Apr 20, 2015

Ladies at the Beach: Southern California

It is Monday and I am back at work after a wonderful week away from Chicago in Southern California (Oceanside, to be exact).  Between Orange County and San Diego lay a bunch of small, cute, charming beachside towns, and I was lucky enough to get to stay on the beach for the entire week.  Besides the beautiful beaches, charming shops, palm trees and plentiful pools, this area is FULL of microbreweries!  This was great news for my family and me as we all enjoy trying new beers and supporting local breweries.

the view from Oceanside's pier
Right in Oceanside are several breweries, but we only visited one: Bagby Beer Company.  It is off of the main road in Oceanside and I thought it was HUMONGOUS for a micro brew pub.  There were several areas for seating: the inside bar, a tasting room, a large back patio, a large upstairs deck and an upstairs bar.  We went for lunch one afternoon (I highly recommend the burger) and another night for a post-dinner beer.  Their best beer that I tasted was "Pesky Neighbor" an IPA but I also liked "Struggle Bus", a nitro IPA.  They have 25 (!) of their own beers on tap, as well as many other local brews and a few bottles.  All of the servers definitely knew their stuff and it sounded like most of them homebrewed as well.

so many taps!
Bagby is definitely a place I'd recommend for food, as well as for spending an afternoon tasting as many of their beers as possible!  It also seems like it would be a great place for a party, especially on that upstairs deck.  And considering that weather in Oceanside seems beautiful 85% of the time, you probably wouldn't have to worry much about rain outs.

view of the back patio from the upstairs deck
In Solana Beach, another cute little beach town, is Culture Brewing.  My parents stumbled upon this brewery (they have knack for that) on the first day it was open.  It is MUCH smaller than Bagby and consists of the main bar area (with no seating, I guess because of licensing laws?) and the back patio.  I only tried one beer here, their Mosaic IPA, and it was VERY good and "low gluten" (meaning it has 10ppm of gluten or less).  Half of the beers on their list were low gluten, so if you're sensitive to gluten but not celiac, I'd recommend this place to fill up your growler.  Hopefully one day they will have more seating to encourage people to hang around and drink for a while.

you can see the brewing equipment from the patio!
Finally, there is a small chain of pizza/brewpubs in the area called Pizza Port.  We went to the one in Carlsbad on Friday night and it was BUSY!  Luckily we snagged a spot at the bar; it is kind of first come, first serve seating, with no hosts/servers (you order at the counter and they call your name when your food is ready).  The pizza was DELICIOUS and I would tell you to order the beer buddies (basically garlic pizza crust with dipping sauces) for an appetizer while you wait for your pizzas to be done.  

image via
Since this is a pizza place as well as a brewpub the crowd was more mixed with lots of families, little kids, teenagers, etc.  I had the "Off the Chain" double IPA which reminded me of some of my favorite double IPAs and the "Grapefruit Puncher" IPA which had just the teeniest hint of grapefruit.  They had a LOT of their owns beers on tap (also available in pitchers) and many others as well.  Pizza Port offers cans and kegs of their beers to go, and we saw their beer cans in the grocery stores we went to while in the area.

If you're ever visiting the area, definitely research the local microbreweries!  Hopefully I'll get to back again and check out the ones I didn't have a chance to see.  There is more to Oceanside than the beaches!

Apr 17, 2015

Hell or High Watermelon Review

Over the weekend, I discovered the beer that I didn't know my life was missing. I was on my way to a housewarming party, and knowing I shouldn't show up empty handed (I'm always a thoughtful guest), I stopped by a liquor store. With my boyfriend in tow, who was pathetically hungover, I decided not to go with my usual choice of an IPA. Not only because I was thinking he might improve and want a lighter beer to drink, but also because I took his condition as a warning sign and didn't want to be like him the next day.
As I perused the large selection of wheat and fruit beers, I noticed a watermelon wheat beer. I'm not the biggest fan of watermelon, or watermelon flavored things, but I was feeling adventurous and decided to take a chance -  I'm glad I did. I ended up buying the Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer by 21st Amendment Brewery.

The man at the liquor store checkout (who was probably one of the friendliest liquor store workers - if not humans - that I have ever encountered) told me that the 21st Amendment Brewery, located in San Francisco, just recently started distributing in the Chicago region and they were having a hard time keeping their beers in stock. According to him, they had been told that the watermelon beer would be the most popular and were advised to order more of this as it would fly off the shelves. (Correct advice).

