Day Drinking – Koval Distillery

(Not from Chicago?  Google “distillery tour near me”)

Not every distillery tour is the same.  The process is very similar, but the result is very different from one brand to another.  Plus, this was a great way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.

Established in 2008, Koval is the first distillery within the Chicago city limits since the Prohibition era.  The tour takes place in a small storefront in the Ravenswood neighborhood with the actual production facility about a mile up the road.  One of the things I learned on the tour is that Koval is the largest organic distillery in Illinois (maybe the US?  I was trying to pay attention and take notes at the same time).  One aspect of organic distilling is the use of organic barley.  This is more expensive, however, they are also using local farmers as their suppliers.  Another quality that makes the whiskey organic is the use of virgin oak casks.  They purchase all of their barrels built and charred from scratch.  This prevents the spirit from coming into contact with any non-organic material.  You would think this would result in a surplus of barrels, however, they can be sold for re-use.  Besides other distilleries (that don’t require virgin casks), they also sell them to breweries who produce bourbon-barrel aged ales.  Additionally, the average consumer can purchase a used one for their home décor needs for the small price of $150.00.

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While walking us through the distillation process, we learned that Koval’s signature style is to only use the “heart”, or the middle process of the distillation, in their spirits.  The full distillation process produces what are known as the “head”, “heart”, and “tails”.  I could not even begin to describe these stages or at what point these are cut.  This link explains it perfectly and in simple terms.

Equipment

Now, what would a distillery tour be without a tasting or two (or three)?  Whiskey is not the only spirit produced at Koval.  They also bottle and sell gins, brandys, and other flavored liqueurs.  Our first tasting was of their single barrel bourbon whiskey.  110 proof.  Boom.  Now I’ve got that warm toasty feeling inside.  The second tasting was of their new cranberry gin liqueur.  I do not like gin, but I tried it anyway.  The cranberry flavor was definitely present, but it did not overpower the gin itself.  Our third, and final, tasting was a personal choice.  I chose the peach brandy.  I regret my choice only because I heard, after the fact, that the ginger liqueur was a big hit.  This is their second best seller after the single barrel bourbon  whiskey (the regular version, not the 110 proof).

Tasters

Liqueurs

The tour, should you decide to take it, is only $10 per person.  You can also find this activity on Groupon.  This one is limited to Sundays at either 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm.  They have an option for a group of two ($19) or four ($35).  The bonus is that you get to leave with a souvenir shot glass.

CHEERS!

Point Blank Shooting Range (Hodgkins)

This company has multiple locations in Illinois and other states as well.

The first thing I want to mention is that I do not own a gun.  I don’t have a desire to own one.  I do not have a FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card.  I have just always wanted to learn to shoot a gun.  Knowledge is power – or so they say.

When I mentioned this to my cousin Chris, he immediately offered to go with us to a shooting range and to provide us with some basic safety training.  Chris has had his FOID card for 22 years.  He worked in a gun shop for 5 years.  He owns multiple guns and brought them all over for us to learn about.  So, he knows his sh*t.  Some of the key elements he taught us were how to properly hold a gun (and where to point it) when you first pick it up, how to load/unload the magazine (look at me talking shop here!), and most importantly, how to turn the safety on/off.

The handguns that Chris showed us were (clockwise from the top right): Springfield Armory model 1911 custom built .45 caliber, Colt Python. 357 caliber 6″ barrel, H&K model USP9  9mm caliber, Glock gen4 model 19  9mm caliber, Smith&Wesson model 22-a  .22long rifle cal., and a Sig Sauer model p239 .40 cal

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He also had a couple of rifles to show us (top to bottom): Daniel Defense model DDM4V7  5.56 NATO caliber and a Sig Sauer model MPX with red dot sight  9mm caliber.

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He’s a pretty cool guy to know.

Once we got to the shooting range, I was able to get in with my driver’s license as long as I was entering with someone who has a FOID card.  This location did not require that I be trained by someone on their staff, although they do offer that (and other classes) if you don’t have someone like I did to show you the basics.

