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Then I learned that my friend Austin Bainard Harvey would be running the beer program. (I say "friend," but it's not like I'm gonna end up godfather to his kids—we're beer-nerd buddies, mostly. For instance, this winter he traded me a bottle of Cthulhu for a Two Brothers Midwestern Death Metal.) Austin used to be a floor manager and cicerone at Goose Island's Clybourn brewpub, and from 2007 till 2009 he ran the beer program at the big Sam's Wines & Spirits in Lincoln Park (now a Binny's), which has since become Adam Vavrick's domain. All of which is to say I trust his taste. I visited Beermiscuous on Friday night, during a "soft open" for neighborhood folks.
Leamon's baby has a few things in common with Maria's, Fischman Liquors, and other sophisticated slashies—you can buy bottles and cans one at a time out of the coolers in front, to drink on-site or take home—but those places are still bars first and foremost. Better comparisons for Beermiscuous include Belmont Station in Portland and the City Beer Store in San Francisco, the latter of which directly inspired Leamon—they open early and close early, employ relatively bright lighting, refrain from playing loud music, and emphasize the act of shopping for beer. (Another similar business, the Open Bottle, hopes to debut in Tinley Park in November.)
Beermiscuous doesn't have a kitchen, just packaged snacks at the bar, but it allows outside food and maintains a collection of menus from restaurants that will deliver to the cafe—and Gyros on the Spit is just a few doors north on Lincoln. (Sometimes food trucks show up too.) Capacity is 79 in the main space, which leaves plenty of room for people to circulate, and the basement (with its own pair of restrooms) holds 20. Each floor has a single flat-screen TV, which seems like a reasonable compromise between, say, the Hopleaf (tasteful vintage tunes only) and Piece (cable sports everywhere you look). There's no outdoor seating, but there is free Wi-Fi, so that's sort of a wash.
Now that I'm done showing you the furniture, how is Austin doing with the beer? He might not be entirely comfortable with the title "curating beerista" (seriously: argh), but he's down with the Beermiscuous mission—in his words, to showcase "as many excellent examples of different styles as possible, highlighting local breweries." The cafe has a dozen taps, and during my visit ten were pouring midwestern beers (nine from Chicagoland). Those 12 beers represented nine different styles—or 11 if you count IPA, APA, and extra pale ale separately. I made a circuit of the coolers and counted 16 locals.
This local focus dovetails with Beermiscuous's "meticulous commitment to freshness," to quote the press release. "We use refrigerated storage to prevent deterioration, we minimize unwanted light exposure, we serve all beer at the proper serving temperatures and in the correct glassware, and we religiously clean our draft lines." I'd have to come back in six months to say anything halfway intelligent about the draft lines, but at least they're saying the right things.
The bottle and can selection—currently at about 250, soon to reach 300 or so—is about half from Chicago or elsewhere in the midwest. It emphasizes quality beers you might actually be able to find again, rather than sought-after one-offs and limited releases. I expected to see more large-format bottles, given that the space seems to be set up for sharing, but I'm not sure I'm disappointed by the shortage; after all, price per ounce gets out of hand fast with bombers. I almost never buy big bottles except at retail.
Speaking of cost: Draft pricing is reasonable, even a bit on the low side for a craft-beer establishment. On the list above, you'll see a range from $5 for a pint of Goose Island Endless IPA to $8 for 12 ounces of the Maine Beer Company's Mean Old Tom. Four-ounce flight glasses (you can order four in a clever drunk-proof caddy) run from $1.50 to $3.
As far as the stuff in the coolers, though, I'd stick to drinking on the premises. Bottles and cans have two different prices, the higher for in-house consumption and the lower for to-go sales, and while the former stacks up well against most bars, the latter can't begin to compete with any of the liquor stores I frequent. Sure, you can build mixed six-packs out of any appropriately sized bottle or can that Beermiscuous sells (most shops, including Binny's, limit your options in that area), but you'll pay a steep premium for the privilege: it's tough to end up with a sixer that's cheaper than 12 bucks, and it's easy to top 15. I'm not even talking Three Floyds either.
Judging from what I've seen so far, Beermiscuous is less about nerd bait and more about diversity and accessibility—presumably an effort to coax casual drinkers into leaving their comfort zones and exploring. But that's not to say it has nothing to offer the birdwatchers of the beer world. Austin showed me two bottles from a Brazilian brewery called Cervejaria Wäls: Belô Petroleum is an imperial stout brewed with cocoa powder, and Belô Ipe is a Belgian-style quad brewed with coriander and aged on cachaça oak chips. I'd never heard of Wäls (Brazil is hardly known for its craft beer), so I was especially grateful that he shared some of the Petroleum he opened. What I'm saying is, if you go to Beermiscuous, it's worth asking if there's anything new on the shelves. And keep your eyes peeled for special events—visits from brewers, talks by food chemists, tastings of beer by country, et cetera.
Visitors who head to the cafe pronto when it reopens on Tuesday might get to try a special early keg of Metropolitan's Zwickel Flywheel, a seasonal tap-only release I reviewed last summer. When Beermiscuous closed Sunday night, it hadn't yet kicked. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best summer beers in the universe.
OK, I'm exaggerating a little—I've only ever had beer from Earth. But seriously, drink a glass and then tell me I'm wrong.
"Beermiscuous" didn't lend itself to my usual wordplay-based method for choosing songs—and believe me, you don't want me to post any metal with "promiscuous" in the title. So this is "Beer Metal" by good-time Chicago riff machines Superchrist, from their 2012 album Holy Shit. It even says "Beer and metal" in the chorus! How did I not know about this song already?
Beermiscuous (2812 N. Lincoln, 855-450-2337) is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon till 10 PM, Friday and Saturday from noon till 11 PM, and Sunday from noon till 7 PM. It's closed Monday, though you can still book private events.