2011 GABF Interview with Brett Porter of Goose Island Beer Co.

Brett Porter, remedy the Brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Co. has had a busy tenure. He came to the company from Deschutes in late 2009 as Head Brewer. Within a couple of months co-founder and former Brewmaster Greg Hall had announced his resignation to go into the cider business and Porter found himself at the helm of one of the Midwest’s largest craft breweries. Shortly thereafter Goose Island was sold to ABInbev, and a move that drew heavy criticism from many in the beer world. It was a lot for the new guy to take on.

So far, ambulance the ABInbev merger hasn’t changed the beer coming out of Goose Island. It has allowed them to expand production of their Vintage series and invest in equipment to insure better and more consistent results in their Brettanomyces-fermented beers. Porter has instituted an intensive program of research into the workings of this “wild” yeast strain, which to me is fascinating stuff. Porter talks at length about that research in this interview, as well as about his efforts to include the entire staff of the brewery in the creative process. A warning, this one gets pretty geeky.

2011 GABF Interview with Brandon Wright of Hamburger Mary’s in Chicago

Hamburger Mary’s Brew & Grill is located in the heart of the Andersonville neighborhood (a.k.a. boystown) on Chicago’s North Side. It’s a very diverse neighborhood full of unique shops, see exotic restaurants, no rx and fun bars. It happens also to be the home of the famous Hop Leaf Belgian beer bar, ampoule which is just a few steps down the street from Mary’s.

Owner and brewer Brandon Wright is crafting some unique beers (peanut butter porter anyone?) on what is basically a large scale homebrew system. The mash and boil are handled on a ten-burner commercial stove in the prep kitchen. Wort is hauled to the fermenting cellar in buckets. He calls his brews “Mary’s homebrew.” Are the beers great? Well no, but they’re not terrible either. And the ambience of the place more than makes up for any shortcomings. The main dining room is colorful and kitchy. One might even say “Fabulous.” Two other spaces in the Mary’s complex include a sports bar and a nightclub where they do what they call “Maryoke.”

As they say at Mary’s, “Eat, Drink, and be Mary.”

GABF 2011 Interivew with Pete Crowley of Haymarket Pub & Brewery

The 2012 Great American Beer Fest (GABF) is only a few weeks away. I though I might celebrate that fact by finally posting some of the video interviews we shot at last year’s festival. I’ll kick it off with an interview with Pete Crowley, Brewmaster at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery in Chicago.

I first met Pete in 2009. I had passed the Certified Cicerone exam just a few months before and saw Cicerone Certification Program founder Ray Daniels chatting with someone across the bar at the Goose Island Clybourn Brewpub. That someone was Pete Crowley, who at the time was head brewer at the Chicago Rock Bottom. During our conversation I made the mistake of referencing “house beers” at the Rock Bottom Chain. At that time – unbeknownst to me – the Rock Bottom chain had no system-wide house beers. The brewer at each location had nearly total control of what they brewed. Having revealed my ignorance, Pete proceeded to roundly dress me down for at least 10 minutes.

Fast forward to 2011. I’m in Chicago doing a two-month theatre residency with men in a halfway house on Chicago’s West Side. I happened also to be doing brewery visits for my upcoming (at some point, I promise) Upper-Midwest Brewery Guide. Haymarket had just opened, and happened to be within walking distance of the halfway house. Needless to say, I was a frequent visitor. I had the opportunity to engage in many, more-civil conversations with Pete and to share a few beers along the way. Haymarket quickly became – along with Goose Island Clybourn – my second “Chicago office.”

Boulevard Reverb Imperial Pilsner

Anyone who knows me or has read much of my writing knows how I feel about pilsner; it’s the perfect beer. Pilsners are simple and easy-drinking enough to remain unobtrusive at times when drinking beer is more about the social event than the beer. But if you want to pay attention, sales there is a depth of complexity hiding beneath that simple surface. Take the time and make the effort. Pilsner will reward.

So why would anyone want to imperialize a pilsner? Why mess with the perfect beer? I have seldom met an imperial pilsner that I liked. Most are either too sweet or lean too much on hops. They upset the delicate balance that makes pilsner great. There was the one at the Rail House Restaurant and Brewpub in Marrinette, Wisconsin. It managed to be at once big and balanced. But the rest have all been drain pours.

So then there is was, Reverb Imperial Pilsner from Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri. The bottle was staring at me from my fridge, daring me to drink; throwing down the gauntlet to challenge my bias. This beer first appeared in 2010 as the brewery’s first collaboration. I’m told that collaborator Jean-Marie Rock – a.k.a. the guy who makes Orval – had been sitting on this recipe for quite a while. It was a collaboration specifically between him and Boulevard, not Orval. I guess when one makes only one beer time and time again, the urge arises to do something else, and an imperial pilsner was that something else.

So what was I to do? Leave the bottle sit or accept the challenge, fully expecting to be disappointed by yet another large lager? I could not let this slap in the face go unanswered. I grabbed the bottle firmly by the throat, popped the cork, and poured its suspect contents into a glass. Challenge accepted.

Here’s my notes:

Reverb Imperial Pilsner
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Imperial Pilsner
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Malt leads the way; a combination of pilsner-malt sweetness and notes of toast. Light hints of sulfur in the background. Hop character is lower than expected; floral and spicy.

Appearance: Light gold and quite hazy at first. The haze cleared as the beer warmed a bit. A large, mousse-like, cap of white foam that just wouldn’t die.

Flavor: A bit too cold on the first few sips, it came off a bit unbalance; light hops and overly bitter. A quarter of the way into the glass it suddenly became delightfully pilsner-like. The same sweet malt and toasty edges from the aroma. The bitterness is just about right to balance the amped-up imperial sweetness. Floral hop flavors ride smoothly over the top, slightly prominent, but never dominant. A hint of sulfur adds complexity. The finish is clean and crisp with lingering bitterness and floral flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. A bit viscous. Medium, but prickly carbonation.

Overall Impression: I took the challenge and the beer won. This is the most pilsner-like imperial pilsner I have ever tasted. An ABV under 8% helped. Nothing is pushed over the top. If there is one flaw it is that the malt sweetness is a touch too much. A bit more bitterness would be welcome, but not a lot.