Pricing varies by location.  The Hodgkins range charges $19.99 per hour for one shooting bay.  They allow two people in each bay, but you need to pay $7.99 for the second shooter.  They also have a date night package (seriously) on Friday nights for two shooters for only $16.99.  I guess the couple that shoots together stays together, right?

And then we got our Charlies Angels on.  I was nervous from the start because the guns we trained on were not loaded (naturally).  Was it going to be loud?  Was there going to be a recoil?  Yes and yes.  But I had an excellent teacher and he was right next to me the whole time.  He told me that, with the first round that I shot, I just needed to get used to it.  He had me aim for the X in the middle of the target’s chest.  Apparently, all I heard was “head shots”.  BAD.  ASS.

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Total honesty here – I was actually aiming for the X 😊

Every time we hung up or took down the paper target I could not stop picturing one of my favorite movie moments from Lethal Weapon.  Especially the scene with Mel Gibson starting at the 0:50 mark.  (YouTube video courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment).

Besides the human outline, they had many targets to choose from.  We didn’t use these, but you have to be a pretty good shot to play Battleship I would think.

Targets

To the disappointment of my cousin, I won’t be rushing out to get my FOID card anytime soon.  I didn’t hate it, it was just not for me.  My SO enjoyed it, however, and is planning on going again soon.  Here is a video of my SO shooting a gun and a rifle:

Ragnarock Axe Throwing

Can I “axe” you a question?  Do you have an “axe” to grind?  Do you have the “chops” to take on some target practice?

Axe throwing is trending as the latest date night/girls night/team building activity.  It is just what it sounds like, but with games.  My SO and I found a Groupon (naturally) for an axe throwing location in Chicago, however,  they are popping up all over the suburbs as well.

At Ragnarock Axe Throwing, you get a 90-minute session that includes training and some throwing competitions in a game-like setting.  The size of your group depends on how many people sign up in each time slot but they cap it off at 24 (split between two throwing bays).  Each bay has an “Axepert” (get it?) to instruct you in the proper way to stand, hold, and eventually, throw the 1.5 lb axe.

Our group had 9 people in it and each bay has two throwing spots so this does move along fairly quickly.  After the safety training portion, they take two people at a time to do some practice throws.  The hardest thing for me was getting it to stick.  I was basically on target with each throw, but I don’t think I was throwing it hard enough.  I need to go in angrier next time.

Once everyone was comfortable with how to hit the target, we were split up (within our own group), into two smaller groups.  The first game we played was TIMBER.  This is the axe throwing version of horse.  You went head-to-head with someone from the other team and, after two throws, whoever had less points got a letter.  The bullseye has number values within each ring.  Next, we played “21” where each team had to get enough point to total 21.  Exactly.  So getting that last number was challenging.

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After the last game (a version of “hangman”) we moved into the double-elimination head-to-head tournament with our small group.  Of course, they paired my SO and I against each other in the first round.  My shining moment was getting a bullseye in this round to move him into the losers bracket.  Making it count when it matters!

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It was also a requirement that you come up with a “punny” name for the competition.  As you can see from my name tag I was Mrs. Axehole.  My SO was just plain Axehole.

An extra bonus is that this location allows you to bring food and drink into the space.  Alcohol, however, is not permitted.  For some reason the city of Chicago doesn’t believe that drinking and axe throwing are a good combination.

This was also quite the core workout.  I was sore the next day.  But it was worth it.  So grab your significant other, and maybe some friends, and go get your lumberjack on!

Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody

Welcome to the party pal!

First, let’s start with the decades-old debate: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or not?  The answer is clearly YES.  The movie takes place on CHRISTMAS EVE at a CHRISTMAS PARTY.  I could keep going on to support my argument, but this article breaks it down even further.

As further proof that Die Hard should be considered a Christmas movie is the fact that The Den Theatre is hosting the (now) annual holiday production of “Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas!  A Die Hard Musical Parody”.  This is the fifth year for the show (but it has not always been at this location).  They even have a few cast members who have continued to reprise their roles since its origination in 2014.

It is over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, comedy gold.  Let’s start with the character names.  John McClane is now Bruce McClane.  Holly Genero is now Holly Generic.  Hans Gruber is now Hans Olo.  Come on.  That’s good stuff right there.

