Craft Distilleries Reinvent the Cocktail Hour

Craft distilleries are the latest tasting trend in cities everywhere, but CH Distillery in downtown Chicago has evolved the movement into a complete experience. If you’re searching for somewhere different to enjoy the evening after a day of meetings, check out this place.

Located in a historic building, it has an industrial, contemporary vibe with the chatter of lots of conversations and music in the background. The bar is decorated with brightly colored bottles and distilling tanks are in view.

Experience CH Distillery:

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CH Distillery seats about 50 guests, so it’s one of those intimate places where you can go with your friends and easily chat with those who are seated at tables in each side of you (which is great because you can find out what favorite drinks and appetizers that others have enjoyed).

The “distilpub” pairs great cocktails with a range of small plates – Central and Eastern European cuisine.

Co-founders Tremaine Atkinson and Mark Lucas have successfully reinvented the cocktail bar experience while following their own passions for distilling their own spirits:

  • Key Gin and London Dry (Both excellent, level and tasty)
  • CH Vodka (my personnel favorite, smooth and delicate)
  • Peppercorn Vodka (salty and sweet)
  • CH Rum (lightly aged in oak for smoothness)
  • CH Bourbon (delicious and subtle taste of banana)
    Giuliana’s Handmade Limoncello (definitely a new take, includes a milky and engaging taste)

CH Distillery offers a handcrafted cocktail menu as well as traditional mixed drinks. You will enjoy two of food and beverage director Krissy Schutte’s recommendations from the original cocktails: The Barron Takes Tea and Rosemary’s Baby. Even if you’re not a tea drinker, the key gin blended excellently with the syrup, lemon, egg white and soda. Rosemary’s Baby has a pleasant, smokey taste and incorporates the salty and sweet peppercorn vodka with rosemary syrup, lemon and soda.

Krissy builds the cocktail menu and executive chef JP Doiron creates seasonal and creative plates that pair well with the distillery’s spirits. They experiment with all types of infusion.

There’s more to CH Distillery than the dining room and bar. Whiskey is stored in the basement area, and the large fermentation area is on the main floor — separate but highly visible from the eatery and bar area.

Krissy explained that all of the sprits are distilled on the spot and groups can get an interactive tour of the distilling process. You’ll even see samples of the sprits in different stages of the distilling process to emphasize the delicacy and art of the progression.

I was surprised at the amount of locally sourced ingredients which came from Gainesville, Illinois, and I learned that distilling is not very different from the Brewing process for beer since key characteristics such as fermentation are involved.

And the cuisine was just as great as the tour! Executive chef Doiron creates Central and Eastern European cuisine with a unique contemporary flair:

  • Gnocchi:  The pasta dish was cooked perfectly and incorporated mushrooms blended with cheddar and trout. The dish was savory and sumptuous.
  • Whitefish: Spread smoked whitefish combined with caper on rye, hard boiled egg and hers.  This was may favorite dish.
  • Duck: This was very good, and provided an additional range to the choices.
  • Carafe Service: This was one of the more traditional dishes served on a wooden board. One must smell the rye bread, drink the shot of vodka and then eat a pickle.  I thought that both the presentation and taste was one of a kind and even though I normally do not prefer pickles, I enjoyed the dish.
  • Gooey Butter Cake: Executive Chef JP Doiron brought this hearty butter cake out that was a very tasty desert.

Private Events (50-100 guests)

CH Distillery has already caught the attention of Chicago’s meeting planners. While the restaurant and bar area hold up to 50 guests, it’s possible to also rent out the back room and distillery area which can hold up to an additional 50 guests. CH Distillery also offers an option of a very special gin distilling package:

  • Guests will be able to distill their own gin in the CH still, choosing the botanicals that go into the blend and a custom label in advance.
  • Guests will have a private bar and dedicated bartender in the distillery.
  • Guests will receive a private tour from co-founder/distiller Tremaine Atkinson and exclusive tasting of CH spirits.
  • Guests can also opt for demonstrations of how to shake up signature CH cocktails or make their own spirits infusions.

Typical events have included a distillery tour and brief education program, followed by cocktail and food pairings. Guests can work with Krissy Schutte and executive chef JP Doiron to create a custom menu. They can preselect cocktails and dishes from the regular menu, add any off-the-menu specials, and CH will also print special menus for the event.

CH Distillery opened in August 2013.