Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Barrels of Flavor: Goose Island’s Bourbon County Line Returns and Expands

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Bourbon and beer. They’re awesome, bold and delicious. Put them together, and you get something strong yet flavorful. Case in point, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. Released November 29, Bourbon County Brand Stout, Coffee Stout and three new additions to the BCS family (Backyard Rye, Proprietor’s and Barleywine) hit Chicago’s liquor stores where they will remain for a limited time only. Goose Island Brewmaster Brett Porter gave Newcity some insight on the craft and characteristics of the beer.

What’s the flavor profile on Bourbon County?
If you sat down with a sheet of paper and wrote down all the different flavors, you could probably fill a page with it. People taste cherry, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, people taste burnt wood… people taste hot alcohol flavors, a distinct bourbon flavor. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stout Blowout/Small Bar

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Here in Chicago, winter months are meant for drinking a beer that’ll stick to your ribs. A tall pint of stout as dark as the 5pm sky and a head of chocolate frosting foam will nourish the heart and warm the soul against biting winds and seasonal captivity. Small Bar on Division is getting a jump on welcoming winter’s tonic with a Stout Blowout—an event featuring more than a dozen different thick and frothy brews. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brewing Cycle: Cross-country beer-blogging bicyclists explore Chicago

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By John Greenfield

“What advice would you give someone who wants to open a brewpub?” asks David Michael earnestly, wielding a video camera, with a bike helmet hanging off his backpack. “Don’t do it,” answers Revolution Brewing’s mutton-chopped owner Josh Deth with a grin. “It’s a whole lot of work.”

Michael and his buddy Chip Snyders are currently pedaling from New York to San Francisco, stopping at as many breweries as possible. They’re filming a documentary about the trip and blogging at, and Michael is contemplating a move into the beer business. “We’re talking with brewers and employees who work intimately with craft beer and the people who consume it,” says Snyders. “We want to dig deep into the culture.”

I’ve offered to take them on a two-wheeled tour of local brewpubs and taprooms, starting with Revolution in Logan Square, where Deth has a right to grumble about his workload. He’s almost finished building out the tavern’s second floor as a special-events space with a stage for live music, dark wood accents and muscular arches that make the room look like a medieval feast hall. Meanwhile he’s planning a 35,000-square-foot production brewery at 3340 North Kedzie, slated to open in early 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

411: When Life Gives You a Sour Batch of Matilda, Make Dominique

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What happens when a carefully crafted beer is infected during fermentation? In the case of Matilda, Goose Island brewers were inspired and Chicago craft beer drinkers were intrigued. Thus, Dominique was born.

The award-winning Matilda has been a Chicago staple for years. Goose Island’s Belgian-style pale ale had always contained layers of hearty fruits and bright citrus flavors balanced with a mild bitterness and muted sweetness. It finishes with a slight-but-welcome sour tang. Greg Hall, Goose Island’s Brewmaster, released a letter to the public stating that there are “some Matilda bottles with potential sourness… (we) have issued a withdrawal from the market for the affected batches.” These batches “didn’t meet the quality standards,” Hall explains, because of lactobacillus. This uninvited guest severely transformed Matilda’s fermentation.

The Matilda goes through two fermentations: first, with classic Belgian yeasts and then re-fermented with wild yeasts essential for the pale ale to reach the elaborate but earthy Belgian flavor it is known for, especially the slightly sour finish. Brettanomyces is the wild yeast used in Matilda. Serendipitously, another wild yeast, lactobacillus, infected one particular batch, thus dramatically altering its flavor. Goose Island brewers, fascinated by the soured product, created a beer based on this lactobacillus result. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Thirty-year Thirst, Quenched

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neons2Before Goose Island was even a brewery, Quenchers Saloon was doing the “beer thing,” offering Chicagoans an impressive variety of fermented refreshments. Started in 1979, the bar is now throwing a massive thirtieth-anniversary celebration, from August 16-23. The week-long event will provide attendees with a lot of beer, and a lot of music. “We have three events that we’re focusing on,” says Steve Segel, the bar’s manager. Besides a slew of giveaways and prizes, and a possible vertical beer-tasting to be announced, there’s a bluegrass jam session Saturday afternoon and a rock show on Saturday night. The rock show will include The Lovers, The Amino Acids, The Runnies and The Livers. “The Livers do a great audio video setup behind them,” says Segel. “I’ve seen a lot of shows but this really blew my mind.”

