The Night I Gnomed Myself – Chouffe Fest Chicago

Brasserie d’ Achouffe, or the Achouffe Brewery, is the only gnome-themed brewery in the world. Therefore, it also happens to be my favorite brewery in the world.


Founded in 1982 (a year before me!), Achouffe is nestled in the green hills of the Belgian Ardennes and brews superb-quality Belgian beers. Brother-in-laws Pierre Gorbon and Christian Bauweraerts began brewing ales as a hobby in the late 70s. Their spearhead product is La Chouffe, a golden blonde ale with a pleasantly fruity taste and hints of coriander. McChouffe (which is in no way related to McDonald’s), is a dark and full-flavored Scottish ale and is one of the brewery’s best-selling products.

Although I haven’t yet found a way to teleport myself to Belgium, the Internet tells me that visitors can take a tour of the brewery while wearing gnome hats. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Tours include a professional guide, introductory film, 45-minute tour, visit to the gift shop, drink samples, and souvenir gifts.


In recent months, Achouffe has been hosting “Chouffe Fests” in cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In honor of LaChouffe Gnome Week, which was September 18-21, the brewery organized community events, handed out red gnome hats, and encouraged fans to “gnome thyself” with a fun mobile app.

Finally, (FINALLY!) a Chouffe Fest was scheduled in my home base, Chicago. It was held at the Logan Square Auditorium on a Thursday evening in late March.


Chouffe Fests are one-night events that transform boring old event spaces into gnome-inspired realms using larger-than-life entrance ways, eight-foot tall gnome throne photo booths, and big-scale versions of classic games like checkers, Jenga and Connect Four. Scattered stations offer live screen-printed posters, on-site letter pressed postcards to write and send, coloring book pages to scribble on, and a gnome-i-fying caricature artist.


Tickets were just $10 each and I bought mine the day I heard about the event.

Although I found the set-up to be quite wonderful, the execution was quite excruciating. I arrived before the gnomes even opened the doors and quickly nabbed my first beer. Tickets included five drink tickets and free food, photos, games, and music.

But there was a catch.

Who knew SO many people in Chicago loved gnomes? Or maybe it was just the beer.

Hundreds of people began flooding into the close-quartered event space. Within an hour, it took more than 30 minutes to get through the beer line. Yes, there was food at the end of the tunnel, but I began gnawing at my own arm during a painful wait for my miniature slider and bag of chips.

Holding cariacture

Since I arrived so early, I was able to get my caricature drawn – which was what I was looking forward to the most. In a totally weird way, I’ve always seen myself as a gnome, and now the rest of the world could too. This was the night I gnomed myself.

I was also able to get a couple professional pics taken in the oversize chair and snag a poster and a few postcards (hey did you guys get them? I’m always worried about the reliability of postcard mail). My patience ran too thin to stand in additional lines to play the oversize games, but I’m already pretty good at using my imagination to pretend I’m gnome-sized.

A DJ spun some unremarkable tunes during the bulk of the event, but then in truly random fashion, an oompah oompah band seized the back balcony. Every gnome hat spun 180-degrees.


It’s a crying shame, but I wasn’t even able to use up all my drink tickets because of the ridiculous lines. Despite the wonderfully gnomish quality of this event, I was reminded of a timely and important fact: I DESPISE CROWDS AND FESTIVALS REALLY AREN’T THAT FUN ANYMORE.


Maybe that feeling comes from living in an overpopulated, stressful place for too long. Or maybe it comes from turning 30. But in the end, this was a gnome-themed event and there was beer. And if you have any inkling of how much I enjoy these two things individually – let alone together – putting on a happy face really wasn’t all that much of a challenge.

Regardless of the gnomes Brasserie d’ Achouffe makes really amazing beer, and I hope these nationwide events spark people’s interest and lead to more local bars serving their brews. I gotta cut the Chouffe-sters a little slack about the organization and crowd issues since it is their first year. Chouffe Fests are selling out all over the country (Brooklyn and D.C. just wrapped up last week) and good for them!

Oh, and on my way out, I didn’t forget to stock up on few extra gnome hats. There were plenty and don’t judge me….I know I have a problem. And I now have four gnome hats to accompany my other two. Obscure costume needs? Send ’em my way!

Sipping Spirits at the Chicago Distilling Company

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.

Distillery outside

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.

Distillery bar

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.

Explaining distillery machines

“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.

Pouring tour samples

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.

Vodka bloody mary

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.