is chilling: Television has managed to uncannily capture the way life feels right now.

We’re all stuck.

What’s being portrayed is not exactly a dystopia. It’s certainly not a utopia. It’s something different: a stucktopia. These fictional worlds are controlled by an overclass, and the folks battling in the mire are underdogs — mechanics, office drones, pilots and young brides. Yet they’re also complicit, to varying degrees, in the machinery that keeps them stranded. Once they realize this, they strive to discard their sense of futility — the least helpful of emotions — and try to find the will to enact change.

I think she has a point. And just a few stories later, we get a glimpse of why that kind of story may reflect the experiences of our 2020s existence. Urbanist Stephen Smith has studied residential elevators, here and in the rest of the world, and concluded that the particular failings of the way we build elevators in the US reflect larger failings that have held us back from addressing problems that Europe and the rich Asian countries have already solved:

Elevators in North America have become over-engineered, bespoke, handcrafted and expensive pieces of equipment that are unaffordable in all the places where they are most needed. Special interests here have run wild with an outdated, inefficient, overregulated system. Accessibility rules miss the forest for the trees. Our broken immigration system cannot supply the labor that the construction industry desperately needs. Regulators distrust global best practices and our construction rules are so heavily oriented toward single-family housing that we’ve forgotten the basics of how a city should work.

Similar themes explain everything from our stalled high-speed rail development to why it’s so hard to find someone to fix a toilet or shower. It’s become hard to shake the feeling that America has simply lost the capacity to build things in the real world, outside of an app.

Behind the dearth of elevators in the country that birthed the skyscraper are eye-watering costs. A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium. Maintenance, repairs, and inspections all cost more in America too.

The U.S. and Canada have also marooned themselves on a regulatory island for elevator parts and designs. Much of the rest of the world has settled on following European elevator standards, which have been harmonized and refined over generations. Some of these differences between American and global standards only result in minor physical differences, while others add the hassle of a separate certification process without changing the final product.

As kids in the 1970s we dreamt of flying cars and arcologies. As I shuffle through middle age in the 2020s, I dream of the social safety net and built environments that Europe takes for granted. Give me a train to New York that takes 5 hours and the end to people going bankrupt because of a treatable illness and you can keep your flying car.

Bosacki's Brewery, Mundelein

Welcome to stop #109 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Bosacki's Brewery, 610 E. Hawley St., Mundelein
Train line: North-Central Service, Mundelein
Time from Chicago: 68 minutes
Distance from station: 800 m

Don't let the façade dissuade you from visiting this place; it's an absolute gem. Greg Bosacki loves brewing beer, and he has made some unusual and surprising ones over the years. I spent so much time talking with him about beer and the other breweries in Lake County (including a few that have closed) that I forgot to take notes on the beer until after I left.

He let me try four of his beers (no charge) so I could decide which pint to get. I started with the Improper English Ale (4.6%, 19 IBU) that tasted just like a real ale in the Ancestral Homeland. (This prompted a discussion about the Real Ale movement and how you have to ask for a cask beer if you want the real thing in central London.) His English IPA (5.3%, 54 IBU) could have gone around the Horn on a packet ship, and yet it was eminently drinkable and not as bitter as the IBUs would suggest.

Then Greg got to the real passion projects: the Frumentum (Corn) Lager, from a mid-19th-Century recipe he developed to elicit how beer would have tasted on the western frontier (i.e., Chicago) in the 1850s. Last, he gave me a taste of the Uncommon Kentucky Ale, one of the more common styles of beer from before prohibition, traditionally made by moonshiners who wanted something more for sippin' than their 100-proof hooch.

Don't even get me started on the puzzles. I spent several minutes trying to figure out one of the metal ones at the bar, and didn't even attempt these Rubik's cubes. I did manage to get the two bent nails untangled, and get them back together again. Greg will give you clues if you ask him.

Who knew Mundelein had such a treasure? Next visit to Mundelein, I'll get dinner at Tonality, then a unique beer at Bosacki's.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? One, avoidable
Serves food? BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Tonality Brewing, Mundelein

Welcome to stop #108 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Tonality Brewing, 169 N. Seymore Ave., Mundelein
Train line: North-Central Service, Mundelein
Time from Chicago: 68 minutes
Distance from station: 400 m

One of Chicagoland's newest breweries, Tonality opened in November in the shadow of Mundelein's water tower, ensuring they will always have enough of their principal ingredient to keep making great beers. They also have really good food, which their house manager claimed is 95% made from scratch. I can only attest to the potato chips, which were really good.

But the beer is worth the trip. Beermiscuous in Lakeview has some of their beers while they work out other distribution deals, but only a few of them, and not the best of the tastes I had.

On the left we have the Rich Life Bohemian Pilsner (4.2%), which has a lot of flavor for a Pils. (The haziness of my sample is merely because it was near the end of the keg.) The Notoberfest festbier (6.2%)—so named because they missed opening in September last year—had big malt with honey and apple notes, and a long finish. Next came the Cosmic Wolf NEIPA (6.6%), which had peach and banana notes, and drank more like a lager than a double dry-hopped IPA. I rounded out my official flight with the Fadeaway West Coast IPA (8.8%), a dangerous, flavorful beer I would drink very carefully. Mo, the bartender, also let me try a swig of the Crepuscular Russian Imperial Stout (12%), which exploded in my mouth with chocolate and vanilla flavors that completely concealed the alcohol. I also got a taste of the Faraday Phenomena IPA (5.5%), a solid, well-balanced ale I could sip outside on their patio.

I would love to go back to Tonality, if only Mundelein weren't so far away. Perhaps, on my way back from Wisconsin next time I go up.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Yes, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Harbor Brewing, Lake Villa

Welcome to stop #107 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Harbor Brewing, 136 Cedar Ave., Lake Villa
Train line: North-Central Service, Lake Villa
Time from Chicago: 91 minutes
Distance from station: 100 m

The North-Central Service doesn't have the worst schedule in the Metra system; it has the third-worst. With only 7 trains a day, and only one train going in the reverse-commute direction, it takes some planning to get from downtown Chicago to Lake Villa. And, sadly, the return train comes only 45 minutes after the Antioch-bound train drops you off.

Still, Harbor Brewing knows how to create a great beer garden and taproom. Like their Winthrop Harbor location (much easier to get to), they have lots of room outside, and lots of beers inside. The Lake Villa taproom opened in 2022 after they outgrew the Winthrop Harbor spot west of the tracks. (The lakefront location is still open.) Lake Villa is one village over from Wisconsin, so the train passed through some soybean and corn fields on the way up. But that far from the city means it's quiet and quite relaxing—even if you only have 40 minutes to spare.

Because of the short connection time, I only got two half-pours. The Full Sun New England pale ale (5.6%, 25 IBU) was decent, with nice hop/malt balance and a little bitterness that I liked.  I also enjoyed the Nature Walk pale ale (4.7%, 32 IBU) as a drinkable, easy beer for a summer afternoon.

I would definitely go back. And I may need to stop by their lakeside beer garden again this summer.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? Yes, avoidable
Serves food? No, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes