Touristing at Koval Distillery

Blogging is not something anyone does to make bank, but it does have its perks.

I was recently contacted by Vimbly to promote the new Chicago branch of their event booking company. Sort of like Amazon for events, Vimbly partners with companies to provide a storefront for all sorts of fun things to do around Chicago. They asked if I would try out one of the events, and I had originally booked a walking tour in Millennium Park. If I’m honest with you, I wasn’t that sad when Vimbly contacted me to let me know the event had been cancelled. In exchange they offered me my choice of other events as a replacement, plus an additional voucher.

So, you mean, instead of parking downtown and walking around the bean in the cold I get to stay on the North Side and tour the (indoor) KOVAL  Distillery (and you’re giving me money to do another event too)!? Ask me if I was disappointed…

1450288_10152094798331079_2076933808_n
The KOVAL Distiller (currently trying its hand at gin)

The KOVAL tour is something I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile. You know me… I’m into that local sustainable thing, and everything at this Chicago-based whiskey distillery is done locally, and by hand. The only thing they don’t do on site is grow the grain that becomes their whiskey. Oat, wheat, barley and rye, along with all the ingredients needed for flavored liqueurs and brandies are from Illinois or its surrounding states (except the coffee liqueur, because coffee doesn’t grow in Iowa).

photo

A tour of the original distillery – which now appears to be purely for show while operations are out of a bigger facility elsewhere – lasts about an hour, including a generous number of tastings. The story of this family business is a fascinating one, as is the process of making fields of grain into bottles of spirits. Each step is thoroughly explained with tastes along the way, and for the beverage enthusiast this is a not-to-be-missed afternoon for North Side Chicagoans. While you’re at it, you might as well walk up to the Fireside and grab a hot apple cider too (maybe sneaking in a little of the apple brandy you just bought at the distillery…).

My only concern for KOVAL is growth. It’s so good that everyone’s going to want some. I’ve been on a couple of similar brewery tours of craft beers that started as small, family-oriented, DIY businesses and are now huge empires run by machines. For now, everything at KOVAL l is done by hand, but how long can they keep that up? The fact that a guy stands in front of the bottler and pours whiskey into bottles all day long is part of what makes me want to buy it. I want to support that guy. With growth and expansion (and there’s been a lot of that for KOVAL over their five years of existence) comes the inevitable replacement of that guy for a more efficient method. When machines start taking over I start losing interest, but fortunately that’s not the case yet.

So, cheers!1476215_10152094169921079_337646676_n

Koval Distillery is located at 5121 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. $10 Tours + tastings take place each Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, and can be booked in advance online through Vimbly.com.

Reasons I love Edgewater: Brunch and a $27 Subaru

I’ve spent about 5 years living in the Edgewater neighborhood (split between two tours), and I’m starting to think that this is the place I belong.

Love it or leave it, Edgewater is as strange as I am, which might be why we get along so well.

Unpretentious and often bizarre, “the edge”, as our silly lamp post neighborhood banners say, is the sort of neighborhood tumblr_muz19rIelV1qmywbko1_500where you can eat really fancy, really expensive ice cream on one block, and get shot on the next.  Yeah. We live on “the edge”.

Whatever.

All I know, is that this past Sunday was kind of a pivotal moment for me.  The GF and I have been scouting this tiny diner two blocks from our house for the past several months.  You know the type… the decor hasn’t been updated since 1963, and you’re pretty sure the food is going to be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever.

Sunday was the day we finally bit the bullet and went to Alexander’s for breakfast. I’ve never seen waitresses that good. My omelette was the size of my ass. The coffee was free-flowing. You get half a banana as a garnish, and homemade salsa on the side. Alexander’s was everything I hoped it could be, but I’m a little afraid to admit it lest you start going there too. I want Alexander’s to be my little secret. A place where we can walk to on a Sunday and always get a table, and always have fantastic service. Please don’t change, Alexander’s. You haven’t changed since 1963, so there’s no reason to start now…

… and then on the way home we came across a $27 Subaru.

tumblr_muz1ebJaUc1qmywbko1_500

Yeah. That’s my ‘hood. We are a match made in heaven.

Old Town Gets a Fresh New Neighbor

Photo by Bret Grafton, http://photografton.com/
Photo by Bret Grafton, http://photografton.com/

When I was first invited to the grand opening of Plum Market, I pictured a small cafe / grocer much like Panozzo’s or the once lovely City Provisions, which closed earlier this year. I got dressed up to meet new blogger friends from the Chicago Blogger Network under the assumption that I’d be spending a leisurely hour or two perusing, schmoozing, and sipping on free coffee.

Boy, was I wrong.

The coffee line...
The coffee line…

In spite of massive thunderstorms that moved through overnight I arrived at Plum Market’s inaugural Chicago branch to find a line hanging out the door of a relatively massive grocery store.  More akin to Whole Foods than City Provisions, all of Plum Market’s 27,000 square feet of organic goodness were packed to the gills.  I never found any of the bloggers, I never got a free coffee (for fear of running out of my free hour of parking waiting for it), and wondered the store in somewhat of a culture shocked daze after spending three weeks in unpopulated Wyoming.

After securing my bag of “blogger income” (i.e. free samples) and navigating the store, a few key points came to mind:

tumblr_mp0bagYMNk1qmywbko1_500

  • Grocery stores can be very beautiful.  Aside from my obsession with piles of fresh food, Plum Market goes a step beyond in it’s stunning design elements, bountiful hot and cold bars, and specialty areas.
  • People other than hipsters enjoy organic food.  I love Whole Foods as much as the next person, but sometimes being waited on by a disinterested dirty hipster is a turnoff.  The staff at Plum Market are clean cut, friendly, and very helpful.  If they can keep it that way I’m totally sold.
  • What’s good for Old Town is good for me.  Just north of Division and Wells, Plum Market is in an ideal location bordering hoity-toity-ville, gross bar-ville, and homeless-man-hanging-out-by-the-red-line-ville.  This market will easily satisfy the residents of Old Town, is walking distance to the Ruth Page Center for the Performing Arts, and hopefully will give the miserable Jewel at Clark and Division a run for it’s money.  Though grocery stores don’t necessarily make for great tourist attractions, Plum Market extends Old Town’s charm a little further to the South then the average visitor would be apt to walk, and provides a lovely stop to grab a cup of coffee and a break before turning around and heading back.

Experience Plum Market for yourself at 1233 N. Wells St. Store hours are 8am-10pm; free parking for 1 hour with validation. For more information, visit www.plummarket.com or @PlumMarket on twitter (#PlumMarketCHI).  Plum Market is also on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.