Crafty Beer Bros invades Goose Island Brewery.
My days of craft beer blogging has led up to this very day. Here I am, a blogger from Australia standing in Chicago’s Goose Island brewhouse bar to meet the amazing brewer Dave Tohtz. I am a little nervous to say the least, but ultimately I overwhelmed with immense excitement of what is to come, for I am here to have a full ‘no holes bared’ tour of the Goose Island Brewery…. and little do I know it, but oh so much more than I could even dream of. Dave has orgainsed an afternoon for me that I would never forget, in all seriousness guys and gals…. I will NEVER forget. It all starts with a quick taster in the bar before we quickly move upstairs to the brewers private bar.
The brewers bar overlooks the brewery (or at least a small part of it) and it is here the operations staff can control and view the production throughout the brewery. It is also here that we have a taste of our second beer, I get to taste their newly released beer called Cooper Project #1. I am already a massive fan of scotch ale, especially after trying Red Hill Breweries scotch ale back on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia. But what Goose Island has done to this beer is nothing short of magical. A Bourbon Barrel aged Scotch Ale that is so smooth that you would think it is made of Teflon. Heavy notes of caramel and malt line your mouth until you fall into submission.
Dave then asks me what I would like to try next, and without drawing breath, I immediately nominate the 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout I see on Tap…… OMG can life get any better! Have I died and gone to heaven? Maybe just… as I do believe this bourbon barrel aged beer has more going on than American politics! But the beauty of this beer is that (unlike politics), I cannot taste any bullshit at all. This is pure and utter indulgence for me, I just melted into the glass and felt like I was swept away by the complexities of this perfectly balanced beer. Of course, the background of bourbon is ever so evident on the palate, but this is only the very start of the journey this beer takes you on. It’s ‘pitch black’ midnight malt, along with all the caramel and chocolate you can handle, really do leave you with a stickily sweet taste in your mouth that lingers for days. Even the glass doesn’t want to relinquish the last drop!
It is from here that the tour really kicks into full swing. Because from now on, it is all ‘High Vis’ vests and ‘Hard-Hats’ (well, for us intruders at least), as we now go down into the depths of the brewery where all the real shit happens. It is here on the brewery floor with all the brewers and production staff, do we start to see and understand the background and heart of the people that coarse through Goose Island Brewery’s veins. For this is where your favourite beer comes from, this is where awesome people like Dave spend hours upon hours perfecting that beer you hold so dearly in your hands. This is the reason I started blogging, for moments like this, finding the heart and soul behind the brand. Because once you feel the passion of the people behind the beer, it all starts making real sense in your head why your favourite beer tastes so damn good.
But then everything goes to the next level…….
This is when Dave reaches for the tap on the tank and asks me ‘So you wanna try the 2018 Bourbon County Brand Stout? ‘, I could have kissed him as I tried to calmly say ‘YES PLEASE’ …. I have my first sip and wow! It is really amazing how much cherry pops out on this, you have the wonderful chocolate and caramel too, but the cherry is so bold, like a chocolate forest cake! Dave explains that this will subside a little as it matures in the barrel. But it is here again that I have another moment of.. is this really happening? This is just too good to be true right? What are the odds that the very day Crafty Beer Bros come to do the Goose Island Brewery tour, that it coincides with the first day that next years Bourbon County Brand Stout is ready to have a taste test. This was a sign straight from the craft beer gods, that’s what it was!
It is from here we make our way across the brewery floor and into the R&D department of Goose Island Brewery. Man this little room was full of fun test batches of beer! We managed to try another two or three beers ranging from a Wild Rye through to a ‘Hippie Flip’ Lager. During this time I am trying to take photos…. plus still holding very tightly onto my ‘yet to be released’ Bourbon County Brand Stout. I can confirm to you that by this point, my excitement levels are completely through the roof. But alas, there is much more to see, so we leave the R&D room and it is off to the storage room and warehouse my friends!…
We are faced with pallets upon pallets of grain, that I am quickly told by Dave… ‘yeah, that’ll all be gone in about a week and we will have to order more’. Really!!?? I am not kidding you when I say, this was just what I could get into my shot, there was a lot of pallets! Then into the warehouse where it is was more of the same… more kegs, bottles and cans that you could ever hope to count. Oh yes, I also managed to find a small pallet of beer that really intrigued my curiosity.. a can called ‘TEST BEER’, I am still kicking myself that I didn’t grab one to keep as a souvenir! Who cares what was inside, just a really cool looking can to keep alright.
We got to meet some of the colorful characters that make up Goose Island Brewery as we make our way though the brewery. It is in Goose Island’s Chemistry Department we meet Sam Green, the guy dedicated to all the testing and measuring that goes into the chemistry of beer. Sam is just one of the Goose Island team that ensure all those bacteria’s such as brettanomyces that makes the wild and funk aspects of your farmhouse ales, wild ales and sours are all sitting at the perfect level. Because when you are playing around with these crazy strains, you better make sure all is exactly as it should be.
As our brewery tour winds it’s way to a close, one of our last stops includes the bottling line. Dave then takes us through the main downstairs bar to see some of the awesome Goose Island Brewery merchandise. It is at this point Dave pulls a bottle out of the fridge and plops it into my hands as a gift…. OMG! is the thought running through my head as I look at what I am holding in my hand. There could not be a more special gift than this, and I am humbled and feel so privileged to be a holder of such a beer… I am sure you can guess that this is not just any bottle of beer my friends.
The Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout is a ‘one off brew’ from back in 2014. It is based on their original 2010 brew for the legendary festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer in Chicago. The Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout is super rare outside of Chicago to say the least. It is a celebration of barrel aged beers. This 2014 version features a little twist of aging the stout in Rye Whiskey Barrels with a mix of Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans, and to say that I look forward to opening this with my Aussie mates back home, is an extreme understatement.
But guess what? It doesn’t end here… because, now we are off to the Goose Island barrel house across town!
I don’t think I need to say too much here apart from letting the beauty of this Barrel Warehouse speak for itself. As we walk through around 10,000 barrels of beer quietly aging away, I don’t believe I will see a barrel aging setting like this again in my lifetime. The shear magnitude of barrels in this place is mind blowing! It is a beautiful space that is complete with a functions room and a 50ft bar.
Before we go, I have to say…
I have to say at this point that Dave Tohtz is one hell of a great guy! He has taken so much of his personal time with me and really shown me every inch of what Goose Island is all about, from the culture, the people, the story, the process and of course the product.. but the list just goes on and on. And as we leave the Barrel Warehouse to hop in his car, it really feels like I am off to a bar with a friend I have known for years. He is a true gentleman and such a happy, fun and lively person.
I first met Dave about a year ago at the Goose Island Brewery Migration Event that was held in Melbourne, Australia. This is where Dave offered to take me on this amazing tour of the Goose Island Brewery (if I ever made it to Chicago) and he kept his word… and surpassed it with his generosity. He has such a big heart, and I guess this is kinda why Goose Island Brewery is so special, having people like this man working within it’s brewery walls.
Cheers to you Dave! – The Brewery tour of a lifetime.