Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Somme Wisdom: The Low Down on Craft Cocktails

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Mitchell Malnati, FIG+OLIVE

Photo: Mitchell Malnati, Fig & Olive

By David Hammond

Visit any serious bar/restaurant in Chicago, and it’s likely you’ll see a menu listing for “craft cocktails.”

The term “craft beer” is many times regarded as marketing malarkey, a nebulous bit of hype nomenclature that applies to an immense range of breweries, some turning out hundreds and others millions of barrels.

But how about “craft cocktails”—does that phrase have any meaning? We ask the pros.

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The Drinker’s Tip Sheet: Please Meet Mezcal

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La Mez Agave Lounge/ Photo: La Mez Agave Lounge

La Mez Agave Lounge/Photo: La Mez Agave Lounge

Not long ago, mezcal was a rather exotic and rarely seen booze this far north. Now distilled agave juice is hot at restaurant/bars including Masa Azul and two new establishments that opened in the past few months: Mezcaleria las Flores in Logan Square and La Mez Agave Lounge, downstairs at Mercadito (108 West Kinzie).

I am sitting at La Mez enjoying some of Dylan Stewart’s mezcal cocktails with Lou Bank, self-professed evangelist of agave. As Stewart makes us drinks, I ask him how he goes about educating people in the mysteries of mezcal.

“Sometimes,” says Stewart, “people have already read books and been on trips to Oaxaca and other times you have people coming in for happy hour that are pleasantly surprised by the earthy, smoky flavor and want to know more. I try not to be too professorial; rather I present it like something I’m really excited about that I brought to show-and-tell. My own enthusiasm is one of the best ways to generate interest.” Read the rest of this entry »

No Angry Orchard: The Northman Stocks Craft Cider From Around the World

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Cider/Photo: Photo: Nick Murway

Photo: Nick Murway

By Rosemary Lane

The Northman (4337 North Lincoln), Chicago’s first cider bar, stocks more than one-hundred unusual craft drafts, bottles and cans from around the world. You’ll find ciders from Australia, Lithuania and Texas; ciders mixed with saffron, habanero pepper, rhubarb, caramel and bacon; ciders aged in bourbon barrels. What you won’t find are some of the more easily recognizable ciders like Angry Orchard or Magners. The North Center bar offers only beverages from craft cideries, places where they know the producers and their stories.

Even with all these options, The Northman smooths out the ordering process, especially for the uninitiated. Not only do they offer a house-blend sampler to help patrons gauge their preferences, on deck, they also have a human dictionary, a cider director: Brian “Cider Brian” Rutzen. Read the rest of this entry »

Japanese Whisky: GreenRiver’s Julia Momose Explains

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Julia Momose/photo: Anthony Thalier

Julia Momose/Photo: Anthony Thalier

Julia Momose, who mixes and pours drinks at GreenRiver and the adjoining Annex, has developed several cocktails that incorporate Japanese whisky. Her Jack Knife, for instance, is a gorgeous combination of Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky, Oloroso sherry, Cocchi Americano Rosa, chicory, Cubeb pepper and rose—that sounds like a lot, but all the flavors work together remarkably well.

We had some basic questions for Momose about the whisky of her homeland. Read the rest of this entry »

The Battle of Clark Street Bridge: How Lager Helped Elect Lincoln

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Clark and South Water Streets

Clark and South Water Streets

By David Hammond

“The beer riot has either been overlooked or underestimated as a turning point in Chicago history.” So says Judy E. Brady, who along with her husband, John F. Hogan, wrote “The Great Chicago Beer Riot” (The History Press, 2015).

Around 160 years ago, at the Clark Street Bridge, angry bands of beer lovers, outraged at Mayor Levi Boone’s prohibition on Sunday beer sales, and seeking to help free jailed bartenders who continued to pour the stuff, went to war, resulting in one death, nineteen injuries and sixty arrests. But this was more than a battle between beer lovers and temperance advocates: it was a confluence of many social forces, including the emancipation of slaves, women’s rights… and beer.

It’s April 21, 1855. I’m standing on the Clark Street Bridge. What do I see?
Hogan: You would have seen separate mobs of angry men headed toward the courthouse, armed with muskets, pistols, meat cleavers and other weapons. The first gang of about 200 was subdued. Following a retreat back across the bridge, a second wave re-formed and increased to approximately 500. These marchers, similarly armed, were intent on engaging the police who surrounded the courthouse and the jail that held liquor-law violators the mob had come to free. Read the rest of this entry »

Somme Wisdom: Dimension and Danger in the Savory Cocktail

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Spirit Guide Nandini Khaund/Photo: Neil Burger

Spirit Guide Nandini Khaund/Photo: Neil Burger

By David Hammond

The Bloody Mary. Dirty Martini. These are the savory cocktails everyone knows. Trust us, though: there are many more savory cocktails out there.

