These days everyone loves a good “pop up experience” — an exclusive combination of local expertise and/or edibles with a luxurious and exciting ONE NIGHT ONLY event! But an exclusive event focusing on a craft cocktail experience hosted by some of Chicago’s best and most well-known mixologists?
That’s the stuff of boozey dreams right?
Not anymore! Thanks to the brilliant founders of Liquor Lab, Chicago has it’s first exclusive, members-only underground club focusing on creating a brilliant craft cocktail experience with some of the most inventive drinks you’ve never heard of.
Every few weeks, Liquor Lab hosts a different themed event around the city — the locations are super secret and the mixologists even more so! All you know is the theme for the evening, then a few days beforehand you’ll be told the location and time. Tickets to each event run $40 – $100 and all events are hosted close enough to River North that a safe cab ride home won’t break the bank. Members also pay a yearly fee ($175) for access to the event tickets, keeping the events sophisticated and energizing instead of over-crowded and out-of-control.
While at first I wasn’t sold on the idea of paying a membership fee and a separate ticket fee for each event, after actually attending one myself I appreciate how this structure keeps the focus on the artistry of the cocktails and less on the “see and be seen” mentality a lot of other members-only clubs here in Chicago have.
Because ultimately that’s what Liquor Lab is about: the craft cocktail experience complete with dramatic presentations, rare liquors and lively spaces all facilitating a fun social evening brimming with excellent conversations and interesting people.
So what are we waiting for? Let’s get into the Lab!
On the last snowy night of February Hubby and I headed over to Vivo to experience Liquor Lab’s 10th event: The World of Whiskey!Dreamt up by founders Owen Meyer, Chris Lindsey, and Cedric Combs, Liquor Lab is the culmination of their passion for jaw-dropping drinks mixed with one-of-a-kind experiences. Cedric is well-known here in Chicago for his work launching some of the city’s most popular and exciting night clubs such as Sound-Bar, Crescendo and Untitled. With such experienced founders working behind the project, you had to know the events were going to memorable!
Liquor Lab events are kept exclusive with each event being limited to 50 – 60 members. The gorgeous atmosphere at Vivo as well as the dramatic lighting added further to the intimacy and sophisticated ambiance of the event that evening.Sitting on the main bar was our evening’s rare whiskey line-up! As well as a sea of various glasses ready for the show!At Liquor Lab you’re bound to make friends with the many interesting members attending and Hubby and I had the good fortune of sitting with fellow blogger Amanda of the Ghost Guest. You can read her review of our evening here.At each place setting Liquor Lab gives a menu of the evening’s libations as well as a score card. Members are encouraged to give honest (and anonymous) feedback about the drinks by scoring and commenting after sampling each one, helping the mixologists continue to fine-tune their cocktails creations.
A word of advice: be sure to start out with some nibbles or you may very well regret it the following morning!Once seated (seating is open to facilitate an engaged community between members) we were instantly served a glass of bubbly to whet our appetite (as if we weren’t about to drink a marathon of whiskey!) .
For our Whiskey tour around the world, we were lucky enough to have genius Preston Cohen, of CH Distillery, crafting the cocktails that evening. And man, does this guy ever know his whiskey!!! We started out with the aptly named Dr.’s Orders: Michters Bourbon, Apple Shrub, Pear Bitters and Cranberry Bitters.
This drink was on the sweet side making it the “girliest” drink of the night and naturally my favorite. Others found the sugar and cranberry flavors to be a little much mixed with the bourbon but I found this cocktail to be well-rounded and smooth with a zingy fruity finish that reminded me of a sophisticated jolly rancher.
Invented as a tribute to Canadian hockey legend Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, this drink had a brilliant depth of flavor but the maple notes were a little strong on the palette. The cocoa nibs did add an interesting diversity to the whiskey and the amaro created a pleasantly bitter finish but the combination of maple and bitter flavors wasn’t my favorite. Our third libation was the Chai ‘n Low: Auchentashan Triple Wood Scotch, Plum Bitters, Chai Foam.
The scotch and chai foam works surprisingly well in this and I would have happily drank a few more servings. My one complaint was how little I tasted of the plum bitters but perhaps that is for the best!
After this round, we enjoyed glasses of Nihonzaru: Yamazaki Japanese Whiskey served with ice shards. The gentle asian flavors of this whiskey were so beautiful, I actually drank mine down before realizing I hadn’t snapped a photo of it! I consider it a compliment to the deliciousness of the Nihonzaru, being my first exposure to Japanese whiskey. It certainly was strong and required quite a few ice chips to mellow out the flavor but the finish was incredible!
Next up came the most inventive cocktail of the evening! Served in ice-chilled bell pepper “glasses”, the fifth offering was the Hell for Rent: Connemara Irish Whiskey, Hellfire Bitters, Ice Shards.
A beautiful smokiness and bright, fresh peppery notes made this drink positively delectable! Not to mention photogenic! This was a close second to my favorite, the Dr.’s Orders.
The crowning finale for the evening was Preston Cohen’s signature namesake drink… The Preston! Mixtures of Rittenhouse Rye, Green Chartreuse, Ferney (a type of Amaro), and Peychauds all served with a twist.
Cohen describes this drink as “everything I love about alcohol in a glass” and I can’t think of a better description for this libation! I’ve never had a drink quite like this and despite being ridiculously strong, it set the perfect tone for the digestif course and actually had a wonderfully calming effect to end the evening on.
After traveling around the globe vicariously through the diverse world of whiskey, it would be cruel of me to not offer you the same opportunity, right!?
I promised you a giveaway after all!
The brilliant minds at Liquor Lab are offering a one-year membership (a $175 value that doesn’t begin until you attend your first event) to one lucky reader!! If you’re interested in attending incredible, wow-worthy events that are setting new precedents in the world of craft cocktails, be sure to enter below before midnight EST on Monday, March 16th (isn’t St. Patrick’s Day the most appropriate day to announce a winner?):
Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.