One month into the school year and already wishing Skol was permanently banned from campus? Head over to CH Distillery to try some real, house-made vodka. (If you’re into gin, rum or whiskey they make that too.) The only micro-distillery in Chicago with an attached bar, CH is a truly unique operation. As an extremely recent college graduate, experiencing vodka of this caliber was a somewhat foreign experience, but hey, we all have to grow up at some point.
Head distiller and co-founder Tremaine Atkinson worked in finance for 25 years before finally deciding to follow his passion for home brewing and distillation. CH opened on August 20th and was destined for success from the start with its well-seasoned team. Atkinson recruited food and beverage director Krissy Schutte from Tarantino’s of Lincoln Park. He also consulted mixologist Kyle Davidson from Blackbird and The Publican as well as JP Doiron and Jesse Katzman, executive chef and consulting chef, respectively, from Avec. If that’s not a fully loaded team, I don’t know what is.
CH has what it takes to please increasingly savvy foodies in this Chicago restaurant scene. First of all, it takes enough pride in its developed process to share details with the public. Anyone can go on a tour of CH, and the guides are always willing to answer any and all questions you may have. Secondly, its team is passionate about the science behind that process. Case in point, the distillery’s name comes from an abbreviated form of the compound ethanol, CH3CH2OH. Thirdly, the distillery supports the farm-to-table movement through its use of local ingredients. CH uses Illinois wheat and rye to produce each one of its liquors. There is a mill below the storefront where the grains are processed and then transported up to the distillery level by CH’s very own grain elevator. CH also makes every juice used in its cocktails from scratch, with all juices squeezed fresh every day.
I started off with CH’s rhymes with orange cocktail, made with Serrano chili vodka, lime, CH orange Curaçao and watermelon. It was spicy but so intriguing. The spiciness makes it a cocktail more suited for sipping than drinking quickly, which shouldn’t be a problem — you’ll want to make it last anyway.
Next up was the Czech mate, featuring cinnamon and spice-infused vodka, grapefruit juice and honey syrup. Normally, just the thought of grapefruit makes me cringe, but this was a tasty exception. CH has mastered the use of this bitter fruit, creating a well-balanced drink.
My third drink was the classic Moscow mule, one of my favorite cocktails, consisting of vodka, CH’s own ginger beer and lime. I’ve had my share of Moscow mules and my biggest complaint is that they’re always too sweet. However, the team at CH knows it’s all about the perfect ratio — its mule had just the right amount of sweetness.
The last drink I had was the tradition. Food and beverage director Krissy Schutte presented me with a plate of rye bread, pickles and a shot of vodka. She instructed me to sniff the rye bread, take the shot of vodka and then eat the pickle. Not knowing what to expect, I followed her directions and was more than pleasantly surprised. Never before had I thought of vodka as having individual flavors that could stand on their own without a mixer or chaser. While the other cocktails I had were amazing, the tradition changed the way I look at alcohol.
CH’s food menu consists of small plates, charcuterie and mini desserts. One highlight was the whitefish spread made from smoked whitefish, hard-boiled egg and capers, served on black rye. For dessert, I had the parsnip panna cotta. I had never tasted a parsnip before, but I found it to be just the right amount of sweet and the perfect ending to my CH flavor collection. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, the real stars of the menu are the cocktails.
I typically judge a restaurant based on one simple question: Did my experience allow me to think of food in a way I hadn’t before? CH opened my eyes to the art behind distilling alcohol. Not only do they make a quality product, but they also pair it with other quality ingredients to produce some of the best cocktails you will ever taste.
Address: 564 W Randolph Street (between Clinton Street and Jefferson Street), Chicago, IL
Hours of operation: Tue-Thurs: 5pm to 11pm, Fri-Sat: 5pm to midnight