by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
If bringing home a bottle of Goose Island feels like turning your kitchen into a friendly local bar, then there's good reason. Brewmaster Greg Hall honed his craft at the Siebel Institute, but Goose Island started small. His father founded it in 1988, as a brewpub.
"Brewpubs are great," Hall says, "because you control the process, all the way to the pint." Brewpubs also don't need to register new beers, so brewers are free experiment. Hall cites another asset: getting direct guidance and feedback. Do customers like something? Want something? The brewer can try making it. "A brewpub's a great way to start, as a brewer," he says.
In 1995, Goose Island started its second pub and began packaging. Now, the Chicago beer is in 20 states, and it's expanding . . . in more than one way.
"There's a new drinker - a whole bunch of new drinkers - out there," Social drinkers are out having fun. "When you're out having fun, you're probably drinking beer, too," Hall remarks.
About the new drinkers, he says, "They didn't used to drink craft beer, but they drink craft beers now." Goose Island makes craft and traditional brews. There's also something for "reserve beer drinkers, who are getting out of cocktails or wine, and into beer." They're not giving up wine and cocktails; they're just drinking beer, too. For them, there are Belgian style ales. (Kids don't need to feel left out. Goose Island has sodas, too.)
Drinkers aren't the only ones who are changing. Producers see the world differently. "For a long time," Hall notes, "we thought that there were beer occasions and there were wine occasions, and they were different occasions." Now, he happily sells beer at what were once seen as "wine occasions."
With summer looming, many of us are breaking out the grills. What does Hall recommend drinking with grilled foods?
"Wheat beers are nice and quenching, and even some of the Belgian styles." Goose Island's Sophie has a citrus note from orange zest Hall puts in wine barrels with the beer; that'll cut through the hottest afternoon.
"I kind of like the refreshing beers while you're grilling," Hall says. When the meat's done, "put the refreshing beers in the cooler and pull out something with a little more substance."
Hall has one rule for pairing beer and food: Match flavor intensity.
"A lot of the stuff that goes on the grill tends to have a lot of fat, so it calls for a beer that has body and malt character to match up to it." For burgers, smoked sausages, steaks and ribs, Hall says, "a typical lager isn't the best choice. While it refreshes you, it doesn't enhance the dish." The bigger Belgian ales do, as does a brown ale. You get complementary flavors, instead of just the refreshment.
Grilled salmon and crab "call for a beer that is balanced." Consider a pale Belgian ale. "You need a little bit of creaminess, a little bit of body. Rather than getting flavor from hops, which tend to mask the flavor of the food, get more flavor and spiciness from the yeast, which complements the food."
Goose Island's Fleur, a Belgian-style ale made with hibiscus and kombucha (fermented tea), has organic acid in the finish, with "that nice floral . . . a little bit of strawberry, and a soft tea-like tannin, which is very different from a hop tannin." What Hall describes as "floral, jazzy stuff" pairs well with Thai food and Indian curries, but it also enhances fresh salads - say with a few nasturtium blossoms for that peppery bite. "When you have a dish where the dominant flavor is from the herbs, rather than the protein," says Hall, "then this is a really nice match."
Don't stick your craft beer neck-deep in ice. "You would never serve a fine wine ice cold. I'm a big cellar-temperature guy," Hall remarks. "Then you can taste the beer." And the beer will make that gorgeous grass-fed steak, sizzling from the grill, even better. Now, if the weekend's promised sunshine sticks around . . .
(photo by Stephen Hamilton Photography)