What Would Alpana Drink?

Beverages that Celebrate Chicago

Alpana Singh


Last night my husband and I were coming back from Hyde Park and as we drove north on Lake Shore Drive and passed Soldier Field, we were greeted with the breathtaking vista of the downtown Chicago skyline. A couple of buildings were strategically lit in formation to spell out 2016 Chicago. I, like many Chicagaons, questioned whether hosting the games was really the best use of our resources, especially when we have far more pressing and important issues to deal with but at that moment I felt a sense of awe and pride as I imagined what it would be like to share our wonderful city with the global community on an international stage.

And then of course this morning, the IOC put the kibosh on any dreams we had to host the Olympics and they did it promptly - out in the very first round with the lowest number of votes. I know Chicago has its fair share of problems and I was wishy-washy on hosting the games to begin with but I was shocked that we were eliminated so quickly. Yes, Chicago is the city of big shoulders but big shoulders equals even bigger hugs. Next March will mark my 10th Anniversay as a Chicagoan. When I moved here from Monterey I was alone, scared and overwhelmed and I thought at times I would never find my way. The city soon embraced me and I found the place where I belong. It was certainly hard to take when I learned that the selection committee dismissed the city that I love in such a quick, brutal way.  We may not have been chosen to host the Olympics but I say, "So what!" From the strength and diversity of our people to the beauty and history of our landscape, Chicago was and will always remain a world class city worth celebrating.

We Chicagoans may not accept our dissapointments easily and we seldom forget but we are very good at telling you what is great about our city. And if you're looking to raise a toast to Chicago, here are a few beverages that celebrate our city in style.   

Goose Island Juliet Beer -

Brewed and bottled at 1800 N Clybourn. The company may be owned by an international conglomerate but Chicagoan, Greg Hall, is still the man in charge and continues to raise the bar on craft beer. His latest effort includes a selection of beers were inspired by food pairings. A particular favorite of mine is the Juliet which is fermented with wild yeasts and aged in barrels that once held Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The result is a beer that drinks more like a Pinot Noir with a light rose color and flavors of tart blackberries and spice. It's a really good match with pork dishes - especially pulled pork sandwiches and lechon tacos. In addition to Goose Island, we also have Half Acre Brewery located in Northcenter and Two Brother's Brewing Company located just outside of Chicago in Warrenville.  

Metropolis Coffee

Jeff and Tony Elder are the dynamic duo and father and son team behind Metropolis Coffee. The roasting facility is located in Andersonville and they have a coffee shop located on Granville in Rogers Park. I recently visited their roasting facilities and I was immediately impressed with this quirky yet bright and passionate family and the coffee is downright addictive and delicious. They've been roasting and brewing up inspiration since 2003 and have quickly gained a strong and loyal following amongst coffee enthsusiasts. Of course, Chicago can also be proud of locally roasted Intelligenstia but as a coffee lover I say how great is it to have both companies right in our backyard.

Koval Spirits

Also located in Andersonville, Koval is Chicago's first boutique distillery. The husband and wife team of Robert and Sonat Birnecker both gave up their careers as academics to pursue their dream of bringing Robert's Austrian grandfather's techniques of distilling traditions to America. They produce and impressive selection of handmade organic and kosher vodkas, grain spirits, brandies and liqueurs. I'm a ginger nut and I love their ginger liqueur which took 60 pounds of ginger to make just 10 gallons. It is delicious mixed with a splash of soda and lemon twist or you can add it to your favorite gin for a refreshing cocktail. 

North Shore Gin No 6 -

Located in Lake Bluff, North Shore Distillery produces a variety of small batch spirits including Absinthe, Vodka and limited edition flavor infusions - the latest one being mole poblano flavored. I'm a gin drinker and I'll usually opt for Hendrick's but if a bar stocks North Shore, I'll switch over. I think the secret to North Shore gin is their use of lavender blossoms which contributes a soft floral quality to the nose. It's a beautiful gin. You could mix it with the Koval Ginger for the ultimate Chicago cocktail.    


15 Rules for Great Wine and Food Pairing

Alpana Singh

The October issue of Food and Wine Magazine is devoted entirely to the enjoyment of wine and is definitely worth picking up. *It is chock full of wine tips, suggestions and buying strategies from top sommeliers and wine afficionados around the country. One article in particular written by F&W's resident wine expert, Ray Isle, really caught my fancy. He does a fanstastic job of breaking down 15 of the most popular grape varieties and styles of wine and what to eat with them. The online version of the article also matches each category to complimentary recipes.

Ray also has an informative wine blog, The Tasting Room. I really enjoy his friendly and non-intimidating approach to wine.