One of the first big musical numbers takes on Holly Generic’s move away from New York, and her husband, to take a high-powered job for the Nakatomi corporation.  The whole “Working Girl” (another classic 80’s movie) vibe included the power suits and the hilariously big hair.

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My SO and I appreciated some of the authenticity as well.  Bill Gordon (Bruce McClane) sounded just like Bruce Willis.  Even better, Gary Fields (Hans Olo) sounded just like the late, great, Alan Rickman (sexiest bad guy voice ever – amiright?).  And Erin Long’s Klaus is one of the best things about this production.

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The show is a mix of 80’s references peppered with some current jokes.  Like most parodies, we want to go and see it again because I am sure we missed a few puns or gags the first time around.  As a bonus, I was almost giddy when, intentional or not, the head FBI agent looked just like Bert Macklin, FBI.  (If you don’t get this Park and Recreation reference we might not be able to be friends).

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A few things to know before you go: 1) the Den theatre is small.  Maybe 150 seats.  Shows are already starting to sell out. 2) there is no parking at the theatre.  Metered parking and street parking only.  Plan accordingly.  3) Tickets are $45, however, I was able to find them on Goldstar (discount ticket site) for $22.50.  I know.  It’s a gift.  You’re welcome.

If you are a fan of the original Die Hard movie, this is a really fun date night idea.  If you can’t make it in before Christmas, you are in luck.  This play runs through January 12.  Yippee Ki-Yay . . . !

Christkindlmarket and Naper Lights Show – Naperville

A Christkindlmarket, or Christmas market, is a street market that is open during the weeks leading up to the holiday.  This outdoor shopping/dining experience originated in Germany back in the Middle Ages but can now be found in cities around the globe.  In Chicago, the Christkindlmarket can be found at the Daley Plaza.  In 2016, a second location popped up on the grounds of the Naper Settlement in Naperville.

The Christkindlmarket in Naperville is smaller in scale to the one in Chicago but it is just as quaint.  It is open Thursday – Sunday through December 16 and then it is open daily through Christmas Eve.  Also, bonus – it is free.  Admission AND parking.

We did not have any food that night, but they have a number of stands with a variety of options.  Austrian specialties, cheeses, crepes, Belgian waffles, pierogi, chocolates, pretzels, cookies, and candies.  There are also quite a few options for beverages.  Belgian hot chocolate, beer, wine, and ciders.  We tried the Honeycrisp apple cider and the salted caramel cider (whipped cream topping).  And of course we had to buy the signature Christkindlmarket mug.

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There are craft vendors as well.  Some of them have very unique pieces of jewely, wood carved statues, and hand knit creations.  If you are a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I found the snowblowing/ski mask that you didn’t know you needed:

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And then there are the ornaments and other Christmas collectible.  Do you collect Nutcrackers or buy them for someone who does?  Check out this selection:

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How about white lace ornaments?

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Or just ornaments in general?  If you gift special ornaments each year or participate in an ornament exchange (it’s a thing.  It’s not my thing, but it’s a thing), you need to hit this market.  Every size, color, shape you can imagine.  Or theme.  Animals, sports, occupation, hobby.  The list goes on.

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Click here for a full list of vendors and what they offer.

There were no choirs or other groups performing the night we were there but, you could plan your night around some additional entertainment as well.

When you have finished eating/drinking/shopping, take a stroll through the Naper Lights display.  It is right there on the property.  Multiple light displays, some set to music, can be found on this short walk.  It’s just festive, so why not?

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This holiday event is only open until Christmas Eve so get out there while you can!

Shawnee National Forest – Part II Ferne Clyff Waterfall Trail and Cave in the Rock

 

The waterfall trail (#5 on the map) is a ½ mile long trail in the Ferne Clyffe State Park.  The park itself covers 2,430 acres and contains 18 trails of varying degrees of difficulty.  The waterfall trail is rustic but not difficult.  By rustic I mean it is not paved or really even flat, but easy to navigate.

