Feb 27, 2015

Milwaukee Part II

Picking up from where Caitlin left off, after Lakefront Brewery our crew headed to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart to turn in our "free beer coupon" from Lakefront.  If you go on the tour they give you a coupon for an ADDITIONAL free beer at a local bar to be used on the day of your tour.  I'm not really sure if anyone in our group NEEDED another beer, but the bar/cheese store was full of free samples and Marquette Basketball fans, so it was fun.  We also had the LARGEST pretzel I've ever seen; it was easily split among the 7 of us and came with delicious cheese dip.

The Cheese Mart also has a great selection of cheese themed gifts
After replenishing our bodies with carbs and cheese samples, we took an UBER (yes, Milwaukee has Uber!) to the Milwaukee Brewing Company (MKE). There is also a Milwaukee Ale House, affiliated with MKE that serves their beer and also serves delicious food; I've been there on my last two journeys to Milwaukee, it is in the historic Third Ward.  The MKE building that we went to is where they make the beer and do their tours.  
Being old Milwaukee pros and having been enough brewery tours that we should all know where beer comes from by now, we opted out of signing up for a tour and instead signed up for the two hour open house that happens every Saturday night from 5-7.  For $15 you get a pint glass to take home with you, and unlimited beer samples to be drunk out of said pint glass.  You also get 2 tickets for the heavier, stronger (higher alcohol content!) beers.  This is a great deal and I would highly recommend it.  All of MKE's beers are delicious and it is an interesting way to try new beers, talk to the bartenders and interact with the local Milwaukee folk.  All of the people that we talked to were very impressed that we had already done the Lakefront tour and were still drinking beer...perhaps this should have been a sign that that was a lot of beer for 7 girls, but we continued to drink.
This is the crew
I had been advised to try Louie's Demise, so that was the first beer I had.  At the open house, your first glass of beer is a full pint and the rest are half pours, probably to deter overdrinking but also to encourage trying everything.  Which I think I almost accomplished...I used my tickets to try the Winter Ale (tasted like an oatmeal raisin cookie @ 10%!!!) and Hop Freak, a very hoppy double IPA.

MKE also gives you a coupon/token (a poker chip!) for another free beer once you leave their establishment, and we had some time to kill before dinner, so we took a local's advice and went to "The Irish Bar".  Try explaining that to your Uber driver...he told us there were probably 100 Irish bars in the area, but we wanted to go to THE Irish Bar.

For dinner we went to Cafe Centraal at Kinnickinnic (so fun to say out loud) in the Bay View neighborhood.  This place has an excellent selection of beers (especially Belgian ones) and a delicious menu to help us soak up all of the beer we had consumed throughout the day.  Around the corner from Centraal is Sugar Maple, a small bar that also had a great beer selection (I'm sensing a theme in Milwaukee...); 60 American craft beers on tap.

All in all, we drank entirely too much beer in Milwaukee but it was so very fun.  If you're looking to get out of Chicago for a short weekend trip, I'd highly recommend Milwaukee's breweries and cheese establishments.  Maybe one day we will try to visit in the summer when we can take in what I've heard is a very nice waterfront and actually drink outside?

Feb 25, 2015

Milwaukee Part 1

As we've mentioned a few times, it can be hard to survive a winter in the Midwest - with all the snow and below freezing temps, it's difficult to find the motivation to leave the house. To beat the SAD, we've tried to plan fun activities throughout the winter so we don't become hermits. Last year we decided to explore the beer scene of Milwaukee and, because we had so much fun, we decided to do it again - this time with 7 girls! 

Milwaukee is only about a 90 minute drive from Chicago, so we left mid-morning to get to there in time for lunch and to check into our hotel. Sidenote: I don't know Milwaukee extremely well, but we stayed at the Aloft hotel and I would recommend it. We didn't spend too much time there but it's trendy and on the cheaper side. They also had Bliss products in the bathroom, which was a plus for me!
The Hotel! via

We didn't have a plan for lunch but we spotted the Ale Asylum River House from our hotel and decided to go there. The Ale Asylum River House is located right on the Milwaukee River and in the summer I'm sure it is a great place to sit on the patio and relax. In the winter, it seems like a great place to watch a Marquette basketball game. For us, it was a great place to have a drink and eat lunch.

