This post is part of the ongoing coverage of the 2012 Beer Blogger’s Conference. For more information on the conference, check out www.beerbloggersconference.org
Walking along lake Michigan, listening to the gentle ‘tink, tink’ of sailboat masts and looking at the beautiful l blue water I had to admit something to myself. I think I’m in love…
I arrived to the pre-conference a day before the scheduled events were to take place after I saw a chance to snag an inexpensive flight out. For some, this would be inconvenient, for me this was a chance to explore a new city.
I did the things that you do in Chicago as a tourist, and I spent a ton of time on the L trains, on my feet and just taking it all in. There’s something about the city that tugs at my heart – the abundance of green spaces, the clear transit directions, and incredibly friendly people. There is a constant juxtaposition between the historical and the new, the natural and the man-made. A line of skyscrapers includes both the ornately carved marbles and granite and shimmering clean glass. Shiny, bent metal reflects the swaying trees and the green peeking out. I took a tour of the underground tunnels known as ‘pedways’ and ended up staring at a gigantic Tiffany glass dome, saw a controversial Picasso, the Clark County Assessor’s Office, The Bean and countless other places of lore.
I could live here.
My distinctly beer-free explorations were cut short by the heat wave, and I retreated to air conditioned hotel bliss for a nap.
I awoke to several tweets from Chicagoans answering my recommendations for hot dogs and beer spots, as well as one from the communicaions manager for Goose Island brewing.
@beerbabe if you want to sneak a peek into #GooseIsland – let me know, and I’ll walk you through the brewery. Otherwise, see you tomorrow!
Realizing that I would only be at the brewpub the next evening, I hopped on the L and made my way across town. On the way, I tried to think about what I knew about Goose Island. they are the makers of Matilda and Pere Jacques – two beers that I used to have my little brother pick up for me in New York and that always bring a smile to my face. For the 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference, Goose Island is sponsoring a beer dinner, as well as our transportation between Chicago and Indianapolis (from pre-conference to real conference).
In 2011 it was announced that Goose Island had been purchased by Anheuiser-Busch, which caused a bit of a stir in the craft beer community as it meant that they were no longer independent. Other than that, I didn’t know a whole lot.
What I found at the brewery surprised me. First, the entire system is a 50 barrel size. To those not sure how much that is, the third photo above is the tank where all of the boiling/mashing occurs. That’s it. Seriously. So Matilda, Sophie and the like? All pass through that one tank.
I got to sample part of their “Fulton & Wood Series” which are exclusive collaborative beers made by employees from secretaries to warehouse workers to head brewers. The Black Mission (the third of seven in the series) was brewed by two brewers and a wholesale support team member, and was designed to mimic Fig Newton cookies. There was a lovely creaminess (from a bit of lactose sugar), bready taste on top of the figs (they used black mission figs right in the beer) and it was lovely.
After warming up with this beer, we got on the topic of the A-B aquisition. I was pleasantly surprised to find out, however, that this was not the ‘evil takeover’ or overly controlling relationship that some had speculated it was. A-B serves as the financial backer and allows the brewery to grow in ways they could not grow before. Thanks to this, Goose Island now has the most barrels (the biggest barrel program) at any US brewery – over 3000, and has been able to offset their “flagship” beers (IPA and Brown) with interesting sours and other things that reflect their never-ending crativity. Now seperate from the brewpubs, the production brewery is where a lot of magic happens. However, there’s no “editorial control” from A-B’s side – they have actually helped to elevate standards for consistency, but have no plans to take over control of the brewing process or dictating what will be brewed. The A-B plant in Baldwinsville, NY was just recently certified to brew some of the Goose Island beers, giving some production capacity back to the production brewery in Chicago. The 312 will be offered in cans soon and thanks to this arrangement, there wasn’t any need to install a canning line.
The 312 (pronounced THREE-ONE-TWO not THREE TWELVE as I was gently reminded after saying it wrong) is the area code for Chicago, and is described as an Urban Wheat Ale, and is really meant to reflect Chicago itself. The skline is on the label, and the black and yellow coloration looks like a taxi cab. The taste is really easy-drinking.
As we chatted about beer and talked about the importance of staying local and creative, I began to think about Goose Island itself. In a way, the “big” guy coming in to buy it has allowed them to have the creativity to reflect their local roots. They are not going anywhere soon, and have a bright future ahead. Just like the rebirth of chicago and the juxtaposition of nature and man, the brewery is both big and small, both local and far-seeing. Absolutely worth a visit, a taste, and the respect deserving of any artisan brewery.
*Goose Island Brewing Company