Visiting and reviewing breweries is one of my favorite pastimes while traveling. And although I’ve begun to throw winery tours into that mix, I feel that I’ve neglected our fine friends who produce spirits.
So as I found myself between trips and struggling to stay warm in my home base of Chicago, I came across mention of a new distillery opening up in a local blog for my neighborhood, Logan Square. The Chicago Distilling Company opened up on January 10th and started giving tours of facility on the 11th. I booked my tour online that weekend to scope it out for myself.
This distillery was founded in 2010 by the DiPrizio family, and creates handmade organic spirits from Illinois grains. After several months of government bureaucracy and approval setbacks, brothers and co-owners Jay and Vic DiPrizio, were finally able to open their doors.
When I toured the new distillery, they had just two spirits ready: Ceres Vodka (80 proof) and Shorty’s White Whiskey (90 proof made from 100% Illinois corn). The $10 tour fee includes a small tasting of both spirits, which tasted much smoother than I expected or than either of them smelled. I’ve never been a big fan of sipping spirits straight, but even I must admit that the after-bite was impressively minimal for both.
“What we like about it is the smoothness of the finish, so you don’t get the burn at the end that you sometimes get with vodka,” Jay commented, adding that he likes his spirits neat or with a single ice cube.
Tips for Tours
- Make reservations on a Thursday – Saturdays and Sundays book up quickly
- Arrive a few minutes early so you can purchase a drink at the bar and carry it with you during the tour
- Learn a little about the distilling process before you go so you can ask questions that don’t make you sound silly
- Take the Blue Line to California or the Milwaukee bus – parking can suck and you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway
- Eat something before you come since there’s no food served here
The space is impeccably clean, shiny and uncluttered – as it should be since it just opened. With those telltale ceilings and garage doors, it looks as though the space was an auto shop or car wash in a former life. The bar area is spacious, with long community tables up front and red cushy bar stools in back. The drink menu is limited and every cocktail is $8. They sell merchandise too, including hats, t-shirts, patches, and dog collars.
What stood out to me during my visit to The Chicago Distillery is how honest, genuine, and passionate the owners are. My tour guide, Jay, had no problem telling the group how he had put his life’s savings into this business, how it all started by experimenting in the garage, how challenging it was to get around the state’s red tape, and how he was pulling it all off with a new baby at home. The environment is professional, casual, friendly, and non-pretentious.
It’s also refreshing to be among bartenders who actually know something about mixing drinks. I recently visited a bar in the South Loop, for example, where the bartender couldn’t even recommend what went well with bourbon. The distillery seems to specialize in the bloody Mary, mimosa, old fashioned, and Moscow mule.
They’re still working on a distribution scheme, but in the meantime, you can only buy their spirits at the distillery. Vodka goes for $28 and white whiskey for $22 a bottle. A sign on the wall promises that gin, bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, cordials & liqueurs, and specialty spirits are coming soon.
It seems that this place is trying to be a “jack of all trades” – bar, distillery, tour operator, distributor, local hangout, and tourist attraction. Whatever it evolves into, I think it’s a great addition to the neighborhood and I wish Jay and Vic the best of luck.
The Chicago Distillery is open Thursdays 4-10, Fridays 4-11, Saturdays 3-11, and Sundays 11-5.
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