“A lot of specialty cocktails at restaurants and bars tend to steer too much toward the sweeter side,” says beverage manager Mitchell Malnati at Fig & Olive. “Sweet cocktails are not my favorite, so when a cocktail with a savory element is featured, it always makes me want to taste it.”

From FIG & OLIVE, The Fig & Olive, organic cucumber vodka, blood orange olive oil, egg white, celery, lime juice, and blood orange puree

From FIG & OLIVE, The Fig & Olive, organic cucumber vodka, blood orange olive oil, egg white, celery, lime juice and blood orange puree

Nandini Khaund, spirit guide at Cindy’s, is inspired to analogize, saying “To me, savory cocktails are the magical gum that Violet Beauregarde chews in “Willy Wonka”; unexpected and wonderful. Savory hints in traditionally sweeter drinks add a level of complexity that elevates the drink, the way that adding salt to caramel enhances the flavor.”

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Malört and Muhammad: The Wormwood Connection

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Artemisia pontica,      romersk malört/Photo: By Sodla (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],      via Wikimedia Commons

Artemisia pontica, romersk malört/Photo: HelenaH/Wikimedia Commons

By M. Sophia Newman

The Chicago Tribune has called it “sweaty socks wrapped in spoiled grapefruit after marinating in a trash can.” It’s like “Jägermeister heavily diluted in pond water, but less piney,” says the A.V. Club Taste Test blog. It’s “fox poison,” even to its Scandinavian enthusiasts. It’s malört: liquor so nasty even Carl Jeppson, the company that makes it, calls it “punishment.”

It’s also probably Chicago’s dearest liquor. A local blogger who calls herself “Chicago Quirk” has written, “Oh dear lord I wish I could un-taste that”–but she also called a shot of this beverage “a Chicago rite of passage.” No joke. The city is home to the sole US producer and some ninety percent of their sales are made in Cook County. And business is good: in the past couple years, bars that used to give the stuff away as a prank have begun mixing it into cocktails. Read the rest of this entry »

Somme Wisdom: The Right Way to Make Hot Cocktails

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Monk's Glug/Photo: The Langham

Monk’s Glug/Photo: The Langham

By David Hammond

When the weather gets cold, some like their cocktails hot.

However, when we asked Scott Koehl, bar manager of Ada Street, whether he sells as many warm drinks as cool drinks, even when temps are around zero, he was emphatic: “Not even close. There are people who will never order hot drinks.”

We are some of those people. Read the rest of this entry »

Somme Wisdom: Bringing Your Own to Higher-End Restaurants

Wine is Poetry in a Bottle No Comments »
Charles Ford/Photo: Anjali Pinto

Charles Ford/Photo: Anjali Pinto

By David Hammond

There are restaurants, usually smaller ones, all over Chicago that proudly display “BYO,” announcing to us that it’s cool to bring our own alcoholic beverages. This is usually a way to reduce your overall price of dinner out because it’s common practice for restaurants to mark up wine upwards of three-hundred percent.

What you may not know is that bringing your own wine is acceptable—sometimes welcomed—by higher-end restaurants that don’t officially announce the BYO option.  In some cases, they may even waive the usual corkage fee (anywhere from a few dollars to over fifty).

To gain some pointers about when and how it’s cool to bring your own wine to dinner at places with their own good wine lists, we talked to sommeliers and others who handle wine and spirits. Before you even arrive at the restaurant with your own wine, however, Arthur Hon, beverage director of Sepia, advises, “We prefer that diners communicate beforehand that they’ll be bringing in a bottle so that we can serve you in the best way possible.” This theme of mutual respect runs throughout the following pro tips. Read the rest of this entry »

What Pairs with a Superdawg? Lake Effect’s Supershake, That’s What

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Clint Bautz/Photo: Eric Lutz

Clint Bautz/Photo: Eric Lutz

On a quiet weekday morning in early January, Clint Bautz  sat at his desk in a dimly lit alcove of the Northwest Side warehouse that’s home to the Lake Effect Brewing Company. Lake Effect, the microbrewery he co-founded four years ago, had just released one of its most successful beers yet: Supershake, a milk stout inspired by the chocolate malts at Superdawg.

It was their third collaboration with the iconic Chicago drive-in, part of what Bautz calls a “trilogy” of beers that began with Superbier (a Kölsch) and Whoopskibier (a German amber ale). Supershake, which was released in mid-December, was one of their fastest sellers yet—and perhaps a harbinger of big things to come from the up-and-coming brewing company.

“We wanted it to be symbolic of their shake,” Bautz says. “It ended up going really fast.” Read the rest of this entry »