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The most disruptive brewery in America?

I didn’t take long for me to abandon my plan for posts specifically related to “beer from a place” — whatever that means — each Wednesday.

Instead, a link and something for you to think about.

At the conclusion of a thoughtful post about how Goose Island Beer Co. has and has not changed since AB InBev bought the brewery in 2011 Jeff Alworth suggests, “But the truth is that the most disruptive brewery in America right now is Goose Island.”

Whoa! That’s a Truth with a capital T if it is The Truth.

Got me shaking my head.


Upon further review, the beers he is writing about do come from a specific place — the Fulton Street brewery — do reflect that place, and are the result of what I am choosing to call post-industrial brewing.

The tribute beer we need in 2013

My, time flies, and faster the older you get. Back in 1997, my wife, Daria Labinsky, and I wrote a story that appeared in All About Beer magazine in the early days of 1998. It was called “The Class of ’88” and examined several brewpubs that opened ten years before and their influence.

Now Deschutes Brewery, one of those featured in 1998, has announced it will collaborate with four other breweries that opened in 1988 to create commemorative beers to celebrate their shared 25th anniversary.

So it’s been 15 years since we wrote that story about places that were 10 years old. (That’s what I mean about time.) It may be a little dated, but I added it to the archives here. And not only because it provides an excuse to repeat a great quote from the late Greg Noonan:

“When the homebrewers stop entering the profession, and the backyard breweries are squeezed out, then it will become stagnant. You gotta keep getting the guys who say, ‘Cool, I can sell the beer I make. I can do it.’ ”

You may not know you miss Greg Noonan, but you do.

Anyway, the skinny for the Deschutes press release:

Brewery Partners: North Coast Brewing Company (Ft. Bragg, CA) & Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)
Beer Style: Barley Wine
Planned Release Date: March 2013

Story: In the same year these breweries were born, renowned beer connoisseur Fred Eckhardt published The Essentials of Beer Style which included a barley wine style guideline which will provide the basis for this collaboration. All three versions of the barley wines that will result from this unique collaboration will be packaged in 22-ounce and 750 ml bottles, plus draft.

Brewery Partner: Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, OH)
Beer Style: Smoked Imperial Porter
Planned Release Date: May 2013

Story: Building on a history of great porters – Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Edmund Fitzgerald and Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter – this Smoked Imperial Porter promises to be exceptional. Both beer versions will be available for a limited time in 22-ounce bottles and draft.

Brewery Partner: Goose Island Beer Company (Chicago, IL)
Beer Style: Belgian-Style Strong Golden Ale
Planned Release Date: Q4 2013

Story: Brewers and owners are still working out the details on this beer, which they plan to brew with Riesling juice and Pinot Noir grapes. It will be aged in barrels that previously held Muscat wine in them for 10 years. Again, each brewery will produce its own version of the brew in bottles and draft.

I’ll buy those beers.

But — attn. anybody at Wynkoop Brewing (Marty Jones, Andy Brown, and even Colorado governor John Hickenlooper) or Vermont Pub & Brewery (and that could include you, John Kimmich or Peter Egleston) — the commemorative 25th anniversary beer I want to drink in 2013 is the one that Russell Schehrer and Greg Noonan could have, should have, would have brewed together.

Barrels II: What’s the point?

Continuing last week’s discourse about barrel-aged beers the thought occurred to me I hadn’t bothered to mention why we even care. It’s not the the story behind any of these beers that matters first, but what’s in the glass. Some you would call spectacular, but there’s good reason to appreciate beers that gain extra complexity, nuance, structure, texture, etc. from wood without romping directly to spectacular.

You can’t polish a turd

If you’re not familiar with this term from my Midwestern youth you can probably figure out the meaning. Barrel-aging does not make a bad beer good. It does not necessarily make a good beer better, and may even make it worse.

Case in point: A few months after Goose Island introduced Bourbon County Stout in 1995 we were at Abita’s brewpub in Abita Springs, La., and they had Dickel Dog on tap (a draft-only experiment). It was something akin to a regular-strength brown ale aged in George Dickel bourbon barrels. Bourbon flavors totally overwhelmed the base beer. A beer that was likely perfectly good going into the barrel was, to my taste, no longer enjoyable.

And then there are the beers that were not particularly good going into wood . . .

So start with good beer

Think it’s chance that the two versions of Lost Abbey Angel’s Share (one from bourbon barrels, the other from brandy barrels) are the top two rated barley wines at Rate Beer? Or perhaps that the beers that went into the barrels were pretty exceptional.

BrewDog ParadoxAnother example would be Paradox from Scottish micro BrewDog. First shipments of BrewDog beers are due in the U.S. at the end of the month.

