Serious Eats: Chicago
A Pint With: Greg Hall, Goose Island Beer Company
Greg Hall of Goose Island Beer Company makes beers that are delicious on their own and even more brilliant with food. We caught up with him to chat about his exciting new sour beer releases, his favorite beer-and-food pairings, and his thoughts on where craft beer is heading.
Name: Greg Hall
Occupation: Brewmaster, Goose Island Beer Co.
Your father started Goose Island—did you always know you wanted to be the brewmaster? I started as a "helper" to our original brewer, Victor Ecimovich. I worked about 60 hours a week at minimum wage the first couple years until I went to Siebel, a brewing school based in Chicago since 1900. I rode my bicycle to Siebel. My classmates came from Boston, California, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, all over the world.
How has Goose Island changed over the years? Do you think Americans' taste for beer is changing? We really have moved a lot of focus to our Belgian style beers, the beers that work so well with food. The new revolution is at the table. America's drinkers have it better than anyone in the world, with access to so many great local and international beers, and they have responded by demanding more flavor in beer, more styles. When the drinker wants better beer, the retailers respond. It's great to see so many bars and now restaurants devoting themselves to pouring the best beers they can find.
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We love your Belgian series—can you tell us the story behind the Matilda? I've had the pleasure of visiting Belgium over a dozen times, and enjoyed many of my favorite beers at the brewery. One of my favorites has always been Orval, and when I visited the Abbaye Orval, I heard the story of Matilda, a Tuscan countess who lost her ring in the fountain behind the original church. After the ring was returned by a trout she gave a lot of money to the Abbaye. The Matilda Fountain is still there, and I was so taken with the story we decided to name our beer after her. We were one of the first American brewers to ferment with a wild yeast called brettanomyces; that is what makes Matilda so unique.
What are the challenges and benefits of brewing in Chicago? I love being an urban brewer and wouldn't have it any other way. Being right in the middle of a world class city, with all the culture, restaurants, bars and music is a daily thrill. That being said, when I visit other breweries and hear the just bought another 10 acres to expand, I just shake my head. We are surrounded by business, including our friends at Intelligentsia Coffee, and have no room to expand our footprint, so we have to be a lot more creative with adding capacity.
We know it's hard to choose, but if you had to pick a favorite Goose Island beer, what would it be? Of course I love them all; if I stop loving them I stop brewing them. That being said, Honkers has been our flagship in Chicago since 1988, so it's special. And now we have a Saison called Sofie, which is named after my daughter. Like his sister, my son Henry gets a beer for their tenth birthday. "King Henry" will be a barleywine. So I guess they would have to be about as special as anything.
How do you get inspired to create new recipes? Can you tell us about the new beers you'll be releasing this year? We heard a rumor about a few sours... Everywhere I go I search out local brewers and ask bartenders what is new and what are their favorites. It's nice having a world class beer store across the street from our brewpub too. We have an innovation team that comes up with lots of great ideas, including our first sour beer, Juliet. That was Matt Lincoln's idea; he's now a head brewer on the West Coast. We started out with his recipe using marionberries, but switched to more local blackberries. Now we have three other sours about to hatch. Fleur is a Belgian Pale brewed with hibiscus, then blended with more hibiscus that has been fermented with kombucha cultures. It's wild, great with spicy food. Then we have Lolita, a framboise brewed with local grower Mick Klug's raspberries. We just won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup with Lolita. Madame Rose is a kriek, a strong brown ale barrel fermented with Schaerbeek cherries grown just for us by Peter Klein, another friendly Michigan fruit man. It's a very exciting year!
What is your favorite Goose Island beer and food pairing? I love beer with food, but I feel extra strongly about beer and cheese. It's such a better match than wine. I've been doing beer and cheese classes in Chicago for over 10 years, and now do a monthly class at Murray's Cheese on Bleecker in New York. Some of my favorite matches are Matilda with Winnimere by Jasper Hill; IPA with a big salty blue from Rogue Creamery; our Harvest Ale with Pleasant Ridge Reserve; and Sofie with Sofia, a goat cheese from Judy Schad at Capriole in Indiana.
When you're not drinking Goose Island, what do you drink? Do you have any favorite beers that you think all beer lovers should try? I've always been a big fan of everything Sierra Nevada brews. They own hops, but they never get out of balance. Love Garrett Oliver's new beers from Brooklyn, especially Local One and his hoppy weizen collaboration with Schneider, as well as Black Ops. The stuff Rob Tod does at Allagash in Maine is great too. Plus, I love so many English and Belgian Ales. There is more good beer than ever.
You're part of the Craft Brewers Alliance (along with Redhook, Widmer Brothers, and Kona Brewing.) What does that entail, exactly? What is the Craft Brewers Alliance's relationship with AB-InBev? We are all leaders in our own regions, and learn a lot from each other. They represent us on the West Coast and we do the same in the Midwest. AB has an investment in CBA and we have a distribution agreement with AB.
Where do you see Goose Island in the next five years? Sour is the new hoppy; we will have more sour beers. Vintage beers will be everywhere. Beer and food matches will no longer be a novelty, it will be as common as wine and food. We are currently working with two very successful chefs on collaborative beers, we will continue to lead on food friendly beers. Hopefully we will continue to grow and make people happy.