Image via

While, I'm generally a fan of hoppier, more bitter IPAs, I absolutely loved this beer and probably drank most of the six-pack. It wasn't just a beer with a hint of watermelon, but the watermelon taste was very prevalent and fruity without being too sweet. It still tasted like beer, but I think that even non-beer drinkers would find it pleasant. The beer also gets points for its lovely can design. You should definitely check this beer out - if you can find it!
I'm looking forward to trying more 21st Amendment beers. I'll probably spend most of the summer outside drinking Hell or High Watermelon waiting for someone to open a 19th Amendment themed brewery.  

Apr 15, 2015

Revolution Brewery Tour

Last week, a few of my friends and I took a tour of Revolution Brewery through the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Chicago. Not to be confused with the Revolution Brewpub in Logan Square which has delicious food so go there, the actual brewery is located in the Kennedy Planned Manufacturing District (I didn't know this was an actual area, either). 

If you've seen Drinking Buddies, it's filmed here
I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's taken me years to take this tour. After a failed attempt two years ago to both find the location, and then once we found it, to get a spot on one of the coveted tours, I've been trying to make another trip.

Thinking everyone would have romantic dinner plans, I thought it would be a good idea to go during the afternoon this past Valentine's Day. Apparently, I'm not as clever as I think and everyone else in the city had the same idea. It was super crowded and there was a 4 hour wait for the next tour! (Sidenote: parents, if you're going to go to a brewery on Valentine's Day, maybe leave the kids at home?).

I had given up hope of ever going on a tour of Revolution, so when I received an email from the ND Club of Chicago saying that they had spots on a tour for young alumni, I immediately signed up.

Worth the wait

I've probably been on at least a dozen or so brewery tours at this point, but since I drink Revolution beers a lot, I was excited to go on this one. But - spoiler alert - this tour was almost exactly like all the other brewery tours I've been on! Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I know to expect learning about the process through which beer is made (typical) but then we also got to learn about Revolution specific items - such as the history of the brewery, their production/distribution, their designs, etc. I won't get into any specifics - instead go on the tour to learn more.
My favorite parts of the tour: getting 1.5 free samples of beer, free popcorn and getting to see all of the cans stored in the brewery. I also got to try Fist City - a pale ale that tastes really hoppy - for the first time, which might be my new favorite Revolution beer. It's being distributed in cans now, so you can all try it for yourselves - as long as you live in the Chicago region!
so many cans!
and more cans

My least favorite parts of the tour: having to wear safety glasses on the tour (surprisingly not fashion forward) and trying to get to the brewery itself, as it's in a location not convenient to public transport. 

Although it took me almost 3 years of living in Chicago to go on this tour, I would definitely suggest taking a trip. The tour is free and the beer is great - just make sure you plan ahead or get to the brewery early to make sure you get a spot!

Apr 13, 2015

mk The Restaurant

Last week I had the pleasure of dining out with my family for my mom's birthday.  My parents moved into the city a couple of years ago and have definitely taken advantage of the restaurant scene here.  They love trying new places and my mom enjoys researching where they should go next.  For her birthday dinner she did a lot of research and decided she wanted to go to mk in River West, named one of Chicago's 50 best restaurants by Zagat (it was #15!).

I hadn't heard of mk previously, but after we ate there I'm not surprised I hadn't heard of it.  It is in kind of an out of the way neighborhood--just outside of River North, just south of the Gold Coast, not quite in the West Loop.  It is also pretty pricey and since I rarely go out for fancy dinners if I have to pay, this was probably why I didn't know of this place.  Having said that though, I would DEFINITELY like to go back there as soon as I get a sugar daddy, or maybe for my own birthday this year.

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that this place was REAL good.  My mom said it might have been one of the best meals of her life.  I'm no food critic, but I had to agree with her.

My parents and I arrived together and while we waited for my younger brother to show up we sat in the bar area and had a cocktail.  I ordered the "sweet sixteen" and was informed by our very handsome and smooth talking bartender, Nico, that the drink is named that because the restaurant is celebrating its 16th year of being open.  This drink was great and I would definitely order it again (my brother got it as well): Ceres' vodka (shout out to Chicago Distilling!), lavender syrup and elderflower liquer.  It wasn't sweet, but very smooth and delicious.

the Janks enjoy a good cocktail
Once we were seated we decided to start with some appetizers.  We ordered the grilled octopus and the two tartares.  This grilled octopus was my favorite thing (possibly in the world).  It was char-grilled, but the waiter (who has worked there since the beginning!) says that the chef cooks the octopus in wine, vegetables and seasonings and WINE CORKS (which somehow take the rubber-iness out of the octopus? or maybe just for magic?) before grilling.  I'm not a big raw fish person but that the salmon tartar with avocado puree was pretty good (the one bite I was able to steal from my mom).

