Tag Archives: 3 floyds

Goose Island and the Return to Chicago

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I have a lot of fond memories of Chicago.

Longtime readers may remember that I was there back in 2012, where I went to C2E2 with my partner at the time, hung out with a few of my friends (some from Chicago, others from NYC), and tried a LOT of fantastic beers. 3 Floyd’s Arctic Panzer Wolf, the many amazing selections Revolution Brewing had and still has, and, of course, Goose Island beers. In fact, Matilda was the very first beer I had in Chicago, and was the first beer with Brettanomyces in it that I had. While it wasn’t the best Goose Island beer of the trip (That title goes to the FANTASTIC bottle of Bourbon County Bramble Rye I had), it still has a special place in my heart. Hell, I still think I have one of the bottles from that trip stashed away in the cellar.

IMG_20151113_144843-01What I didn’t quite realize at the time was that there was a very heated debate going on in the beer circles. In 2011 Goose Island announced that they would be selling their stake of the brewery to Anheuser-Busch InBev, with the remaining shares also being sold to AB InBev. Social media went, as it always does with news like this, absolutely nuts. A year after the announcement when things were starting to roll out, the web was filled with conspiracy theories and scenarios of the quality of beer taking a severe nosedive. Three years later, Goose Island has made more of a push in to the Canadian market, with the latest offering, Goose IPA, being a favourite among many.

So when Goose Island invited me on trip to Chicago in September to tour their facilities and check out the much anticipated 312 Block Party, I jumped at the chance for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve heard a lot about the block party. My local friend from Chicago, Corben, said a lot of good things about it, as well as many beer nerd friends. Secondly, I wanted to try some of the more different offerings from the brewery. So far we only have Matilda, Sophie, Pepe Nero, Honkers, and Goose IPA. All staples and mainstays. I wanted some one-offs. And finally, I wanted to see the differences found four years after a small brewery has been bought by one of the big guys.

And folks, some of you might not like hearing this, others, like me, might have known this for years, but…

They’re doing really good work in the name of better beer and the buyout has done little more than given them the tools to play around more and bring forth offerings typically found in a few bars in a single city to places all over the country. Aside from the very normal problem all breweries regardless of size have in terms of some batches not doing as well as others, there has been very little drop in terms of quality (frankly there’s been a rise) and the rate of consistency of said quality is outstanding. 

IMG_20151113_143627With no other beer is this more true than with Bourbon County Stout. Originally served as a special milestone “batch 1000” beer at their Clybourne brewpub in 1992, the beer now has a cult following among beer nerds. The Bourbon County off-shoots have an arguably even more rabid following, with crowds at the 312 Block Party running as fast as they could in the rain to get in line for a small sample of the selected limited release batches. And to be honest, after tasting the Proprietor’s Bourbon County at the event, with the gorgeous notes of Cassia and coconut water and a slightly warming creamy texture…hell, I’d run through a fire for that beer. Several fires, even.

As far as what’s changed at Goose Island since I was last there, it seems to be one of those “good kinds of problems” that I’ve been seeing a lot with breweries who are either bought or are just naturally growing. Similar to the Sam Adams brewery in Boston, Goose Island’s Fulton brewery, where the beers were mostly made, seems to be slowly transforming in to an art space for beer, allowing brewers to experiment with ideas on new brews that range from alteration on classic styles, to . The other part of the brewery is devoted to one of their best sellers, Matilda. The tanks holding Matilda are freakin’ huge, with several vertical tanks on the roof being maintained temperature-wise because head brewer Jared Jankowski and his team found that Matilda tastes better when it’s brewed in the winter.

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The real big change though, and by far one of the most impressive, is Goose Island’s Barrel House. A 133,000 square foot facility filled with full barrels in numbers so large I don’t honestly think I can accurately guess and they’re already talking about expanding the damned thing. The facility is filled with beer aging in pretty much all types of barrels you can think of (different bourbons, different wines, different tequilas…), all in varying degrees of time length and temperature. It’s a monstrous facility that really brings home the primary drive of Goose Island’s success: their ability to make rare beers combined with the actual talent it takes to make them well.

So as I’m standing in the barrel house sipping on a 2013 Gillian, a mindblowing farmhouse ale with strawberry notes and a hint of wildflowers and honey with a delicate dry finish, a world class beer to be sure…I can’t help but think “why would I ever be against a brewery, or a company that purchases a brewery, that wants to make this facility and beers like this a reality?”