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This time of year, the waterfall is typically dry, however, the day before our hike, southern Illinois got an unseasonal couple of inches of snow.  I was hoping, with the warmer temperature that day, we might see a small one with the melting snow.  Sadly, no, but we got some other great views.  During our hike, the sun was shining and the melting snow from the trees made it feel like we were walking through a rain forest.

The precipitation also provided a beautiful snow-covered landscape for our hike.

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At the end of the trail, during a wetter season, you can see the waterfall cascading over the top of a giant rock formation.

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During our weekend trip, we also found our way to the Cave in Rock State Park.  Specifically, to see the cave in the rock.  Technically, this scenic point is just over the border into Kentucky.  So now I can say I have been to Kentucky.  Although there are other trails nearby, this geological wonder is a popular destination even for non-hikers.  I wouldn’t even call this one a hike.  At the base of a fairly short staircase, you can see the mouth of the cave to the left.

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The cave itself is not very deep and there is nothing particularly creepy about it.  No bats or hibernating animals to worry about.

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My favorite picture was taken upon leaving.  The view coming back out was of the sun shining down on the Ohio river.  Spectacular.

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There are so many hiking trails and points of interest in the Shawnee National Forest.  I plan to spend another long weekend down there exploring more of them!

Road Trip: Shawnee National Forest – Part I The Garden of the Gods and Rim Rock Nature Trail

The Shawnee National Forest, in Southern Illinois, consists of over 28,000 acres of land situated between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  There are many different trails to choose from depending on how far you want to hike or how much effort you want to put in.

The Garden of the Gods is one of the most photographed trails down there and for good reason.  It is breathtaking.

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The trail itself is only ¼ mile long and is nicely paved with flagstone.  The sandstone rock formations can be walked across, how far out depends on the daredevil in you.  But you don’t need to risk your life to fully experience the panoramic views from that high up.

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We were there in November and the leaves were mostly orange and there was still some snow from the early snowfall that hit the area a few days before.  This only added to the beauty.

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Rim Rock Nature Trail is nearby and another short hike.  Unless you veer off the path like we did.  More on that later.  The trail itself is a 1.7 mile loop that includes an upper and lower trail.  The lower trail takes you down a steep staircase and then through a maze of rock formations.

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From there, the trail is rugged in some places and a bit of a climb back up to the parking lot.  The views along the way are mostly sandstone bluffs that tower above you.

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There is a point in the loop where you can take a side trip away from the trail.  It is another ½ mile path that, unfortunately, does not loop back into the original trail.  So, you have to hike another ½ mile to get back on track.  The bonus, however, is the detour ends at Pounds Hollow Lake.  So you can relax on the “beach” before you head back.

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I already cannot wait to go back in the Spring or Summer to see everything in bloom!

Adventure Film Festival

Not from the Chicagoland area?  This is a traveling film festival and could make a stop in your state.

Adventure Film began in 2003, according to their website, with “a vision of a community-based, mission oriented outdoor adventure film festival that tied indie film with art and activism.”

Over 400 films were submitted this year, from all over the world, covering all aspects of adventure.  The Boulder Festival in Boulder, Colorado is the kick-off event before the world tour.  The selection committee narrows it down to the top 30 films, all of which can be screened at the kick-off event.  This is also a multi-day festival that includes speakers, outdoor activities, and a street fair.

The world tour is not as extensive, depending on where you live, but totally worth your time.  Chicago hosted their 4th annual Adventure Film Festival this year at the Music Box Theater on November 11, 2018.  Here, they narrowed it down to 11 films that were screened over three hours (plus a short intermission).  The shorts varied in length from 3 minutes to as long as 26 minutes.  Below are the films we had the privilege to see this year:

Adventure Films - part I

Adventure Films - part 2

These were not just films about adventure seekers jumping off cliffs or skydiving in volcanoes.  No, these were human interest stories that made you appreciate the good that people do for others.  And also for themselves.  There was one story about Lonnie, a blind man who found a love of kayaking and travels all over the country teaching other blind people how to kayak with their disability.  Another story covered the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and how a rock climbing community is using their unique skills to help clear trees and roads in Puerto Rico.  Our favorite story followed three U.S. veterans, all of whom did tours in Iraq, who returned to that country to explore the natural beauty of the country absent of the war.  They actually went skiing in the mountains!