In less than a year BrewDog has grabbed attention for beers across the spectrum — both malt- and hop-centric &#151 and a certain attitude. “They’d be comfortable in San Diego,” one British judge at the Great American Beer Festival said.

For instance, the label for Punk IPA reads, “It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate the depth, character and quality of this premium craft brewed beer.” And, “Just back back to drinking your mass marketed, bland, cheaply made watered down lager, and close the door behind you.”

To create Paradox, founders James Watt and Martin Dickie age a strong stout (Rip Tide, not quite a strong at 8% abv, won “Best Imperial Stout” in the Beers of the World competition) in whisky casks from Duncan Taylor.

The beers spend four to six months in wood. “Some types of casks instill the flavors quicker than others, we constantly monitor them and decide when they are ready,” Watt explained via e-mail. The version I had was aged in Islay casks, and some drinkers may find the intense blast of smoke, peat and even a bit of iodine startling when compared to beer from bourbon barrels.

But if you like distinctive Scotch whisky such as Laphroaig or Ardbeg then you’ll find that the stout rounds the whisky flavors left in the barrels and vice versa, creating something altogether new.

Finding balance (with wood)

So you see it can take a beer of some heft to stand up to the intensity of barrels that once held spirits. That’s not the direction every brewer chooses to go. For instance, Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing near Boston lets barrels that once held bourbon dry out, then dehydrates them to avoid an impression of “heat” that can come with spirits.

Anyway, the DRAFT and Imbibe stories were about how brewers are finding flavors never previously associated with beer and there’s no need to repeat all of that here.

Instead a little more from Matt Trevisan, the winemaker at Linne Calodo Winery who helped set the blends for Firestone 10 and Firestone 11, because it’s a chance to look down another road available to brewers.

Trevisan was discussing how tannins from wood add to mouthfeel and the decisions that go into choosing a level of toast (that’s barrel talk) when he explained the idea of “dressing up the wine.”

Three months in wood will do that. “It jumps out of the mouth, the aromatics at the start and the impression at the finish,” he said. “It’s shorter in structure, but it jumps.”

That changes after six months in a barrel. “You’ll think that you’ve over-oaked it,” he said. “Then by 12 to 15 months it will integrate and soften. The impression of wood won’t be as strong.”

A lot to learn.

Hops, eggs, Goose Island, and organic

Bird's nest in hops

Sierra and I made a home school field trip yesterday to check out a small operation a few hours to the north, virtually on the banks of the Rio Grande, where a couple of guys are growing all manner of organic foods at 5,800 feet.

Included are many varieties of hops, most of them apparently native to New Mexico. That’s a story I’ll be digging into, but that’s another day.

This was a fascinating lesson in biodiversity. For instance, all kinds of flycatchers and birds use the hopyard trellis (built with wood reclaimed from a mountain fire) as a hunting platform for insects.

Thus the picture at the top. Birds have built a nest in some of the thicker hop bines (in this case Cascades). It made me think of a recipe Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall provided more than 10 years ago when we were compiling the Brewpub Cookbook for Time Life Books.

Hall suggests burying the eggs used in the recipe in a container of Cascade hops for three to dive days. Because eggs are porous, he said, they will breathe the piney aromas and it will perfume the eggs.

Let’s hope the eggs in this picture hatch. Then maybe some day a resident of the Embudo area will have a bird fly close and think: “I’m not sure why, but I seem to crave a hoppy pale ale.”

When a ‘hot’ chef grabs a beer

Food & Wine magazine gives a nice nod to beer in its current issue (the story even gets promoted on the cover): Great Beer From Around the World Meets its Food Match.

The article is pegged to the fact that one of the country’s “genius” chefs – Paul Kahan – plans to open a beer-friendly “gastropub” in Chicago, and tells you something you probably already know:

The new restaurant exemplifies one of the less discussed (but no less excellent) developments in American gastronomy: Beer, at least good beer, is finally getting its due. Craft beer is now the fastest-growing part of the alcohol industry in the United States, outpacing sales of wine and hard liquor. . . .

Restaurants that offer good food, great beer and modest environs have become another conspicuous trend -vno secret to anyone who’s tried to get a table on a Saturday night at New York City’s top gastropub, the Spotted Pig. In fact, sophisticated diners across the country are choosing to eat in more casual settings.

OK, you might not have known about the Spotted Pig, but the point is that beer often makes a better match for food than wine, and that often diners prefer a casual setting.

Of course, it is encouraging when the chef doesn’t just have his eyes on the latest trend, but truly likes beer. So what beer is Kahan drinking in the story? Pere Jacques from Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co.

Everything is readable online, including recipes, such as one for Beer-Braised Chicken Stew with Fava Beans and Peas.

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