story and photos by guest blogger Seanan Forbes:
"People ask me if beer is the new wine," says Greg Hall, brewmaster of Goose Island, "and I say absolutely not." He lets that hang for a moment and adds, "Craft beer is the new wine."
This may be true. It's certainly possible that craft brewers are the new rock stars. These days, it might be easier to catch Hall in an airport than in a brewpub. Recent sightings have been had in Portland, Stockholm and London. A brewer's life is a hoppy one in more than one sense.
There were also New York sightings -- plural. Hall was there for New York Craft Beer Week. Between Brewer's Choice, where he was the keynote speaker (on a Thursday) and Brewer's Bash, for which Eleven Madison Park made all of its tables disappear (on a Sunday), the brewmaster darted from Manhattan to Chicago and back again.
Hall says that craft beer's popularity has "exploded." He links this with people's rising interest in eating well. It's hard to argue against that, especially when standing in a room packed with folks downing fresh oysters, chocolate, house-smoked meats, kimchi chili and more - each item happily paired with hops - or, as Hall sees it, stouts and ales and porters "paired with food - and good food," he says. "There's not one pizza in the room."
In some cases - or kegs - thoughts of food start far from the kitchen, let alone the table. "We're doing a collaboration brew with Rick Bayless," Hall says. "We do collaboration brews with the best chefs in Chicago every month."
Maybe chefs should be bragging about that. Goose Island took its first award, for Chicago Vice Weizen, at the 1989 Great American Beer Festival. In 1992's festival, it nabbed two awards: a gold for PMD Mild and a bronze for Oatmeal Stout. Since 1994, when it left the World Beer Championships bearing one platinum and two golds, not a year has passed without Goose Island claiming a medal - at one event, two events, four . . .
If you wanted to taste the last of Chicago Island's Bourbon County Stout, a beautifully balanced, dark brew made with Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso, then you should have flown to Eleven Madison Park. The last two bottles were opened and poured there.
If you want to taste Hall's barrel-aged Madame Rose Belgian Style Ale, then you're right where you want to be: in Chicago. Madame Rose is coming out Dec. 1. (You do want to taste it. It's made with tart cherries grown especially for Goose Island at Peter Klein's Seedling Orchard in Michigan. You can't buy those cherries, but you can get other Seedling produce at Green City Market - big city; small world.)
Something's always brewing at Goose Island - but the special stuff may be out for only a month or so. If you want to know what's coming when, then bookmark the brewery's beer calendar. It's hunger-inducing reading. (What do you want to eat with your Bourbon County Vanilla Stout, while you can get it?)
2010 may be running out of time, but Goose Island isn't running out of beer.