Client: The Goose Island Beer Company
A Chicago Icon Remains Intact
For the Goose Island Beer Company it would have been as poignant as selling the house you grew up in. With the expiration of their lease at the end of this year Goose Island expected to close their brew pub on Clybourn Avenue, and another Chicago landmark would have been gone forever. The staff and customers had been notified. Plans were in place for a series of farewell parties and an auction of Clybourn memorabilia. After 20 years in the neighborhood, the Goose Island Beer Company was moving out. “The whole neighborhood was disappointed,” says Jeff Price of the Ranch Triangle Community Conservation Association. “We expected to lose a beloved neighborhood business with a Cheers-like atmosphere and end up with another sterile, cookie-cutter big box store.”
But suddenly everything has changed. Last-minute negotiations have produced an accommodation with the landlord, a new lease has been arranged and nobody is happier about it than John Hall, Goose Island’s founder and president. “I’m ecstatic,” says Hall. “I felt like I was losing a part of me. The company has grown enormously over the years, but the Clybourn location was where it all began. Everything we’ve accomplished started there, and I’ve shared a lot of pints with a lot of friends in that old building. Twenty years ago Clybourn was the Goose Island Beer Company.” .
In the years since the Clybourn brewpub opened, the Goose Island Beer Company has become a symbol of Chicago and its products have acquired an international reputation. In 1995 Goose Island opened their Fulton Street Brewery and in 1999 their second brewpub opened in Wrigleyville. But even as Goose Island outgrew its original location, the Clybourn brewpub continued to be a place for innovation and experimentation. In a Tuesday night ritual attended by fiercely loyal patrons the brewpub introduced new beers on a weekly basis. The recipes for the best beers were then taken to the Fulton Street Brewery for production and distribution through out the Midwest. Goose Island products like Honker’s Ale, Nut Brown, Summertime and Christmas Ale are well-established brands now, but they all had their humble beginnings on Clybourn Avenue.
“It all started in 1988,” says Hall. “My flight was delayed and I was flipping through the flight magazine. I saw an article about boutique beers, and I realized that everywhere I’d been in Europe I encountered distinctive local beers, but we had nothing like that in Chicago. Chicagoans drank the same beers that were sold everywhere else in the country.”
Hall decided that Chicago was ready for locally-crafted specialty beers. So on Friday, May 13, 1988, the Clybourn Avenue brewpub opened its doors and introduced Chicagoans to a renaissance of brewing in their city. (Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time the building had a role in Chicago brewing – it was originally built, back in the 1890s, as a factory for brewing equipment.) Hall challenged his customers with new beers and flavors, and he treated them to the then-novel experience of watching the brewing process happen right on site. They loved it.
Today Goose Island sells its beer in15 states and the United Kingdom. Their Chicago-brewed products have consistently received top marks at prestigious competitions such as the World Beer Awards and the Great American Beer Festival, and Goose Island has earned a reputation as a world class center of excellence in brewing. The company is also involved with the production of a small selection of craft soft drinks. They’ve come a long way.
Goose Island’s success has allowed the company to participate in community-building projects all over the Chicago area, with the company’s better-known affiliations including the Friends of the Chicago River, the Erie Neighborhood House, Ryne Sandberg’s Ryno Kid Care, the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Green City Market, Friends of Bloomingdale Trail and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. Goose Island takes a special interest in environmental issues. In addition to supporting support for Chicago environmental groups, Goose Island also provides eco-friendly services at Chicagoland festivals and events. “And we draw all of our raw materials from within a 275-mile radius,” says Hall. “Chicago is home. Of course we’d want to support local vendors and take care of the Chicago environment. We live here.”
“I’m a lucky man,” he adds. "I’m working with people I love, and I love what I do."
Hall even gets to work with is his own son, Greg, who has turned out to be an award-winning brewmaster in his own right. "I knew he’d be good at this," says John, "but it turns out that he’s even better than I’d expected. He’s absolutely great at what he does, and it’s a joy for me to watch him grow and succeed doing something that he truly loves. A father couldn’t ask for more."
Greg Hall began his brewing career in 1988, as an assistant brewer at the Clybourn brewpub. “It paid minimum wage,” Greg laughs, “Dad doesn’t play favorites. The people answering the phones made more than I did." But Greg was fascinated by his new work, and he set out to learn everything there was to know about brewing.
After graduating from Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy in 1989, Greg embarked upon an aggressive study of brewing techniques, touring craft breweries throughout the United States and traveling to Europe to learn more about Old World methods. He made more than a dozen trips to Europe to meet the master brewers of England, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic, where he developed lasting relationships. By the time the company’s bottling operation began in 1995, Greg Hall had become a full-fledged brewmaster.
The Goose Island brewery has flourished under Greg’s direction, expanding its repertoire of both draft and bottled beers. Greg brews a host of award-winning beers – including Honker’s Ale, India Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale, and Oatmeal Stout. He also spearheaded the production of Goose Island’s line of "Reserve" beers, which have been widely lauded in craft beer circles, receiving a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Greg’s Matilda beer and a gold medal at the World Beer Cup for his Bourbon County Stout.
The Halls intend to keep brewing beer in Chicago for a very long time, and Goose Island’s sales and product line continue to expand. But it all began in that old brick building on Clybourn Avenue – and it still feels like home.