Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ale to the 'Burbs: Tuscan Market & Wine Shop

Ale to the 'Burbs is a monthly collaborative beer blog series. Five Chicagoland beer blogs...five communities...five suburban beer destinations...all on one day. From the hidden neighborhood gems to the well-known pillars of suburban craft beer, we've got the Chicago 'burbs covered. Links to the other articles are listed at the bottom of this post. Check back next month for our next batch of articles.

Stop right there. I know what's going through your head right now. You're asking what a wine shop is doing as the subject of an Ale to the 'Burbs article. Fair question. The answer? Everything you could ask for as a craft beer lover.

Bar up front, shop and kitchen in the back.

Let's start from the beginning. Almost 12 years ago, Tuscan Market originally opened in Arlington Heights as a small grocery store on the bottom floor of the Wing Street Condominium building. In late 2007, Amy Philpott bought the store, which was struggling to compete against the Jewel store across the street. Knowing how little sense it made to continue trying to compete against a grocery giant, Amy transformed the interior over the course of the following six months. Her vision: a wine bar with a small kitchen, a few tables and bar stools, and even fewer beers. At least, that was the plan for Tuscan Market & Wine Shop at first.

Starting with just 10 or 12 beers total, Amy started to see the demand for craft beer rise in late 2009 to early 2010. A little at a time, she kept adding a few beers to her orders, listening to her customers to find out what they wanted to see on the shelf. Eventually, she added a small three-tap draft system with a constantly rotating sixtel lineup, all craft and, whenever possible, out of the ordinary. Demand has continued to rise at such a fast pace that she now has plans to install a brand new six-tap system to offer her guests even more draft choices.

"We've morphed. We've just kind of changed with what people have told us they're interested in and what they want. We've had so much fun with it."


Walk into Amy's space today and, while the wine shop roots are readily apparent in the two aisles down the middle of the shop area, you'll find not just her small draft system behind the bar, but a whole chalkboard of bottle selections as well. Amy listens to her customers, distributors and staff to find out what's hot all across the States and abroad. And even though it's not always easy to keep things local, she constantly pesters her distributors about getting Chicago-area beers as well, even if her footprint isn't as large as many of their other craft beer accounts.

"It's harder to get the local stuff, just because they're not always brewing the quantity right now to meet the demand. And we understand that. My reps can only do so much. So it's just a conundrum we're going through right now."

When it comes to her small draft list, Amy's goal is to never put the same beer on twice...at least not back-to-back. She would rather tap something uncommon than something that's popular. The best case scenario, she says, is to have a keg and bombers of the same beer at the same time. Thanks to a dual license allowing package and in-store sales, customers can try a pint at the bar and pick up a bottle to take home or on the train. Craft-your-own six-packs are also available to mix and match your own selections.

The bottle board lets you know what's available at the bar or to take with you.
The kitchen, such as it is, sits in plain sight behind a deli-style counter and pastry case. Meat and cheese plates, cold and hot sandwiches, hand-made pizzas, Italian entrees and lighter fare like soups and salads fill the menu. There's something very satisfying about watching the staff craft your meal just around the corner from the bar.

According to Amy, craft beer's rise in Arlington Heights is pretty much just getting started with plenty of room to grow. Other local bars are shifting toward a few offerings beyond light beer on tap, in some cases following her lead to reach out to a different breed of beer drinker. But Tuscan Market is definitely a one-of-a-kind location in the ever-growing suburban craft beer scene. And it's proof that some of the most unique spots are well worth seeking out and looking beyond just a name.


Additional Articles in this Month's Ale to the 'Burbs Series: