The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Elizabeth Line opens

The Elizabeth Line through central London, formerly known as Crossrail, opened today:

First approved in 2008, the heavy rail line will dramatically improve public transport coverage of the city, says Transport for London (TfL), slashing journey times, providing substantial extra capacity and making the city more altogether more accessible. By extending the transport system to areas that were previously much slower to access and creating new central hubs for transfers to the Tube, the line could also reshape the way people navigate the city.

Travel times from Southeast London’s Abbey Wood to the major western rail terminus of Paddington, for example, will be cut by almost half to 29 minutes. Journeys from southeastern Woolwich—currently one of London’s worst-served areas for train connections—to London’s main eastern rail terminus at Liverpool Street will be halved to 15 minutes, while connections between Farringdon, in London’s financial district, and the newer dockland business hub of Canary Wharf will be slashed from 24 minutes to just ten. While all Londoners stand to benefit from these connections, business travelers will be particularly well-served, with connections from Heathrow Airport to Canary Wharf soon to be possible in 44 minutes.

An additional 1.5 million people will be within a 45-minute commuting distance from the capital’s major commercial and business centers of the West End, the City and Canary Wharf, up from 5 million currently according to Crossrail.

The Elizabeth Line will also redraw the map of London’s central transport hubs.

To take an example: Farringdon Station—the central London terminus of the world’s first underground railway, which opened in January 1863—was, before the Elizabeth Line’s opening a busy but not necessarily pivotal station in London’s transport network. Thanks to the Elizabeth Line, it will now be a key interchange station, connecting the line not just to the Tube but with high frequency trains to London’s northern and southern suburban hinterland that are routed through the station. Farringdon will also now have direct links to St. Pancras International for Eurostar connections and to three major airports: Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton. Combined with the station’s existing Tube links, Farringdon will eventually be served by over 140 trains per hour at the busiest times.

I will deliver a full report in July.

Meanwhile, 89% of UK railway workers have voted for a national railway strike, so who knows how long the Elizabeth Line will run?

The Elizabeth Line opens this month

The London Underground gets a new line on May 24th. Eventually, you can take the Elizabeth Line from Heathrow to Essex in one go; for now, you have to change twice. But it still adds about 10% more capacity to the Tube:

The Elizabeth line will initially operate as three separate railways, with services from Reading, Heathrow and Shenfield connecting with the central tunnels from autumn this year. When the final stage is complete, customers will be able to travel seamlessly from Abbey Wood to Heathrow and Reading, and from Shenfield to Heathrow.

  • Shenfield and the central section of the route will need to change trains at Liverpool Street, walking to/from the new Elizabeth line Liverpool Street station
  • Reading or Heathrow and the central section will need to change trains at Paddington, walking to/from the new Paddington Elizabeth line station
  • Paddington and Abbey Wood only - no changes needed

The line has all-new trains, all-new signals, and all-new controls, making it "one of the most complex digital railways in the world," according to TfL.

The Heathrow to Paddington route looks like it could give the Heathrow Express some competition, as £6 is less than £25, even if the route takes twice as long.

Mikkeller Bar, San Francisco

Welcome to an extra stop on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Mikkeler Bar, 34 Mason St., San Francisco
Train line: BART, Powell
Time from Chicago: about 4½ hours by air
Distance from station: 200 m

While in San Francisco last weekend, I happened across a brewpub that would fit the Brews & Choos ethos perfectly, were it in Chicago. The Mikkeller Bar in San Francisco serves a variety of craft beer, mostly their own Danish brews, but also some American varieties.

I tried three beers, the Weldwerks Mosaic Extra Extra Juicy Bits (DIPA, 8.6%), Mikkeller's Hop Opera NEDIPA (9%), and Mikkeller's Windy Hill (NEIPA, 7%). Of the three, I liked the Windy Hill enough to have a second.

It's an interesting place with a vibe that I assume came from a collision between Denmark and Northern California. It also has some deeply weird elements, like this, which rumor says came from the building's previous owner, presumably after he no longer needed it:

I'm glad I stopped in. Pity, though, that not a lot of breweries in the Bay Area would fit the Brews & Choos Project. But hey, it was a fun surprise.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? None
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Burning Bush Brewery, Chicago

Welcome to stop #74 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Burning Bush Brewery, 4014 N. Rockwell Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Brown Line, Rockwell
Time from Chicago: 35 minutes
Distance from station: 1.5 km

The brewery opened in March 2020, and like others on this list, quickly pivoted to to-go sales. That let them get pretty good at making beers. Yesterday, Cassie and I stopped by the brewery after a 5 km walk to the Horner Park Dog Park just across the river.

I got a flight, naturally, and Cassie found shade under my table, naturally.

(Cassie also pulled on her leash, which I had clipped to the table, just as I set the flight down.)

I started with the Lion's Den Hazy IPA (7%), which had good balance and a long Citra finish. The Walls of Jericho Hazy DDHIPA (7.7%) had less intensity than the Lion's Den, but a really good, smooth, almost malty flavor that I enjoyed. The Smooth Serpent American IPA (7.1%) had a very hoppy, bright flavor with and a refreshing crispness. Then I finished with the Indulgence Stout (8.2%) and its chocolate, vanilla, and caramel flavors that I would have for dessert any day.