When it came time to order our entree I was torn between the duck and the chicken.  I chose the duck and I'm VERY glad I did.  It was probably the best duck I've ever had.  My mom had the chicken, my brother the steak (I had a bite and it was great!) and my dad had the white fish and lobster.  Everyone loved their choices.

mk has a very extensive/EXPENSIVE wine list.  I stuck with just the one cocktail but my mom, the family wine expert, ordered a bottle of red for the rest of them.  They were happy with their choice.

the dining room via
For dessert I had the ice cream, which included a scoop of mascarpone ice cream which I will definitely be looking for the next time I'm ice cream shopping...sadly I do this rarely because ice cream is my kryptonite and I'm like a bottomless pit once I start eating it and usually end up eating my boyfriend's too...
My mom had the s'mores dessert and I think she ended up eating most of my dad's chocolate cake because she is a chocolate fiend.

While the decor at mk isn't as fancy/interesting as some of the newer and trendier restaurants in town, it is worth a visit just for the food.  I seriously think it could be one of those dining in the dark places and no one would complain--that's how good it was.  A good place to make a reservation at for when your parents are visiting or you have something special to celebrate!

Apr 10, 2015

Greenbush Brewing Company

Once upon a time, a few years ago, a man was returning to his home after a long bike ride.  As he rode along the country road and into the small town of Sawyer, Michigan, he saw a previously vacant building bustling with activity.  When he rode up to the entrance he saw a young couple and asked what was going on.  They told him they were opening a brewery on this spot (previously a combination laundromat-sandwich shop-video rental shop, I KID YOU NOT) and that it would be opening soon.  The man looked in wonder at all of the brewing equipment and promised the couple he would return.  That man was my father.

image via 
Lucky for me, and for all of you, that brewery was Greenbush Brewing Company.  It opened in 2011 in Sawyer, a small town part of "Harbor Country" the area of southwestern Michigan frequented by Chicagoland escapees due to its quaint small towns and vast beaches along the Lake Michigan coast.  My family has had a house in Sawyer since I was in high school, so I've been fortunate enough to spend most of each summer there (I even worked as a waitress/bar back for 2 summers in college at a small restaurant there!).  There isn't much going on in "downtown" Sawyer, except for the popular Sawyer Garden Center, where you can probably find almost anything you'd ever want, but most famous for its fresh fruits and vegetables.  Greenbush has reinvigorated the Sawyer economy, providing a LOT of jobs and bringing in the crowds that I'm sure end up spending money all around the area.

In fact, the surrounding area has become a recent hot spot for new breweries, including Round Barn, Tapistry, and the soon to be open Haymarket (sister to this one).  It makes perfect sense to me; what is better after a day at the beach than a cold, fresh beer?  Or if the weather is bad, there isn't a whole lot else to do in the area besides antiquing, so why not spend the afternoon drinking/eating?

But back to Greenbush; this place has expanded significantly since it first opened.  Their beer is available all over the Midwest (on tap and by the bottle).  The taproom is ALWAYS crowded (at least on the weekends) and the wait for a table is usually at least an hour.  Luckily if you're waiting, you can head over to the newly expanded Greenbush Annex, just across the street and have a beer, shop their extensive merchandise, snack on some meats and cheeses and even play bocce ball.  The taproom has expanded a couple of times to make room for more tables and so has the outdoor patio.

The draw of Greenbush is definitely the beer (it is SERIOUSLY high quality, some of the best beers I've ever had), but it doesn't end there.  They have a great and friendly staff and they also have...BBQ.  Their brisket and pulled pork is some of the best my family and I have ever tasted, and that is saying something since my dad is obsessed with BBQ.  You wouldn't expect a place so focused on beer to have such good food, but they do.  My favorite things on the menu are the brisket (OBVI), the turkey bacon melt, and the cubano.  When you first sit down at the bar, definitely get the pretzels with pub cheese to have with your first beer.

Middle Finger of Buddha while I waited for them to fill my growler
All of their beers are at least 6% alcohol by volume, and I'd say on average, they are usually 7-9%.  My mom's favorite, Brother Benjamin, a double IPA is 10%.  The 9% and above beers are usually only served in 10 oz snifters.  The rest of the beers can be served in a pint glass, a growler, or for the lucky few a MUG.  Greenbush's mug club is a great deal if you know you will be visiting often.  For $60 you can join the club, which means you get a mug with a number attached to it.  When you order your beer you get poured in a mug for the price of a pint, so you're just saving money...plus they have specials throughout the week for mug club members only.  Sadly, I didn't join the club right away, so I'm in the 2000's, but my dad is proudly around 150.

My favorite of their beers as of late have been: Middle Finger of Buddha (a Belgian strong IPA), Indispensable (an IPA), Vanderbush (a beer made with apple cider).  Their original summertime beer, Sunspot is coming out in the next few weeks, which will officially mark the beginning of what should be warm weather.  Another great thing about their beer is that you can get most of them for $4-6.50/pour, which is significantly cheaper than beers of their quality would be at a bar in Chicago.

good beer wins.
So if you're ever in the area (antiquing, visiting the Warren Dunes, getting a burger at Redamak's), you should definitely stop by Greenbush and consider getting a flight of their beers; better to try a bunch!