The beers at Ale Asylum River House all sounded delicious - all of the beers come from the brewery which is based in Madison. But because it wasn't yet 1:00pm, I decided to go for the (relatively) lower alcohol Hopalicious - a 5.7% American Pale Ale. Despite the "hop" in the name, it was actually less bitter than I thought it would be and was pretty easy to drink. It was a nice first drink for a day of drinking craft beers. A few of the others got the Unshadowed (a Hefeweizen), which I heard was also good. 
My poor attempt at capturing my beer (below empty cheese curd plate)

The menu at Ale Asylum was on the healthier/upscale side - meaning NO FRENCH FRIES - so I was a little skeptical. However, when my Avocado-BLT arrived (which the majority of our group ordered), I was completely satisfied. While I would have enjoyed some french fries with it and not root veggie chips, I would still probably eat there again. We also ordered the cheese curds as an appetizer and they were extremely delicious.

After lunch we headed to Lakefront Brewery. The Lakefront Brewery tour is really fun and a great deal. For $8 you get 4 6oz. beers (more like 8oz.), a tour, and a pint glass. Every beer that I had was very good. I had following: the Big Easy - an Imperial Maibock; the Oktoberfest - a little unseasonal but probably my favorite; the Cream City Ale - not at all creamy, see here; and Extended Play - a India Session Ale, less alcohol than a standard IPA which was good news for me.  While Lakefront is not a huge brewery, you can purchase their beers in almost every state


This was my second time on the Lakefront tour and it was just as enjoyable as the first (maybe one of the best brewery tours I've been on). The tour guides are always very knowledgeable, friendly, and witty. They also stop about halfway through the tour so that you can refill your beer! While I had heard everything on the tour before, I still had a lot of fun and our tour guide, Jack, was a treat. I highly recommend stopping by Lakefront, if you're ever in Milwaukee.

We went to another brewery and several other bars on Saturday. However, I reached my limit for craft beer after the Lakefront Tour and the rest of the day was a blur. I've only been to Milwaukee in the winter and I think I'm probably missing out - on more beer, cheeses, and sunlight. I'd love to go back in the summertime and actually be able to sit outside and walk around. There are a lot of great bars and restaurants and 24 hours did not give us enough time to explore. 

Part II coming on Friday!

Feb 23, 2015

YLS Ignite 2015 (at Fulton Market Kitchen)

On Friday night I was lucky enough to attend United Way of Metropolitan Chicago's (UWMC) Young Leaders Society's (YLS) Ignite event.  For those of you who don't know, my younger brother, Mike, works at UWMC as a donor officer and also as the organizer of YLS.  YLS is the "young professionals" arm of UWMC's board, which consists of active donors under 40.  UWMC focuses on raising money for many different charitable agencies in neighborhoods all across the city.

The event is one of the biggest fundraising events that YLS has put on and my brother worked very hard on it to make sure everything ran smoothly, and that everyone had a GREAT time! 

Ignite was held at Fulton Market Kitchen in the West Loop.  I'd never been there before but it is a very cool and trendy event space.  There are multiple rooms, but Ignite had the run of the entire place.  I heard that they treat the art as kind of a rotating gallery, and it was all bright and colorful and interesting.


image via
The appetizers provided by FMK were things like lamb meatballs, portobello sliders, burger sliders, fried scallops and little chicken sandwiches.  Everything that I tasted was great, but I wish they had had more fried scallops and less sliders.

2Gingers Whiskey was one of the sponsors of the event, so the "signature" cocktails were a whiskey + ginger ale concoction and a sweeter whiskey drink with orange in it (not my favorite).  There was also a whiskey tasting bar.  I am not a huge whiskey fan (unlike Caitlin and my mother) so when the cute, Irish bartender asked me what kind of whiskey I usually prefer I had to be honest and say "none?".  He laughed and poured me a little glass of the smoothest and least aggressive whiskey I've ever had.  I wish I had taken a picture of the bottle but I think it was this.