The patio doesn't have any shade at all, so I expect it'll be really uncomfortable in the hot months but really great in spring and fall. The large interior space seems welcoming enough, too.

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

Smylie Bros. Brewing Co., Chicago

Welcome to stop #73 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Smylie Bros. Lakeview, 3855 N. Broadway, Chicago
Train line: CTA Red Line, Sheridan
Time from Chicago: 20 minutes
Distance from station: 500 m

I guess it was inevitable that I would visit the newest location of what may be my least-favorite brewery so far. Smylie Bros. (who really seem to be dude-bros of the highest order) opened their second brewpup a short walk from Wrigley Field because Wrigleyville just doesn't have enough big, loud bars with mediocre food and unimaginative beer.

A friend who lives just around the corner from the place wanted to try it, so I said fine. We discovered only when we got there that they had a private event going on so there would be a one-hour wait. Notwithstanding that, my friend, who took an oath to do no harm, threw an elbow at the bar to get us two seats. So I guess we committed to getting some food and beer.

Given that their website still uses the WordPress favicon (which I suppose improves upon it being maliciously defaced the last time I reviewed one of their locations), and that they have no social media presence, and that they didn't even have a sign on the door about the private event, I doubt they'll take my advice to post things like that somewhere to avoid having people elbowed out of the way at the bar by angry physicians.

We each had one pint of the Wolcott IPA (6%), imaginatively named after the street in Bowmanville where they actually make their beer, and one pint of the Reluctantly Rad IPA (6.5%, hazy), imaginatively brewed with flaked oats for some reason. They were fine. So was the BBQ chicken pizza (my friend's choice). Fine.

By the time the really bad cover band started playing recognizable songs too loudly, both of us independently decided we had to get out of there. We had our third beers of the evening and a conversation we could both hear around the corner at Wrigleyville North.

Then I walked home and saw that St Mary of the Lake had unfurled the Ukrainian flag, which almost made up for my visit to a brewery I have no intention of ever visiting again.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Everywhere, unavoidable
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Moody Tongue Brewing, Chicago

Welcome to stop #72 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Moody Tongue Brewing, 2515 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago
Train line: CTA Green Line, Cermak–McCormick Place
Time from Loop: 6 minutes
Distance from station: 900 m

Moody Tongue surprised everyone when it won two Michelin stars in 2021, in part because of their novel 12-beer parings menu in the dining room. Fortunately for the Brews & Choos Project, they also have a separate bar area, which by itself would qualify for a Bib Gourmand.

I got a reservation for last Thursday, and trudged through Bronzeville during what I hope was Chicago's last significant snowfall of the season. The bar did not disappoint me.

They have 100-mL pours, and I brought a friend, so I got to taste four of their current beers without going broke (or getting intoxicated). That let me enjoy a few of their appetizers as well.

I started with the Caramelized Chocolate Churro Porter (7.0%), with its complex chocolate, red wine, and vanilla notes, about which I wrote "ooooooo!" in my notebook. Next, with my food, I had a 100-mL pour of the Roasted Mocha Scwarzbier (4.9%), which I found lighter than expected, with a clean finish, and a caramel-oaky flavor that only hinted at the espresso they brewed it with. My friend had full pours (that I got to taste) of the Irish Cream Stout (6.6%), a malty and deliciously-balanced dark beer, and the Bourbon Barrel 12 Layer Cake Stout (13.9%), which exploded into chocolate and oaky maltiness that has to be one of the most dangerous beers I've ever had. Despite none of those coming even close to my usual medium-hoppy, English IPA palate, I would drink any one of them again.

And they had food. Oh heavens they had food. I had two appetizers and shared one of my friends', and felt completely satisfied.

Above, on the left, is the smoked beet tartare, with "whipped ricotta, saba, arare, egg yolk jam, and toasted sourdough." My vegetarian friend ate most of that, while I had (on the right) the braised rabbit cavatelli ("Castelvetrano olives, pine nuts, preserved lemon, pecorino"). I wound up using one of the toast points to thoroughly mop up my rabbit. I also had the confit Berkshire pork belly ("smoked pumpkin risotto, bacon, butternut squash, pickled apple, soy caramel chestnuts") and left almost nothing on the plate. My friend also had the roasted lion's mane mushroom entrée, which she enjoyed.

I will, at some point, go back to try the actual Michelin-starred tasting menu. But for $100, the two of us had just the right amount of food and beer, well worth the trip.

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

Twisted Hippo Brewing destroyed

A massive fire destroyed the brewery and two other businesses last night:

The fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. in a multi-unit residential building in the 4300 block of North Richmond, according to the Chicago Fire Department. Neighbors said the fire started in a three-story building on the corner and quickly spread to the Twisted Hippo brewpub, 2925 W. Montrose Ave. and the Ultimate Ninjas Gym.

About 150 firefighters were on the scene battling the blaze. As of 8:30 a.m., crews had the fire under control.

Marilee Rutherford, owner of Twisted Hippo, said she got a call from a neighbor about the fire around 4 a.m. Monday.