*I was quoted in this issue for an article titled, "Wines for Drinking and Not Overthinking"

Sweet Tea Vodka

Alpana Singh


 Sweet tea was never my thing as I grew up in California in an Indian household where everyone drank hot tea. This is going to sound strange but I first became familiar with sweet tea while watching Chris Hansen's Dateline special, "To Catch a Predator" on NBC. You would think these guys would know they were in trouble as soon as the decoy suggested they help themselves to the sweet tea on the counter while she finished a load of laundry. Some people I guess just never learn. After moving to Chicago, I learned that sweet tea is a huge tradition in the south where it can make for a refreshing beverage on hot days.

And speaking of hot, one of the biggest trends this past summer was sweet tea flavored vodka. The use of tea in cocktails is all the rage with mixologists in general therefore it's no surprise that sweet tea vodka jumped on board the boozy tea bandwagon. 

The two biggest players to emerge in the sweet tea category are Firefly and Jeremiah Weed. Firefly was created by two gentleman from South Carolina and is credited as the first sweet vodka. It became an overnight sensation and other companies soon came out with their own versions, including Jermiah Weed which I had an opportunity to try. When poured straight, it tasted like a thick and somewhat syrupy version of sweet tea, with a slight burn coming from the alcohol (35% ABV). I added a splash of water and good heavens, it tasted exactly like sweetened iced tea. I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the alcoholic and non-alcoholic version. Another suggestion was to mix it with lemonade and have it as a John Daly.


Firefly is available in five flavors: regular, raspberry, peach, mint and lemon. It retails for around $20 per bottle. The company also makes two vodkas. 



Jeremiah Weed is available in four flavors: regular, peach, pre-mixed with lemonade or bourbon. It retails for around $24 a bottle.  

Can you drink well for under $5?

Alpana Singh

two buck chuck.jpg

Purchase your very own Two Buck Chuck Tote here.

This question was prompted by an email from a reader named Jon with the subject line "Cheap Ass Wine"

"Alpana--I'm going to a party in a couple of weeks and the theme is we're broke but we're still gonna party.' Everyone is to bring a cheap wine and or beer. I was just going to go with a box o' wine and 6 of Lowenbrau but today I found out that there are prizes for best tasting wine and best item under $2.99. Obviously I referred to your 'looking for decent boxed wines?' blog entry from April but I wonder if you have any new suggestions? And any ideas aside from the 2-buck-chuck for under $5?"

I have certainly attended parties where "cheap ass wine" has been served but only a few of these wines would be worthy of a prize. The problem with many inexpensive selections is that the producers tend to focus more on the package (cute animal, the use of a curse word or character stereotype) and less on the juice inside. The result can be wines that taste hollow, acrid, artificial and downright headache inducing. Nonetheless, I have come across some pretty decent wines for less than $5 but certainly not $3.   

In order to answer Jon's questions, I headed to the go-to place for dollar wines, *Trader Joe's. They offer a variety of selections for less than $5, many of which are their own labels or exclusive offerings.  I purchased 4 versatile wines that totaled less than $21 with tax.

The two that I liked the most were:

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay-Viognier Reserve, Colchagua Valley, Chile $4.99 A blend of 80% Chardonnay & 20% Viognier grapes grown in a region that is located about 90 miles south of the capital city of Santiago. Many inexpensive Chards taste like bad wedding wine to me but this blend is fairly well balanced. The Chardonnay component contributes a decent amount of weight without tasting like articial butter topping while the splash of Viognier adds a hint of stone fruit aromatics. Would make for a nice "house wine".


2008 Tres Pinos Tierra Roja, Paso Robles $4.99
Out of the 4 wines that I purchased,  I enjoyed this one the best. Tierra Roja is a super ripe blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The fruit forward and jammy profile reminds me of a Zinfandel but with the weight of a Malbec. Could be a great match for ribs, burgers or anything painted with a sweet/well spiced sauce.



The other two were so-so:

2008 Zarafa Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa $4.99

High toned lime flavors, very grassy and vegetal which can be expected from Sauvignon Blanc but the flavors disintergrated mid-sip. It wasn't entirely bad but I wanted less tomato plant flavors and more of a textural finish.



2006 Aquila d'Oro, Tuscan Red, Italy $3.99

Unfortunately, this wine was corked. On my next visit to TJ's, I'll pick up another bottle and update this review.  






I also came across a few other blogs that detail inexpensive wine finds. This is a very cool blog by a New Yorker who is blogging about her adventures as she drinks her way through her local Trader Joe's, one bottle at a time. I Don't Drink Wine reviews wines for less than $5 and the Trader Joe's Wine Compendium is another blog devoted entirely to Trader Joe's wine selections.  

* All of my wine selections were purchased from the Trader Joe's on Ontario in downtown Chicago.

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