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The 20 Bus Works Every Time

Ben Sally, August 13, 2013 -   

I love Chicago. I lived there for 12 years or so over two different stints (from age 2 until 7, then again from 17 to 24), and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I largely became who I am today in that city. It's certainly where I honed and nurtured my love of beer, thanks to Three Floyds and Bell's. Sadly now that I've moved to NYC for grad school, it's nigh impossible to get my hands on their succulent suds, so this story is not about an offering from either.

One night during the summer of 2008, two of my roommates and I decided to go to a concert at the United Center. Since we all lived in Hyde Park (more of a southern suburb than part of the city proper), this meant we got to spend an hour on buses, first taking the 6 north to the Loop, then the 20 west to the arena. We imbibed a secreted flask of whiskey whilst en route, then proceeded to spend a frankly stupid amount of money on Bud Lights while taking in the dulcet tones of three of the whitest bands ever in The National, Modest Mouse, and R.E.M. Thoroughly sauced afterwards, we left and got back on the 20 bus. Unfortunately, being drunk and in unfamiliar territory, we accidentally got on one going westbound.

For anyone not familiar with the geography of Chicago, a quick primer-the West side isn't the nicest part of the city, to put it mildly. We were in a neighborhood called Garfield Park, where as of today 40% of households are below the poverty line and there are roughly 2.5 violent crimes per 1000 people, both statistics that are markedly improved compared to 2008 when the crime rate was roughly 35% higher. So yeah, not exactly the best area to be drunk and lost in.

Back to the story -- as the scenery continued to deteriorate, my friends and I panicked, and decided that the best course of action would be to get off and call for a cab (much to the bus driver's incredulity). Being sloshed and rather stupid, it didn't occur to us until after we'd gotten off that cab companies would be somewhat reluctant to send a car for us, to say the least, and we were given an estimate of "one to two hours." And that's how I wound up standing on a corner in Garfield Park at 11 PM on a Friday night.

Having sobered up slightly due to the prospect of waiting at least an hour for a cab, we decided that more alcohol was not only a brilliant idea, but was actually borderline mandatory. To that end, we walked around for a bit and found a corner store, where we purchased six 40 oz. bottles of Colt 45 for the princely sum of $15.

As you might be able to tell from my Untappd profile picture, I'm rather pale in complexion, being half Korean and half Irish. My companions were a white dude from Louisiana and a Korean dude from Colorado, and the bemused look the cashier gave us from behind two inches of bulletproof glass informed us that he wasn't accustomed to seeing parties comprised of one and a half Asians and one and a half white people purchasing large quantities of malt liquor.

Now thoroughly camouflaged and doubtlessly fitting in perfectly thanks to our brown-bagged bottles, we went back outside and stood on the corner, waiting for our cab to show up while trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait that long, as we were barely halfway through our first bottles when an eastbound 20 bus showed up. We clambered aboard and were immediately recognized by the driver, since it was the same bus we'd gotten off of in the first place. He laughed at us since we surely looked extremely traumatized and let us on for free.

Once comfortably seated in the back and on our way back to downtown Chicago, we decided that this had been a grand adventure and well worth it. Coincidentally, we ran into some friends returning from dinner and drinks once we transferred to the southbound 6 bus, so we shared our remaining Colts on our way back to Hyde Park and then went to a party, where I fell down some stairs and hurt my ankle.

Colt 45 actually doesn't look so bad when poured, with a pale straw hue and white head that quickly disperses. Prior to my recent purchase when I set out to review it, I'm not sure I'd ever caught a glimpse of it outside a paper bag, so its appearance was actually a pleasant surprise.

Its aroma, however, not so much. It smells overly sweet and malty, almost sickeningly so, with notes of corn and rice. No hops whatsoever that I could detect. Honestly, it reminds me of Corn Pops cereal more than anything-not what I'm looking for from a beer. In terms of taste, it's pretty much exactly what it smells like -- sweet, with no bitterness or subtlety at all. The alcohol is only barely noticeable.

Its mouthfeel is reasonable though, at least when cold. I found it to be marginally better and less watery than the crappier adjunct lagers, though I will confess to not being brave enough to try it warm.

Admittedly I'm no expert on malt liquors, but I honestly think you could do worse. I'd actually reach for a Colt before a Coors or Miller Light probably, but only if it's cold and the weather is hot.

Colt 45 (40 oz. bottle, first poured into a pint glass then skulled straight from the bottle)

Appearance: 3/5

Smell: 1.5/5

Taste: 2/5

Mouthfeel: 2/5

Overall: 2.25/5

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