Visited on: Tuesday 19th June 2018
Goose Island is arguably the most well-known of the pioneer breweries that gestated into the current “craft” beer movement in the USA. The story starts around 1988 when John Hall from Chicago took a European trip. He was amazed by the variety and quality of the beers he tasted and thought “America deserves some damn fine beer like this, too”.
The brew-pub we are visiting today was the original establishment where John would invite customers to observe the brewing progress. It was an instant success and there was an enormous demand for bottles and cans.
So, in 1995 he opened a production brewery in the Near West Side area in Fulton Street. This facility supplied all of the packaged beers and supplemented the Clybourn brew-pub. It was not a public brewery and it was a long time until it was possible to get a beer there.
Another brew pub was opened in 1999 at Wrigleyville in the shadow of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball side. In 2004 Linda and I visited the pub and lo and behold, the Cubs were playing at home.
It was a bit manic but great fun with a terrific atmosphere. Sadly it is no longer with us as it struggled on to summer season 2015 and ultimately closed after a long-running rent dispute came to a close.
In 2006 the company came under the control of Widmer Brothers Brewery of Portland, OR., yet things continued more or less as before. The big change came when the multi-national Anhauser-Busch gained ownership in 2011. Whilst down at the grass roots level there were no great visible changes, the reason for their desire to acquire the company became clear.
It becomes clear that as in the Molson-Coors acquisition of Sharp’s Brewery of Rock, UK, the ultimate prize was a name, in that case Doom Bar, a beer that had become quite a hit with the drinking public. I guess this had more to do with the memorable name rather than the quality of the product. The difference in Chicago was that Goose Island had a good name for all of its beers based on flavour.
So now we find Goose Island is a multi-national brand brewed throughout the planet. The irony of this is that it is probably being brewed side by side with Anhauser-Busch’s other well known beers, Budweiser and Bud Lite.
It is now known as the Goose Island Beer Company. Apart from being brewed in quantity there are a number of brew-pubs. In the USA there is Philadelphia. Abroad you can find them in Monterrey, Mexico; Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China; Toronto, Canada; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and London, England.
So here we were, Linda and I, in Chicago to look at how things are now, fourteen years after we first visited, when the brewery was still in private hands and operated with a glowing reputation.
Walking in from Clybourn Avenue, we could see that the layout was different. The main bar counter is now rectangular and found in the middle of the room.
There was another counter on the right side but it was not in use so presumably is only used at busy times. It is to be found behind a rack of beer ageing in wooden barrels.
In fact this is just a fraction of the barrel-aged beer as they have a facility called the Barrel House in the Humboldt Park district which is packed full of wooden casks. This building is used for wedding receptions but is otherwise not open to the public.
The Clybourn pub was closed for around six months during 2017 for its transformation to the Brewhouse and the result is very modern yet I am sure it has atmosphere when it becomes busy. One thing that still remains is the magnificent collection of Goose Island tap handles depicting honking geese.
There was an extensive menu of beers on offer: Golden Goose (4.1%), an English Bitter; Honkers Ale (4.3%), an English Best Bitter; Lincoln Park Lager (5.5%), a Vienna lager; Old Clybourn (6.4%), a porter.
Plus Honest (6.0%), a stout; Saaz and Pepper (8.0%), a Belgian pale ale; Sofie (6.5%), a Belgian saison; Matilda (7.0%), a Belgian Golden Ale; Borrowed Time (7.5%), a double IPA, the only beer on the list that was brewed here at the Brewhouse, and Willow Street Wit (4.5%), a Belgian wheat beer.
The selection continues with Cubby Blue (4.3%), a blueberry (and other fruit) infused beer; Broyhan (5.1%), a Gose; At the Gates (7.6%), a Rauchbier; TBF (6.0%), an IPA; Next Coast (7.2%), an IPA; Dublin Stout (4.0%), an Irish dry stout; Old Man Grumpy (5.8%), an American pale ale and Goose IPA (5.9%), an IPA. Now, I have to say that a big disappointment here was the lack of a cask beer. It is normal for them to have one. A further point was that some of the beers were more gassy than you'd expect from this brewery.
Linda and I tried five of these and this is our opinions on them: Honker’s Ale is one of their original ales and we liked it. It is an English Best Bitter, so it’s no good looking for anything extreme in the taste. Then we had Goose IPA which was rich and fruity yet not particularly bitter. You could taste the malt which is quite unusual with a USA IPA.
Old Man Grumpy is described as a “dry-hopped pale ale”. The main flavour is of citrus hops but it is not overpowering. It had quite a lingering bitter after taste and we both liked it. Borrowed Time is a Double pale ale with a very bitter taste and a woody after taste. Of the beers we had this was notable as the only one brewed at the Brewhouse, the remainder were brewed at the Fulton Street brewery. Finally there was Next Coast IPA which was very smooth. It had a light bitter taste and was very good.
So, what were the conclusions from this exercise? Well seems like the beers brewed in the two Chicago breweries are more or less what they were. The beers from the brew-pubs scattered around the planet should also be quite good. However, I would stay away from anything in a bottle or can or sold on keg in non-Goose Island pub. These will be brewed in large breweries and are likely to be the opposite of “craft” beers.
Goose Island Brewhouse, 1800 North Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Tel: 312 915 0071
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11.00-23.00; Friday-Saturday 11.00-24.00
The CTA Subway is probably the best way to get to Goose Island Brewhouse. You can use the Red Line from downtown to North/Clybourn. Exit up to street level and go northwards on North Clybourn.
Continue to the intersection with North Sheffield Avenue and there you will find the Brewhouse.
An alternative is to catch the Brown Line northwards from the Loop to Armitage station.
Go down from the elevated platforms to the street. Go east on West Armitage Avenue for a short distance. Then turn left into North Sheffield Avenue. Continue to the junction with North Clybourn Avenue.
Cross the intersection to get to the Brewhouse on the opposite corner.