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Barley legal

Our undercover suds sleuths had one week to track down their favorite out-of-state brews without leaving Illinois-by any means necessary. Who got the goods?

WisconsinSpotted Cow
New Glarus Brewery, the makers of Spotted Cow, stopped distributing to Illinois in 2003 because of an inability to meet demand in both Wisconsin and Illinois. New Glarus is currently building a new brewery to increase its production, but they won’t say whether Spotted Cow will be in Illinois once construction is complete. It still can be found in Chicago—it just takes some work.

My first order of business was to see if I could buy Spotted Cow online. Yahoo! Shopping has New Glarus’ Raspberry Tart framboise listed for $8.50 (for a 750ml bottle), but no Spotted Cow. Next, I called the brewery’s gift shop and tried to sweet talk the manager, but was reminded the brewery can’t ship beer directly to Illinois.

Getting nervous, I headed to a West Loop liquor store popular with beer geeks. When I asked the manager for some Spotted Cow, he promised to see what he could do. Two days later…eureka! He’d managed to acquire three bottles of Spotted Cow. How’d he get ’em? He wouldn’t say-—and he charged me a whopping $4.50 for each bottle.

Save yourself some money and time: Buy Spotted Cow just over the Illinois border atWoodman’s Food Market (7145 120th Ave, Kenosha, WI, 262-857-3801), where it’s a relative steal at $7.29 for a six-pack.—CS

When Bell’s stopped distributing in Illinois in 2006 because of a skirmish with its Illinois distributor, it was a serious fiasco. Liquor stores with surplus Bell’s sold out quickly, and no more was allowed into the state for retail sale.

This, of course, makes it hard to obtain the stuff. Though I called several area liquor stores with reps for great beer selections, I was met with annoyed bewilderment that somebody would even ask about Bell’s. Some people implied they knew some stores selling it illegally, but they clammed up when I asked for details.

And though I thought I’d accomplished my mission when Mike Miller of Delilah’s told me he loaded up before Bell’s pulled out of Illinois, I soon remembered his selection is only available to drink at the bar, and he said his stash would probably be gone by the end of the year.

But there was some good news: Paradise Liquors (1506 119th St, Whiting, IN, 219-473-9155), a store just five minutes from the Illinois-Indiana border, just started carrying Bell’s. Remember, though: It’s perfectly legal for you to buy this beer and carry it over the border, but it’s still against the law for you to drink it on the Skyway.—DT

IndianaThree Floyds DarkLord Russian Imperial Stout
This malty, dark brew revered by beer geeks on message boards across the Internet is bottled and sold to the public only on the last Saturday in April—dubbed “DarkLord Day” at the Munster, Indiana, brewery. When a Three Floyds employee told me that last year DarkLord sold out in four hours, with 2,200 devotees lining up to buy 22-ounce bottles for $15 each, my stomach sank.

But to my surprise, an eBay seller had one bottle up for auction. But the starting price was a hefty $60. I offered $65, but was outbid by $1 at the last second. Damn. Shortly thereafter, another bottle went up on eBay for $60. Vowing not to be defeated again, I  pounced with a winning bid of $71.37 at the buzzer. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. But with a beer this rich with chocolate, coffee and toffee flavors, I’m glad I don’t have to wait until next April.—JM

Too legit to sip

Not into illicit beer smuggling? Try these tasty neighbor-state suds you can buy on the up-and-up.

Wisconsin The Badger State’s brewing history is legendary, but we put Middleton’s Capital Brewing Company at the top of Wisco’s beer heap. Anytime we see its Maibock (light, frothy head and a slightly fruity body) or Wisconsin Amber (amber in color and malty in taste) on the store shelves, we just have to grab a six-pack. Or three. $7.99 for a six-pack of  Wisconsin Amber at Trader Joe’s (locations throughout the city, traderjoes.com).

Michigan With a lofty mission statement (“Art in Fermented Form”) and a literary line of beers (i.e., “Ichabod, the Poet”), New Holland Brewing Company has a well-deserved rep for creating some of the state’s finest ales. Our favorite is the dry-hopped Mad Hatter IPA that wows you with its strong hops, from first sniff to the bitter end. $8.49 for a six-pack of Mad Hatter at Whole Foods (locations throughout the city, wholefoodsmarket.com).

Indiana Although its shelf life is waning as fall approaches, Three Floyds Gumballhead summer wheat has got to be the perfect hot-weather brew. Its malty profile doesn’t come across as sickeningly sweet like most wheat beers, and it has a clean, crisp, zingy finish. $9.99 for a six-pack at West Lakeview Liquors (2156 W Addison St, 773-525-1916, wlvliquors.com).—Tim McCormick