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2007: Drink

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Top 5 Cocktails
Fig and almond old-fashioned, Sepia, Peter Vestinos
Pear Nectar, Sepia, Peter Vestinos
Blue Ridge Manhattan, Violet Hour, Tobey Maloney
Citrine, Graze, Jennifer Contraveos
El Corazon with Del Maguey mezcal float, Nacional 27, Adam Seger
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 Chicago Mixologists
Adam Seger, Nacional 27
Peter Vestinos, Sepia
Jennifer Contraveos, formerly of Graze
Tobey Maloney, Violet Hour
John Kinder, MK
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 Local Brews
Hop Juice Double India Pale Ale, Two Brothers
Alpha King, Three Floyds
Pere Jacques, Goose Island
Summertime Kolsch, Goose Island
Heavy Handed IPA, Two Brothers
—Michael Nagrant

Beer at the Pier: The Chicago Beer Fest celebrates man’s greatest creation

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Beer is good.

5, 000 beer lovers attest to that today at the second annual Chicago Beer Fest at Navy Pier. Held in the airplane-hangar-sized Festival A Room, Beer Fest brings together more than fifty beer vendors—as well as four local bands—for four hours, all for just under forty bucks (tickets were $10 more for day-of sales). “Summer is beer season,” says Rick Cromer, cofounder of Beer Fest. Cromer is a native New Yorker, where the original Beer Fest was held three years ago. “The Chicago crowd is more interested in the beer—in learning about the beer,” Cromer explains. “The New York crowd is more rowdy.”

The diverse, predominately 25-40-year-old crowd in the afternoon session (an evening session was available) drifts around tall bar tables and red curtained vendor stands, elbows up and six-ounce glasses drained. Little Johnny, the band playing at the far east end of the hangar, is just loud enough to give Beer Fest a party feel without interrupting the love between connoisseur and brewmeister.
The major breweries, like Miller, and the major distributors, for beers as varied as Guinness to Pacifico, share the vast space with the imported beers and the quality, hand-crafted beers, which range from Tomos Watkin to Yesterbeer to local favorite, Goose Island. “Beer is four basic ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast,” explains Adam of Goose Island. “Yeast is our secret weapon.” He goes on. Brewmeisters, like Adam, love to talk about their craft. Several refined tasters think that craftsmanship is missing at Beer Fest. “The exhibit is lacking more vendors with a lot of education in what they’re serving,” says beer lover Towanda Robbins. “They’re like, ‘Here’s your glass—drink.’”

Which isn’t such a bad thing for many people. The crowd is social, curious and fun—there are no obvious over-indulgers. But there is an element of love missing from the vendors. Most pourers are simply pourers—rented workers in tux shirts and bow ties or young women donning the company’s paraphernalia who don’t know the difference between an ale and a pilsner. You have to work to find the love.

A personal favorite is He’Brew, “The Chosen Beer,” and its assortment of handcrafted beers, especially the hoppy, refreshing pale ale. A stout man and woman serve the throngs, their love of beer reddened into their cheeks. Behind them the poster reads, “Christ, that’s good beer.” (Robert Duffer)

The Golden Goose: How brewmaster Greg Hall makes beer soar

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By J.C. Geiger

Since the first night Greg Hall stole a Stroh´s from his father’s fridge, he’s always wanted more.

“That was what my father drank,” the Goose Island brewmaster explains. “That was back when they had the old gold-and-white label. In those early years of discovery, the easiest place for me to explore was the basement fridge. My dad always had a variety of interesting beer bottles too, but only two or three of them. I knew he wouldn’t miss much from a twenty-four pack.”

As Hall got older, the allure of the more exotic bottles grew. “I loved seeing them in the liquor store, even as a kid. Those different beers always seemed so much more interesting to me than the stacks and cases—and there was something on the label you could read about.”

Greg Hall now supplies shops with his own share of literature—over fourteen different beer labels, some boasting origin tales to rival Greek myth.

Demolition, a strong, golden beer, rose from the rubble of a nearby building teardown to reward their most intrepid regulars. Pere Jacques, a malty, fruity ale, commemorates an Abbot by the same name who allowed Hall and his team a peek at his notoriously secretive Trappist brewery. One of their newer ales, Matilda, inspired by Belgian legends and landscapes, recently took home a silver award from Seattle’s World Beer Cup.