There was also a selection of wine and surprisingly good beers at the bars.  The band Mike picked was very entertaining, playing songs from the likes of Amy Winehouse, Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc, etc.  Sadly there was not enough dancing for my taste, but the event was pretty crowded, so I'll chalk it up to not enough space.  Hopefully next year it will be in a bigger place with a dance floor?
My beautiful family + Dave courtesy of Fotio
The crowd was great, as it was mostly young professionals and their friends, but it also included my parents, former coworkers and some local Chicago celebrities, such as my favorite morning news anchor.  I'm pretty sure everyone took at least one picture in the Fotio "booth".  If I ever have a big party or wedding in the city I will definitely be hiring these guys.

I had a wonderful evening, and can't wait to see what Mike plans for next year's event!  The best part was, this year, tickets were only $60-80, which is very reasonable for appetizers, open bar, great company and a live band.  I'll make sure I announce when tickets go on sale for next year.

Feb 20, 2015

Haymarket Pub and Brewery

A few weeks ago, we met at Haymarket in the West Loop after work, to try some new beers.  A bar/restaurant/brewery, it was a great spot to meet a friend for a drink.  There is plenty of seating, and some of the brewing equipment is visible from the dining room and bar area.  It was pretty crowded around 5:30 on a Monday evening (impressive considering the frigid winter that Chicago has been experiencing!), but this won't seem surprising once you've tasted their beer.



Caitlin and I each ordered a flight.  I had Last Chance Belgian IPA (award winning!), Angry Birds, Lizzie's Simcoe Double IPA and Aleister.  They were all very good and I'd order any of them again.  Their beers seemed to skew more toward the lighter end of the beer spectrum; this is fine with me as I just have never developed the taste for stouts and porters.  Haymarket's specialty lies in double IPAs and Belgian style beer.

I'd definitely like to go back with a bigger group for a late lunch sometime and try more of their beers or maybe go on a tour ($15 + 4 samples + 1 pint!).  They also offers beers from other breweries by the bottle if you want to mix it up.

Sadly Haymarket does not sell their beer outside of the brewery, but if you bring a growler you can get it filled for just 3 times the price of a pint of the brew.

I'd recommend this place as a great meetup spot before a Bulls or a Blackhawks game.  Since it is on Randolph it would be easy to walk over here from the Loop after work and then drive/bus/taxi to the United Center after enjoying some beer and food (for MUCH cheaper than the $8-10 beers at the game!).

This would also be a great bar to meet up at before dining out at any of the other great and famous restaurants on West Randolph (most within a 2-3 block radius of Haymarket!).  Au Cheval, Girl and the Goat, Nia's, Nellcote, Maude's Liquor Bar and Graham Elliott Bistro are all walking distance.

Good for: happy hour, dinner, date



Feb 18, 2015

Cider Summit 2015

A few weekends ago, I ignored the fact that I tend to dislike cider and went on my second annual trip to the Cider Summit. Cider Summit is a yearly cider tasting event that happens at Navy Pier. Hosted by SBS Imports and the Seattle Beer Collective, Cider Summit featured over 150 ciders from all around the world.

The huge downside of Cider Summit for me (other than the fact that it's not a beer summit) is that it's hosted at Navy Pier. Due to some pretty unpleasant work functions that I've had to attend there, coupled with my dislike for large crowds of tourists and screaming children, Navy Pier is one of my least favorite places to visit. Only good friends and alcohol can entice me.

In 2014, Cider Summit took place in Lakeview Terrace, which made it a nightmare to navigate because it got so crowded. This year they moved Cider Summit to the Grand Ballroom, which helped crowd control immensely. Still packed, but there was definitely room to walk and stand around....and people watch the very interesting crowd that this event attracts.
Two of the weirdos at Cider Summit

The premise of Cider Summit is that you pay $30 for admission, which comes with 8 tasting tickets and a complimentary tasting glass. You can buy additional tasting tickets for $2 each. With dozens of stands to choose from, my friends and I decided that 8 tasting tickets were not enough and bought a few extra. We also didn't anticipate receiving extra tickets from a stranger who was leaving early...which went well with my empty stomach.

Perhaps because of the gallon of cider that I drank, I didn't pay the most attention to the ciders that I was drinking. In fact, I should have been more like the other people there and written tasting notes in the booklet that was provided...just kidding, I would never do that. Instead, I will only be able to provide a very limited overview of the ciders presented.