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And that’s where, in the name of good beer, I have to side with Goose Island. I understand that a lot of people hate big breweries and feel that they take jobs and revenue away from smaller breweries, but this trip gave me the impression that Goose Island isn’t trying to do that as much as people suspect. While they have many quality beers as part of their regular rotation (Again, my love for Goose IPA is deep) and those are found around more and more, it’s the rare beers like Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout or the 2013 Gillian, that are very clearly the focus and frankly, there are very few breweries that are making rare beers like they are on that large of a scale. Regular beers get lost in the shuffle and there’s a lot of concern about oversaturation. Hell, go in to any liquor store (Like Chicago’s Binny’s) to see the reality of that. White Whale Beers however, the kind of beers the people line up for 5+ hours for or run at breakneck speeds through the rain for a SAMPLE…those are growing, but are less abundant. And it’s there that I think Goose Island is most comfortable.

IMG_20151113_142904The 312 Block Party was a testament to that final point, I feel. While the first night was rainy, the second night had clearer weather and was just jam-packed with folks enjoying themselves and clamouring for the beers on offer. Many didn’t care about the politics of the brewery, they were there for several reasons. The rare beers, the seasonal beers and collaborations (including the incredible Coffee Ale, brewed with Intelligentsia Coffee beans), the music, and because the block party has quite simply embedded itself in to the city. Of course there are many breweries within the city, and when you think of Chicago several come up, but one of them certainly is Goose Island and I know very few locals who aren’t excited when the Block Party comes around each year.

I’m really glad I went on this trip. Aside from getting to see my friend Corben, getting introduced to some fabulous places like the Eleven City Diner and the delightful dive the Ten Cat Tavern, and getting some serious shopping in at The Spice House (my favourite spice shop ever), it was good to see the status of a brewery that I initially had fond memories of and to see that their quality hasn’t dropped over time, but that they have been putting more focus in to higher quality beers and embracing the concept of rarity.

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Dark Lord Day, Big Freedia, and Giving the Finger to LGBT Discrimination

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As many readers who have been following this site for a while have known, LGBT representation in the craft beer world is something that is on my mind quite a bit. I adore the conversation that is currently happening surrounding women in the craft beer scene, but one of the least talked about topics has been making the sign welcoming LGBT folks a bit bigger. A select few people who read last year’s post (mainly, surprise surprise, straight white dudes) not only saw no issue with how things currently were, they didn’t seem to get that when talking about an interest group, there’s still social obstacles to get through (So the argument of “it’s just beer” is invalid. I’m not talking about the beer, I’m talking about the group of people that drink and enjoy it). An example I gave on what would be great to see more of are the amazing gestures of inclusivity by breweries that not only show acceptance, but also support for LGBT folks. Two examples that sprung to mind in the post were Sam Adams backing out of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade after the parade announced the exclusion of LGBT marchers, and BrewDog creating a special beer to protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.

Well, I’m happy to find that I can now put Munster, Indiana brewery 3 Floyds on that list of breweries who are Doing It Right.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dark Lord Day, it is arguably one of the biggest brewery events in the U.S. An entire festival, with music, beer, and fantastic food that is the only day you can acquire 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Tickets sell out almost instantly and for weeks until the event they are regarded by some as a kind of currency. Despite how good the beer is, it’s safe to say Dark Lord Day is a pretty big deal. Additionally, if you follow the news, you’ll know that 3 Floyds’ home state of Indiana is currently under some controversy with the recently put in Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act which, among many things, will allow Indiana businesses to refuse service to LGBT folks on the grounds that it would be against their faith (I know, I know).

So with that in mind, 3 Floyds, who adore the many wonderful people in their home state and hate seeing what is essentially a bullshit law tarnish the state in the eyes of the world, decided to give the finger to Indiana politics in the only way that made sense to them.

They called up the infamous and openly gay New Orleans “Queen of Bounce” Big Freedia to be a special musical guest for Dark Lord Day.

When news of the Fuse television star’s performance being part of Dark Lord Day’s protest against Indiana’s discrimination laws got out, the response from the beer community was overwhelmingly positive. “It’s been awesome!” Big Freedia says to me in a phone interview. Lots of energy, lots of love, and lots of supporters.” Not surprising, as the idea of the event becoming a sort of protest came about through 3 Floyds’ many fans, who wanted the brewery to make a stand.

Along with the performance at tomorrow’s event (accompanied by Freedia’s Divas), the folks at 3 Floyds worked to craft Big Freedia Ale, a Pink Daiquiri Belgian Ale. “They called me and wanted to know a few things like what flavour I wanted, and I think I picked Strawberry.” Freedia said. “Its just exciting to be on the beer and have something named after you. I’m excited to try it!”

This kind of gesture on 3 Floyds’ part is pretty amazing. In the small picture, it will show the many visitors that come by for Dark Lord Day that not all of Indiana’s fine citizens are for Gov. Mike Pence bringing in this “religious freedom” law. In the bigger picture, the publicity and overwhelmingly overt public advocacy for the rights of the LGBT community may inspire other breweries (and companies) to lift up their welcome sign a bit higher as well.

