Cracking a Cold One During COVID-19

When Illinois decided that liquor is an essential service during the Stay-at-Home Order, Chicago’s breweries and beer retailers breathed a half-sigh of relief. While tap rooms would sit empty, at least they could continue to produce and sell beer. But now, Chicago has issued a 9 pm liquor sales curfew in an effort to stop people from congregating. Even with these restrictions, a great many diverse craft beers are awaiting consumption.

With the notable exception of those trailblazers eschewing open container laws as a thing of the pre-pandemic past, we’re restricted to supporting our beloved Chicago breweries from our couches through the end of April. Now a few weeks into our stay-at-home order, here are a few takeaways on continuing to enjoy craft beer during a pandemic.

In spite of our stouts

Between temperatures in the 40s and being cooped up in our homes, it doesn’t feel as though spring has truly sprung. In that sense, there’s still time to drink as if it’s wintertime. Winter means stout season, but half the fun of opening a pint of 14% beer is in sharing it. And while there’s a certain pleasure in nursing a barrel-aged stout while spending an afternoon digging yourself out of debt to Tom Nook, perhaps you don’t really need to take down a bottle all by yourself. One hack to get around this: you can use a vacuum-sealed wine stopper to preserve your beer for an extra day or two. I tried this with a bottle of Founder’s KBS recently with promising results.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve found myself consistently drawn toward dark beers with lots of flavor but moderate alcohol content. During that time, a clear favorite has emerged: Spiteful Dark lager. I first tried it at Beermiscuous in October, just as I started to crave something a bit darker than marzan, vienna lager and bier de garde. Dark and roasty with a balanced hop bitterness, it’s a wonderful, complex beer that, at 5% abv., is still light enough to return for seconds or thirds. Ultimately, it scratches the same itch a pilsner does: a drinkable beer with just enough of a bite to take the edge off after a ten-hour Tuesday at work.

Spring forward

Of course, for those who prefer to look ahead rather than dwell on the past, you can always start enjoying spring seasonals. Last week brought the return of my oldest love: Bell’s Oberon. Neither as ubiquitous as Blue Moon, nor as revered as Allagash White, Oberon is something of a gateway craft beer. It’s an emblem of Midwestern monoculture equally beloved by yuppies at Sheffield’s and suburbanites in South Haven. Fruit-and-wheat-forward, with a noticeable, spicy hop finish, its flavor profile certainly lets you know that spring has sprung. And while not a Chicago beer, Bell’s is an independent Midwestern brewery from nearby Kalamazoo.

Luckily for you zip code snobs out there, we have plenty of Chicago springtime options as well. Come this time of year, my move is mostly to skip the spring releases and transition to some of the great Chicago pilsners that are available year-round. I prefer some bitterness in my pilsners, and gravitate toward Kinslahger Prohibition Pilsner and Revolution’s Rev Pils. If you want something that leans a bit more into bready malt flavor, give Metropolitan Flywheel Pilsner, Half Acre Pony Pilsner, or Maplewood Pulaski Pils a try.

Shop smart

Of course, getting your hands on something to drink in isolation does require a bit of contact with the outside world. When possible, try to stop by your favorite brewery’s taproom to buy direct from them, as your money goes straight to the people making the beer. Many have limited hours, so I recommend checking out brewery websites or this Google Doc from the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild before you head over.

If you have a favorite liquor store or bottle shop, many of them remain open as well. Do a little bit of research ahead of time, though. I learned recently that while Binny’s was still allowing walk-in customers, Beermiscuous was order-ahead only (shout-out to the staffer who took my order via phone while I waited outside for him to put it together). Even shopping at Jewel can be an opportunity to support your local brewery, provided you walk past the national brands who bought display space up front. While grocery store selections are typically not as exhaustive as a liquor store or bottle shop, there’s typically enough variety to find something local to your liking.

Nicholas Blashill
Nicholas Blashill

Nick Blashill is a native of Downers Grove who has recently returned to the Chicago area. By day he works in market research, but he is looking forward to sharing the experiences with Chicago’s craft beer and music scenes that fill his free time.