“You know, we’ve worked so hard to to be a part of the community and give
the space to the community,” she said. “[I] just literally don’t know what
the future is going to look like. But I will say this: I’m so grateful for everything we have been able to build here. … And it’s all gonna be okay. We don’t have problems. We have solutions waiting to happen. So we’ll see how it all goes.”

One man went to the hospital for smoke inhalation, but his injuries don't seem life-threatening.

Exit Strategy Brewing, Forest Park

Welcome to stop #71 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Exit Strategy Brewing, 7700 Madison St., Forest Park
Train line: UP-W, River Forest (also CTA Blue Line, Forest Park)
Time from Chicago: 18 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 1.3 km (800 m from CTA)

Forest Park used to have a reputation for anchoring one end of Chicago's skid row. No longer: the village has great restaurants and cute neighborhoods, including Exit Strategy Brewing.

I stopped by on my way back into the city from Afterthought Brewing, and they could not be more different. Exit Strategy is a brewpub, for starters, with a full kitchen and a host stand. And Exit Strategy makes a variety of ales that appeal to the average hop-friendly beer drinker. In consequence, they don't have quite the passion or love of beer that Afterthought has, but I could at least get dinner.

I've had their beers before, so I had a good idea what I would get. Their eponymous APA (5.6%) was a good example of the style, with crisp hops, and a not-too-astringent finish. The Nobody Reads the Copy ESB (5.5%) had a nice malt/hop balance, though as typical in the US it had a stronger hop profile than any ESB I've ever had in the UK. The Maximum Derek Hazy IPA (7.2%), named for the smartest being in the universe (according to The Good Place), had lovely Citra notes of orange and pineapple. (I had another 200 mL after dinner.) And their Valleudated Milk Stout (5.3%) made for a good dessert with its rich and complex coffee, toffee, and chocolate notes, though it also packed some hops.

If I ever wind up in the Forest Park–South Oak Park–River Forest area, Exit Strategy would probably be my go-to.

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? No, Forest Park prohibition
Televisions? None
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Afterthought Brewing, Lombard

Welcome to stop #70 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Afterthought Brewing, 218 E. St. Charles Road, Lombard
Train line: UP-W, Lombard
Time from Chicago: 46 minutes (Zone D)
Distance from station: 500 m

In my conversation with the staff at Afterthought Brewing, I mentioned that they are almost precisely the opposite of Goldfinger. Where Goldfinger precisely controls yeast strains, brewing times, temperatures, and their immaculate Euro-style taproom, Afterthought lets nature do her thing and decides what to do with the results afterward. The staff countered, no, we do the same thing: we make one style of beer really, really well.

Afterthought's style is saisons, by which they mean traditional farmhouse-style beers brewed in the ancient style: "While the specific flavors from different hop combinations will change from batch to batch, the resulting beer will always be lightly bitter, lightly tart, fruity, and low in alcohol." But wow is their palate tart. Manager Billy told me that most of their beers have a specific gravity between 1.0 and 1.01—meaning they have no sugar left after the microbes finish fermenting it.

I started with their first beer, Faible (4.2%), which they describe as a "hoppy saison." It reminded me of an Arnold Palmer but with beer substituting for the iced tea. Yes, it was light and fresh, but they aren't kidding about bacteria cultures, which made this the tartest beer I can ever remember trying.

At least until I tried their other beers. The Saison Meer (5%, 30 IBU) was even tarter, with a crisp finish and refreshing effervescence. The BSB (5.0%, 35 IBU), their take on an English bitter, had the most tenuous connection to an ESB of any beer to use the title. It was like they squeezed a lemon into an ESB, leaving no trace of malt. Finally, the Amer (5%, 50 IBU), with its New Zealand Riwaka hops, had noticeable bitterness, and an almost oaky nose.

I want to be clear: these are really well-made beers. They're just not to my palate. Still, I bought a bottle to give to a friend who loves Saisons with all his heart.

Beer garden? Seasonal
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Snacks (BYOF)
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Two years of Brews & Choos

The Brews & Choos Project officially kicked off two years ago today, with a stop at Macushla Brewing in Glenview. I expected it to take a lot less than two years. But the list now has 135 breweries and distilleries on it, up from the 98 I identified at the start of the project. With 69 reviews on the blog, and a little arithmetic, that stretches the project out to...almost exactly 4 years.

So what's next? Well, it's February, so I'm prioritizing less walking and places without outdoor seating. Depending on the weather Friday, I might stick close to the office (Adams Street Brewing, Crushed by Giants), or perhaps pop up to Logan Square (Bixi Beer, Middle Brow). Or Pilot Project if the weather really sucks, as they have 5 breweries on site.

I hope to accelerate my research when the weather gets warmer. Some trips I've planned include hour-long walks between train lines, both for exercise and because the schedules don't otherwise work, and lots of places have beer gardens that look comfortable.

Will I finish before the end of 2022? Almost certainly not, with 66 places left to review, a couple more opening over time, and train schedules that make it hard to visit more than three in one afternoon. But maybe I'll get there by the end of summer in 2023, just in time to start revisiting the ones I really liked.