“Everything has a reason and a purpose.” Big Freedia says. “And I think that it definitely will help open some doors in different ways. I definitely think good will come out of it all.

Big Freedia’s show “Queen of Bounce” can be seen on the Fuse channel Wednesdays at 11/10 Central. Her memoirs, titled “God Save the Queen Diva” will hit shelves on July 15th and is available for pre-order. While a new album is slated for release in the Fall, Big Freedia has recently collaborated with LA-based Lazerdisk on a remix of “‘Ol Lady”.

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Chicago: One Hell of a Town

I have returned alive and well from the Windy City! C2E2 was a blast, seeing friends from both Chicago and all over the country was a thrill and walking all over that city was just perfect.

But you’re reading a beer blog. You don’t want to hear about a comic convention and walking around Lincoln Park with my boyfriend. You want to hear about the beer. And so I’ll talk about that.

What a freakin’ town.

Didn’t quite know what to think about it before I went. I kept hearing things like “the Chicago beer scene is just starting to come alive” but I think that’s a lot of hooey. It might be exploding a bit more, but this struck me as a town that’s been used to having craft beer in their lives for a while. Even in the crappiest of bars there was at least a few Belgian styles and a decent IPA.

But jeez, the fantastic beers. And the breweries in and around Chicago! The heavy metal inspired 3 Floyds Arctic Panzer, Revolution Brewing’s Working Woman Brown Ale (which will be part of my fond memories for a very long time) and of course the many amazing beers from Goose Island, which has been operating in Chicago for nearly 25 years and produced interesting drinks like Pepe Nero, made with Peppercorns and Bramble Rye Bourban County, the fantastic imperial stout with the unmistakeable and amazing taste of raspberries and blackberries (pictured above)? Yum. But my heart will always go to my first Goose Island beer, Matilda, a Belgian-style made with a special yeast strain that allows it to be aged for up to five years (if you can wait that long).

And of course, the places and the people are always going to be a factor. We had the pleasure of joining the company with Corben, our Man in Chicago, along with some friends from New York. We went to a FANTASTIC pub with a diverse beer menu called the Map Room where the owner gave me a free pint of Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (on CASK!) for free as a welcome to Chicago and a thank you for coming here (thanks for the suggestion again, Sam from Sawdust City Brewery!). It was there too that I think I fell in love with a little beer called Dragon’s Milk, by New Holland Brewing Company in Michigan. An incredible imperial stout with hints of oak, caramel and vanilla. This definitely became the favourite for me, and I had a few. Later we went to the Bad Apple, a place with a huge beer list and probably one of the best burgers I’ve eaten (and deep fried…cheese curds. Which were surprisingly delicious). I had an “El Chupacabra” burger, which apparently contained goat bits and a Dogfish Head Noble Rot, which was probably the closest to wine a beer has reached for me. Delicious.

Illustrator and comic creator Sarah Becan met up with us and we went to the AMAZING brewpub put on by Revolution Brewing, where I fell in love with the Working Woman Brown Ale. Seriously, please send me some of that stuff. Just perfectly balanced between the hops and malts making for one rough and yet comforting drink. Plus if you’re a woman you feel like a bit of a badass drinking it (Just sayin’).

And on our final night in Chicago Corben took us to Bangers & Lace and we had an amazing time! The guys working the bar were AMAZING and passionate about beer and we found a lot of beers we had put on a list of “beers we want but will most likely never drink”.

Like Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew. Seen on the first episode of Brew Masters and made specially for the rerelease of the famous Miles Davis album, I never thought I would have this fusion beer of an imperial stout combined with a beer made with honey and gesho. But boy, I had it and…MAN. Having Bitches Brew on my iPod while having my first few sips really completed my experience.

And Hitachino‘s 3 Days Beer from Japan, with THIS amazing story behind it:

“March 11, 2011 14:46, a huge earthquake struck Japan and with it our brewery. Some parts of the brewery house were damaged and the brewing tanks were left leaning at an angle. Completion of the typical mashing period had to be extended to three days until electricity to the brewery was restored. Natural fermentation had already started in the mash tank during these three days with lactic acid culture in our brewery. This “3 DAYS” beer is limited to only 8,000 bottles.”

8,000 bottles. And I was lucky enough to have one. Delicious. Strong taste of Pears which made it very refreshing.

But CHICAGO. Jeez. I can’t tell you just how much I loved that city. To all the people who led us around and gave good company, Melissa, Dowell, Nick, Amy, Sarah Becan, Mike Rooth and ESPECIALLY the amazing Corben, THANK YOU SO MUCH for showing this weird but enthusiastic Canadian gal a good time on her first visit to Chicago.

And now to figure out when I’m going back.

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