Overall, I would give my Cider Summit experience 3 out of 5 apples. It was good, but I wasn't blown away by anything - with my unrefined cider palate, a lot of them tasted the same to me. Some of the ciders were quite tasty - a cherry cider and dry hopped cider were my favorites - but, cider is way too sweet for me to enjoy/consume in large quantities. I would also never, ever recommend drinking cider that is made in gin barrels. It's an interesting concept, but the cider tasted more like drinking a bouquet of flowers than it resembled gin. There were also a few other less than palatable ciders, but, fortunately, for those cider producers I cannot remember where they came from!


One of the good ones! Image via

If you like cider, I would definitely recommend this event. Not only are there a lot of cideries, but all of the cider producers are super knowledgeable about their products and friendly. The booths I visited did their best to make sure that us cider amateurs were happy with our selections - even asking us what we generally preferred to drink and then trying to find a cider to match. While, I don't appreciate cider, I did appreciate the great customer service. I'm sure a true cider connoisseur would have appreciated all the choices there...I will have them write this post next year.

While cider and Navy Pier are not two of my favorite things, I do love to drink socially and hang out with friends. Because winter in Chicago will continue to be bleak and offer few fun things to do, I'll probably go again next year.

Feb 16, 2015

The Butcher's Tap

The Southport Corridor is filled with shops, bars and restaurants.  Caitlin and I used to live just off of Southport so we are very familiar with all of the hot spots.  One place we had never frequented was Wheel House.  I'd been there once for a drink but Caitlin had never even been inside.  When we saw that the name had changed to The Butcher's Tap, we were intrigued.  When we saw the menu, we knew we HAD to have dinner there.  So a few Friday nights ago we met a couple of friends there for post-work beers and dinner.
image via
The place is 2 stories, something I did not realize the only other time I'd been there.  We were seated in the upstairs at a a pair of high top tables.  The atmosphere is chill, with dim lighting and a few small televisions around in order to watch sports.  I was pretty impressed with their beer list; they have some of my favorite local breweries.

I had a Greenbush Jadis for my first beer and we ordered the cheese curds.  If you go there, ORDER THE CHEESE CURDS.  Maybe Caitlin and I just love cheese more than the average gal, but these were delicious and the dipping sauces put them over the top.

The Butcher's Tap prides itself on offering local meats and cheeses on everything from the appetizers to the burgers and sandwiches.  Next time we go there, I plan on making former vegetarian, Caitlin, share a meat and cheese board with me.  We all ordered burgers (a veggie one for Caitlin) and we all devoured them.  I had the "Big Al": BACON, PULLED PORK BELLY, CARAMELIZED ONIONS, PICKLED RED ONIONS, JAMESON BBQ...

With my burger I tried the 3 Sheeps Really Cool Waterslide IPA which was also delicious.  Thankfully almost all of their beers are on tap which is impressive/THE BEST.

Caitlin and I would definitely go back there and maybe this time she would try a meat burger...?  I want to try "The Diner" (TWO PERFECT 1/4 PATTIES FLAT & CRISPY, TILLAMOOK CHEDDAR, BACON, ONION) and some of their other beers on tap.  If you're an Ohio State fan, this place will show every game, and I'm sure they probably also show every Chicago sports game as well.

Good for: dinner, date, beers, burgers

Feb 13, 2015

Bar Trivia

If you're looking for something to do on a weeknight, especially during winter, bar trivia is one of our favorite options. It's not only good for groups of friends but it can also be fun for a date (just don't combine bringing a first date to trivia with friends...in my experience, it's not a great idea). In Chicago, where it seems like there is a bar on almost every corner and many of them have trivia, the options can be overwhelming. Thankfully, we have been there and tried them out for you. Here are our favorite three options:

Justin's is one of our favorite neighborhood bars, and while we no longer live down the street from it, we don't mind making the trek back for trivia (or any other night when we want drinks). One of Justin's best qualities is that it always has a great selection of beers on tap. Lagunitas and Revolution beers are some of the staples and they always have a good rotating tap. Last time I was there it was Two Brothers Night Cat, which is one of my new favorite beers - make sure to try it out! I'll also make the bold claim that Justin's has the best tater tots in the city (unverified, but probably true). 
The Justin's back patio is a great place to drink outside once Chicago warms up
image via
Trivia at Justin's is every Tuesday night at 8. It's usually super crowded, so I would recommend getting there early. As far as actual trivia goes, it's definitely on the harder side of bar trivia, but that also makes it more fun.  There are picture rounds which are the trickiest if you aren't good with faces and and it draws a pretty diverse crowd in terms of ages (which can make it more difficult).  The prizes at Justin's are gift certificates to...JUSTIN'S (more tater tots for everyone!).