There were two options for admission.  You could simply purchase a general admission ticket ($20) which covers the screening of the films.  The VIP option ($45) included the screening, a private VIP reception that included food, two Revolution Brewing beers, a small popcorn, and a gift bag.  Here are the goodies from our gift bags:

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There were also some pretty good raffle items available.  All of the proceeds from this event went to the Sierra Club’s Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors.  Chicago ICO is, according to their website, “a volunteer-run community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth to explore and protect the natural world, while developing their leadership skills and honoring a love of the outdoors.”  They take kids hiking, canoeing, camping, etc.  They raised over $6,500.00 for this small event.  It might not seem like much but it will go a long way for an organization like this.  And we were happy to be part of it.

Look for this event next year and make you way into the city for an inspiring evening!  You won’t be disappointed.

Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-up – An Adult Pumpkin Farm

Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-Up is an interactive pop-up experience in the city.  It sits on 2 acres of land in the Goose Island neighborhood.  This past weekend were the final dates for the 2018 season but I’m sure it will be back again next year.

While they are promoting themselves as an “adult” pumpkin farm experience, it is open to all-ages.  When we went, on a Friday night at 7:00 pm, there were only a handful of kids there with their parents.  The “adult” part seemed to simply be the three bars set up on the property.

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Your options for entry can be just general admission or it can include +1 or +2 drinks.  If you choose the later option, your drink choices are limited.  You have more choices available if you purchase your drinks separate from the admission.  The other “adult” aspect is they allow you to walk around freely with you drinks.

Having lived and raised my kids in the suburbs, I can tell you I have been to much larger pumpkin farms.  This was smaller, but unique.  Every couple of feet or so was another set up for the perfect photo opportunity.  Giant chairs, shadow boxes, old cars, farm equipment, and lights everywhere!

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Not to mention the most incredible skyline as a backdrop for many of your photo-ops.

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In addition to the selfie/Instagram/snapchat photo ops, there was a small corn maze, some carnival games, and a real camel ride (didn’t expect that one, did you?).  There was also one food truck there that night.  Not sure if that was a rotating option or if it was the same truck for the whole run.

landsape

 

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And yes, there is discounted admission on Groupon if you can go on a Sunday-Thursday.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Food Hall: Eataly

Not to be confused with a food court (the fast food variety usually found in shopping malls), a food hall is an artisanal shopping and eating experience all under one roof.  The concept is said to have originated in Europe and is fast becoming a go-to dining experience here in America.

Since we were going downtown for a smaller activity, we decided to make a day of it and include one of the more well-known destinations, Eataly, into our plans for the day.

Eataly is an Italian food hall concept that was brought to America through a partnership that includes famous Italian chefs such as Mario Batali*, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich.  They have locations in Los Angeles, Boston, and two in New York.  The one in Chicago is considered to be the largest in the U.S.

This two-story location is overwhelming when you first walk in but, fortunately, they have a map and guide that walks you through each department so that you don’t miss out on anything.

Self guided tour

We decided to do the self-guided tour and, as directed, we started upstairs and got a glass of wine.  You can walk around with it so, sure.  From there, we hit the olive oil department, and this is where you realize what you have really gotten yourself into.  ROWS and ROWS.  I had no idea there were so many types and flavors of olive oil.  I expected this from the wine department but not olive oil.  Every department is like this.

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And bring your appetite – hence the Girl’s Gotta Eat connection.  There are a few sit-down restaurant style options.  They are smaller spaces, but we had no problem getting seated.  Take away counters are available as well for sandwiches, panini, and other Italian specialties.

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But don’t fill up upstairs.  Once you get back down to the main level you have way too many desserts to choose from.  There is a gelato bar, pastry counter, cannoli bar, and Nutella station.  Oh, and coffee.  I’m getting full just remembering this visit.

So, all in all, this was a great way to spend a couple of hours together and share some great food as well.

*For those of you who are aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against Mario Batali, Eataly has terminated its relationship with the chef and all products bearing his likeness have been removed from the shelves.