Beer pilgrimages are hot right now, but since I have neither the money to pull one off or a willing tagalong wife, I will be making none anytime soon. The best I could do was turn a week at the in laws lake cabin (with a wedding pit stop in Chicago) into my own beer quest. The best I could do.
The Chicago hurdles:
1. Money. Man, beer is not cheap, and when you've got one shot to stock up in Chicago, things can get ugly quickly. I tried to let myself splurge, but there were other factors against me as well.
2. Disappointing liquor stores. There are some good ones in Chicago, no doubt, but the northwest suburbs are shockingly bad. Trust me, I mapped this one out. Though I guess if you got stuck in the wrong part of the Twin Cities, you could be stymied too. I was relegated to a mega-chain, Binny's, which I'd equate to an MGM.
3. No singles. This was the biggest blow. Six pack or bust at Binny's, with an ok selection of big bottles. I've grown so accustomed to making my own six packs--it was like being in a liquor store for the first time again. I had no choice but to get a six pack of Three Floyds Alpha King, picked up a couple other big bottles of TF and Lost Abbey and I was at my budget. There were dozens of beers I would have liked to sample, but it's hard to commit to a bunch of unknown sixers. I even asked the manager if he would split up some six packs for me (something I've done numerous times here without issue) since I was from out of town. Denied.
1. Wisconsin gas stations. Can you imagine? Beer-stocked gas stations? A traveler's dream. I loaded up on New Glarus (how many wheat beers do they make?) on the way to Chicago and picked up an assortment of goodies (including NG Wisconsin Belgian Red) on the way back to the cabin.
2. The Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights, IL. I assumed this blip on my beer map would be a hole-in-the-wall type strip mall joint. Quite wrong was I. Truly a marketplace, Mitsuwa was the size of a Wal-Mart, complete with a bookstore, salon, food court, grocery store and yes, a liquor store. The Asian beer selection was the best I've seen, and the sake options were out of control. I'm not a big sake guy, but I had to try one. Now I'm an even smaller sake guy unfortunately. I did manage to pick up a nice assortment of beers, including a few with no English on them. Still trying to figure out how to rate those.
3. The Lake Effect. The title track. It's tradition to spend the entire week of July 4 at the lake, and I was triple-digit stocked in good beer for the week. Maybe it's the relaxation; no work stresses, no home maintenance. Maybe it's the perfect lake-breezed weather we had all week. Maybe it's something I can't put my finger on. Clearly I can't. But whatever it is, everything seems to taste a bit better at the lake. I cracked my first Alpha King at the lake. It was perfect. I've since had a couple more, and they were just stellar. The scary Belgian Red was a huge hit among even the macro drinkers. I even enjoyed my first ever Stroh's on a dusk fishing outing.
In all, I added 16 new beers to my tally over those ten days, and I can't help but wonder: how would these beers rate in my kitchen or living room? I'd wager they'd lose a half star on average.