This time of year, Northeast Floridais host to many migrations. Birds — and snowbirds — from across the northern regions pass through as they make their way south to ride out the winter in warmer climes. This year, for the first time, Goose Island Beer Company is joining those treks. The lauded Migration Week celebration, held Oct. 17-21, includes several events designed to provide access to some of Goose Island’s best brews as well as a chance to meet the brewers themselves.
The idea for Goose Island was born in the late ’80s when founder John Hall visited Europe.
“My flight was delayed and I was flipping through the flight magazine,” Hall wrote in a press release. “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 to bring those handcrafted qualities to the beer drinkers of Chicago, his hometown. He opened Clybourn Avenue Brewpub, serving fresh, handcrafted beer to denizens of the city’s Lincoln Park District.
In the years since, Goose Island Beer Company has become a symbol of Chicago and its products have acquired an international reputation. In 1995, Goose Island opened its Fulton Street Brewery and, in 1999, a second brewpub opened in Wrigleyville. Even as Goose Island outgrew its original location, the Clybourn Brewpub continued to be a place for invention and experimentation.
Over the years, the brewery became a bastion of craft beer innovation. In 1992, Goose Island pioneered the barrel-aging process by filling first-use bourbon barrels with its brews. Brewers chose only barrels that held sweet whiskey for an average of eight years, then aged the beer in the casks for months, up to a year. This process took place in a non-climate-controlled space, allowing exposure to the extreme heat and cold of Chicago’s climate, which contracts and expands the wood, pulling the barrel’s whiskey character into the brew.
Eventually, in 2004, this barrel-aging program gave rise to one of Goose Island’s most coveted brews: Bourbon County Brand Stout. Its annual release, along with its varietals, is so popular, fans line up across the country on the day after Thanksgiving — Black Friday — just to get their allotment of the heady brews. The barrel-aging program was so well-received, the brewers decided to expand, using wine barrels to produce beers aged with fresh fruits and inoculated with wild yeast. The resulting brews are called Sour Sisters: Sofie, Juliet, Lolita, Madame Rose, Gillian and Halia.
Locally, Migration Week events include a beer dinner, a pub crawl in Riverside, an educational series plus a screening of Grit & Grain: The Story of Bourbon County Stout, a documentary about the method of brewing the stout, at Sun-Ray Cinema. Sisters Night at the Beach features tastings of each Sour Sisters. Details are still being worked out, but watch Folio Weekly Magazine’s Pint-Sized Facebook page (facebook.com/foliopintsized) for updates.