“We’re really proud of that one,” Hall says. “It takes two different temperamental yeast strains, and requires most of our team—brewers and cellar-men—to make it happen.” In other brewing achievements, Hall’s received golds for his IPA and Hex Nut Brown Ale, and in 1998 brewed over 100 different beers in a single calendar year. These days, the work is paying off.

Last week alone Goose Island Brewery garnered mentions in both Esquire and Food & Wine magazines, as well as an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Hall’s segment involved the host assisting in the production of his own, honorary brew: ¨Conan the Red Ale.”

“He wanted it to be called Conan the Pale Ale, or Conan the Pale, Pale Ale. He’s pretty self-deprecating about his complexion,” Hall adds.

Seeing a brewmaster spotlighted on late-night television is something new to America; only since the mid-nineties has there been a real craft-beer culture to speak of. Hall sees the increase in publicity as being indicative of a national trend—one the numbers reflect.

“Last year the craft beer market grew by 9 percent. Within that market, IPAs grew by over 24 percent. That’s a ridiculous growth to have in any market. It tells us once people get those big tastes in their beers—once they have those IPA hops, they find it hard to go back. Small breweries have done for beer what Starbucks and Intelligentsia have done for coffee; you get used to that strong taste, and that cup of Folgers just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Hall cites this demand as being responsible for Chicago’s rapidly changing beer landscape. “I remember, years ago, I had a friend bragging to me about his bar. He said ‘We’ve got variety here, too. We’ve got Miller, Miller Light, Bud, Bud Light, Coors and Michelob.’ He was serious. That’s not enough now. Even bars like Bar Louie and Shaw’s Crab House, where you wouldn’t expect good craft beers, are serving a great variety now, and that’s going to continue.” 

Despite the trend in what’s being poured at local bars, in Chicago’s metropolitan area of more than ten million people, Goose Island remains one of the city’s few craft breweries. Portland, Oregon boasts more than twenty-five; even Anchorage, Alaska has five. Why is Chicago, a beer-drinkers’ city, so lacking?

“I ask myself that question almost everyday,” Hall muses. “There’s a number of reasons. The big guys don’t spend their advertising money in Portland or Alaska, they spend it here. Also, brewpubs thrive on their food business, and the expectations for food in Chicago are high. Very high.”

Building on these expectations, Hall’s currently campaigning to have Goose Island beers served in Chicago’s finest restaurants. He’s taken the lead in his own pubs by offering pairing suggestions with several dishes. Goose Island’s menu suggests an Oatmeal Stout with Campfire Pork and Beans, an IPA with jambalaya, and a Nut Brown Ale with pulled pork. He hopes his culinary ambitions are contagious.

“I don’t understand how a four-star chef will send back a whole box of shallots because the first one he pulls out is a little wilted, then turn around and sign for a palette of skunky, imported beer. The new generation of American chefs are about flavors, and with so many big flavors on the table, they’re going to need them in the glass too.”

Hall admits the wine bottle casts a long shadow in the culinary world, but has seen a recent shift in gourmet attitudes. “For example, I got a chance to visit the American Cheese Society. They told me although they still drink wine with their cheese, they actually prefer beer.” He’s not just referring to mozzarella on a deep-dish crust; Hall has held a number of gourmet-cheese pairing sessions, specifically aimed at educating the beer drinker’s palette.

“It’s true that the best wines in the world achieve a level of complexity that beer probably can’t. But beers have bigger and broader tastes than wine can hope for. Beers are less subtle, and you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate them.”

In that vein, Hall contends he’s no beer snob.

“Not at all. That’s what’s great about beer. You can wear jeans and be loud. You can stand at Navy Pier and shout over a band while you’re drinking it. You don’t have to put on a three-piece suit, and walk around sipping and talking quietly.” Likewise, he admits he doesn’t always have to drink the good stuff.        “Sometimes you’re at the Empty Bottle at 2am, and after a night of drinking IPAs and stouts you don’t want anything too heavy. You know, I might go home and grab an import or something light.”

Is there still a case of Stroh’s in the fridge? Hall laughs, and doesn’t answer.