Apr 8, 2015

Adventures in Home Brewing Part I

Obviously you all know that I like to drink beer--all kinds and often.  So last year Caitlin and another friend decided I should learn how to make my own beer and got me the Brooklyn Brew Kit (~$40) for Christmas.  I FINALLY got around to starting the brewery process on my Everyday IPA (the malted barley blend, yeast and hop combo included in my kit) and wanted to share the process so far.

First of all, when I first got this kit I thought I'd be able to go from the beginning to enjoying a nice cold beer in a day or two.  It actually takes about a month from starting to brew to drinking your brew.  This is important to keep in mind when planning when you will brew, bottle and consume.

Secondly, I was not exactly prepared equipment-wise...the kit includes everything that you'll need EXCEPT a fine-mesh strainer, funnel and the pots you'll need while brewing.  I figured the one large pot I had would work, but if I do this again I will be purchasing a SECOND large pot and a MUCH LARGER strainer (this is the 8" diameter strainer I used; I'd recommend a strainer that is as wide as your pot DUH).

most of the equipment and supplies
For those who haven't been on as many brewery tours as us, let me give you a quick lesson in beer making.  There are 4 main ingredients in beer: WATER (duh), hops, yeast (for the ah-ah-ah-alcohol) and a grain mixture (usually includes malted barley).  

You add the grain to VERY HOT water, let it soften all the sugars out (this is not a scientific explanation), strain out the grain (there is a brewery limerick in here somewhere), heat up that sugary water some more while adding hops, cool it all down, strain it again into your fermenting apparatus, add the yeast and SHAKE IT UP.  Then the yeast eats up all the sugars, pooping out alcohol and carbon dioxide (YUM!).  That is the basic jist of how you make beer (all expert brewers shaking in horror now).

"mashing in" aka stirring the grain mix into the hot water forever
This whole process is a lot more time consuming than I'd anticipated as I mentioned, and also a lot more stressful.  It is VERY important to sanitize everything that will be touching anything related to the ingredients (still hoping I didn't mess this part up!) and to keep the temperature at certain levels throughout the entire heating and then cooling process.  That long glass thermometer will become the nagging watchman of your kitchen while brewing.  The worst part of all of this is that I won't know if I screwed anything up until I finally tasted my beer, and if this happens I will probably cry.

that is my sophisticated fermenting setup on my closet floor...also, yes, I KNOW that doesn't look like beer yet...
All in all it took me about 4-5 hours for the first part of my beer brewing.  I did it on a Saturday afternoon while rocking out alone in my tiny studio kitchen.  Once the yeast was "pitched in" (real brewing term!) to my glass fermenting jug, I allowed the beer to ferment for about 3 days, then put a stopper on the jug.  It is currently sitting on the floor of my front closet, waiting to be bottled this weekend.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Adventures in Home Brewing", where we find out how difficult bottling is, if my beer ended up being any good, and whether or not I will try this whole thing again!

Apr 3, 2015

The Betty

Despite working in the West Loop, I really haven't had an opportunity to try out all the new bars and restaurants that seem to be constantly popping up. So I was excited when Alyssa suggested that we get drinks at The Betty after work on Tuesday. The Betty is a new cocktail bar on Fulton Market.

The Betty made a good first impression with its decor - although I'm not sure that I enjoyed the curtained entryway (I felt like I was walking into a private event). The space definitely has an old-fashioned, retro vibe and is complete with a player piano! While we happened to be there on one of the rare warm days this spring, the bookshelves and leather couches suggest it would be a cozy place to get a drink when the weather is less hospitable.

While I've been a little turned off gin since our trip to Chicago Distilling (The Betty has a G&T option with Finn's Gin), the cocktail list had plenty of other options. I decided to try the Maximillion - a tequila based cocktail with ancho chile liquer, hibiscus syrup, mole bitters and sparkling wine. I was definitely not disappointed in my choice and probably would have had another had it not been for my empty stomach! Alyssa tried Le Grand Dame - a cocktail with gin, bitters, mint, lemon and grenadine. A lot of others were ordering this, too, so I imagine it is a good seasonal drink choice.

The Betty also has a selection of food - small and shared plates. We didn't have any, but it all sounded good and probably is, as the head chef is from Avec. The Betty would be the perfect place to bring a date (or have an after work lady date). I'd definitely go back to try some of their other cocktails, but, hopefully, I'll also get the chance to try out some of the other West Loop bars soon.