Mad River
Mad River is a bar that we just can't stay away from. Maybe it's the free happy hours that we ALWAYS win, maybe it's their yearly anniversary party with a free open bar (sign up for that email list!), or maybe it's the truffle fries - whatever it is, we have been coming to this bar on and off since 2011. We recently started going to trivia there again and it does not disappoint.
The free Mad River happy hours will do that to you...
Over the past few few years, Mad River's beer selection has improved considerably. They still have Coors Light on tap, but they have also expanded to other options. On trivia nights alll draft beers are $4, which includes Revolution options, Lagunitas (these are $5), Blue Moon, Dogfish Head, Golden Monkey (not $4) and a few others. Their sandwiches and burgers are quite tasty - make sure to get them with a side of truffle fries! But it's best to avoid their tater tots, as they resemble mushy potato pancakes more than anything (we told you Justin's was the best...).
"Triv at the Riv" is also every Tuesday at 8. It doesn't get as crowded as Justin's, but get there early to snag a table with a working TV. To top it off, at Mad River first place wins a $100 cash prize, and they usually have secret prizes like sports and concert tickets.  During bonus rounds, if your team guesses closest to the right answer you all win a shot.

Flagship
For another small neighborhood bar, Flagship is also surprisingly nice inside with a good beer selection. We first started coming here a few years ago, not just because it was a new bar near our apartment but also because the TRIVIA MASTER/host, Nicole (formerly of Mad River) is our favorite. Seriously, she is the best at running trivia and I would probably recommend going to Flagship even if the bar was awful (but it's not!) . If I remember correctly, she threw in some Mean Girls questions one week just because we asked.  She takes her hosting duties seriously but not TOO seriously.

If I were to rate the food overall at each of these trivia options, the food at Flagship is probably the best. They have a great selection of burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads - notable standouts: the Porkx4 sandwich (PORK ON PORK ON PORK ON PORK, LITERALLY) and the BBQ burger.

Their beer selection has also always been solid and it's probably one of the only trivia bars where I would be tempted to order a cocktail, like the strawberry basil lemonade or ginger ball mason jar.
Trivia at Flagship is every Thursday at 8. I haven't been to trivia here for a few months, but last time I was, it was extremely crowded. I would recommend calling ahead and reserving a table.  Flagship also has a LOT of televisions, so if there is a game on during trivia, you'll be covered.

STATE
If you are looking for a more INTENSE trivia experience, go to STATE in Lincoln Park on a Tuesday night. We've only gone to trivia here a couple of times (due to humiliation) but it is an EXPERIENCE.  This place gets super crowded, so definitely get there early (like ***).  The last time we were there, there were at least FORTY teams.  Why so popular?  The grand prize for winning is $800 (2nd place gets $200 and 3rd place gets $100)!  They also raffle off a bunch of prizes at the end of the evening (each trivia participant gets 1 ticket).  One of our friends was lucky enough to win a barber kit (never been used, bet she'd sell it to you for cheap!) and a 20" television (won in separate weeks).

The questions are hard, so make sure you have a skilled and diverse team at your disposal, otherwise be prepared to cry when the sports questions come up...the food here is pretty good for bar food, so if you have to get there early you can at least enjoy a good sandwich.


While there are LITERALLY hundreds of trivia options to choose from, these are the ones we keep coming back to. If you're ever out on a Tuesday you might run into us!

Feb 11, 2015

Galentine's Day

Winter can be very bleak in Chicago, but one bright spot is Galentine's Day. Galentine's Day is a tradition that we've been celebrating for several years now, ever since we learned about it from our favorite Hoosier, Leslie Knope. It's a chance to drink wine, eat, and gossip with your favorite lady friends. We generally celebrate this a day or two before actual Valentine's Day. Luckily for us the past few years, it has fallen on a Thursday or Friday (Galentine's Day hangovers can be the worst).
  




Below are some of our favorite Galentine's Day Activities:

BYOB Dinner followed by more drinking
The first Galentine's Day that we celebrated we decided to go to a BYOB Indian Dinner (Tandoor and Royal Indian Grille are two of our faves). We had planned ahead and made a reservation for 4 not realizing that we would be the only non-couples at the restaurant... While we felt awkward at first, 3 bottles of wine later and some flirty banter with our underage waiter we were feeling pretty comfortable. We topped the night off with more drinks - this time beer - at a nearby bar. 

We decided to continue this tradition the second Galentine's Day with a BYOB Indian dinner followed by karaoke. This is highly recommended.


Some of our Galentines


Dinner, Drinks and a Movie
Traditional Valentine's Day dates might involve going to a nice dinner, enjoying a few glasses of wine, and maybe going to see a movie. For Galentine's Day we combine these all together. This option is good if you're comfortable with sneaking things into a movie theatre. 

First, start out by picking the cheesiest romantic comedy that you can find. Second, pick up some hearty snacks. Cheese and crackers, chocolate, fruits and candy are some of our favorites. Third, pick up a variety of single serve wines. My favorite are the Wine Cube 1L Boxes, which can be found at Target. Fourth, find a discreet way to hide your food and drinks on your person and sneak them into the movie. Fifth, enjoy!

Our initial Galentine's Day plans were thwarted this year because we were late to the game and Fifty Shades of Grey was already sold out. Instead we're planning on drinking copious amounts of wine, eating takeout and watching a half naked Channing Tatum gyrate around in Magic Mike.

While these are our favorite ways to spend Galentine's Day, the only things you really need are good drinks, good food, and good friends!

Feb 10, 2015

Beermiscuous

Last weekend we met some friends at Beermiscuous for a few good beers. For those who haven't been, Beermiscuous is kind of like a beer tasting room/bar.  When you walk in you are greeted by refrigerators on either side of you, filled with bottles and cans of MANY different kinds of beers.  They are sorted alphabetically by brewery then by beer name.  Beermiscuous prides itself on having a HUGE selection of Chicago-based brewed beer, and they don't disappoint.  You can take these bottles/cans to go, or drink in them at the cozy tables and chairs in the back of the shop.
The Tap List on 1/31/2015
Before you get to the back of the shop though, you arrive at the cash register and beer taps.  There are always 12 beers on tap, the majority of which are from a Chicago brewery.  The best way to taste around is to order a flight (you pay by the 4 oz pour, so flights usually cost about $8-9, depending on which beers you pick).  I like to get a flight, drink each one and then decide if I loved any of them enough to get a full pour of it, or if I want to go back to the coolers and pick a bottle of a different beer.  Their beer is priced fairly, especially if you are buying it to go.

On this particular evening I got a flight from taps 4, 5, 7 and 12.  I started drinking left to right from my flight.



First up was Van de Velde Belgo-Pale Ale by Ale Syndicate.  This is a local brewery, and I've had some of the beers before.  I thought this was a standard pale ale but enjoyed it overall.  Next I had Half Acre Senita, an American IPA with a bit of a bite to it.  My third beer was Lilith from Goose Island; this was billed as a "pomegranate Berlinerweisse"...it was very fruity and my least favorite beer in the flight.  My last beer was Acclamation by Pollyanna: a "Belgian strong ale with apricot".  It wasn't as fruity as the Lilith but still had a very interesting taste.  All 4 of my beers ended up being from the Chicago area!

I didn't love any of the beers in my flight ENOUGH to order a full sized pour, so I went back to the coolers and got an Apex Predator by Off Color (also from Chicago).  This is probably one of my favorite beers right now, so it did not disappoint.

Beermiscuous does not serve food (and has no plans to), but they do provide menus from many restaurants in the area so that you can order food to the bar or go pick it up (we made one of our friends pick up our Mexican food from the down street).  They also have Food and Flight Nights, where you can order food at the bar from a food truck parked out front and one of the bartenders will bring it to you while you're enjoying your beer.

There are a few televisions and some board games, but I'd say overall that the atmosphere of Beermiscous is more for just friends chilling out, enjoying some good brews.  I could definitely see myself whiling away a weekend afternoon there and I know I'll back to see what kinds of new beers and breweries appear.

Good for: hanging out with friends, first date