First Impressions: Goose Island Brewhouse
Craig was able to get a sneak peek of the soon-to-be-opened Goose Island Brewhouse, see the renovations, and try the beer and food.
“Everything changes and nothing stands still.” – Heraclitus
And so after a ten month wait, what was the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub has been remodeled, redone, renovated, re-envisioned, and re-purposed as the Goose Island Brewhouse. A lot has been made of some of the changes – getting rid of the old Irish-style bar being the most contentious – but have they created a more unique and fully Chicago experience, or is it more of the same?
A weird feeling crept over me as I entered the brewhouse. There was this sense of deja vu, that I had been here before, but almost everything had changed and was different. The dark browns, greens, and blacks are a thing of the past, replaced by the silvers and grays of the concrete floor and the light browns of the exposed brick and reclaimed wood. The check-in desk that was anchored to the kitchen wall is gone; in its place are two desk islands – one for checking in (facing the entrance) and one for merchandise sales (facing the wall). The mural on the wall, while very similar to the original, has been updated to include some new Goose Island improvements and statistics. Also of note is that the entrance from the parking lot is the only one now as the doors off of Willow St. are an emergency exit.
What once was dark wood, support poles, an overhang, and a comfortable bar top are now a silver, black and grey industrial bar with a concrete top and a ton of open air space. Instead of the old brass taps in the center and three tap stations around the perimeter of the bar, the center is solely where the taps reside, on either long side, connected to a long, silver U-shaped pipe. The shorter sides feature black metal compartments (currently holding growlers) and a brick wall. The open space is a nice touch but the concrete silver bar top doesn’t hide spills or condensation drops as well as the old dark wood bar did, causing me to be a little bit more careful than usual.
The tables that were opposite the bar (south of the bathrooms) are now gone, replaced by a standing-room-only area with an outcropping to put your beer on. The booths (or half booths) that were surrounding the bar are out as well, simply replaced by tables and chairs. Everything is very bright and well lit in the area – almost too much so.
The new open spaces are a welcome addition, but the coziness of the old bar will most definitely be missed. Some music from Final Fantasy VI (Devil’s Lab) was running through my head the entire time I was sitting at the bar, which really speaks to the industrial and precise nature of it.
Vintage Ale Room
Whereas the main bar has its industrial feel and bright lights, the Vintage Ale Room is the diametric opposite. Low, dim lighting, booths, wood (or faux wood) bar top, a map of Chicago (with three stars for Goose Island properties), and barrel staves give this area a distinct cosy feel missing from the main bar. Designed to allow guests to focus more on conversation than revelry, this area also has no televisions and pours only Goose Island barrel-aged beers, such as Bourbon County and the sisters (Juliet, Halia, Gillian, Lolita, and Madame Rose). You will, however, be able to order beers that are on tap at the main bar. Located to the right of the entrance, it is located behind the “show barrels” (nothing in them), immediately conveying the intention of the area.
The old brewhouse is still there, just retiled and clean up a bit. Gone is the upper level of fermenters, replaced by (for now) open space. The new brewhouse, though, has been expanded to include what once was the mezzanine and basement seating. Expanded from a 10 barrel to a 15 barrel system, this brewhouse allows guests to get up close and personal with the brewers while they are brewing, as it’s encased in glass windows, allowing you to see all the action. There’s even a “Brewing Now” sign so Brewhouse brewer Jon Naghski won’t have to tell everyone what’s going on back there!
The booths that lined the patio are now gone, replaced by rectangular tables and chairs. On the south end of the patio there are two circular tables, a functional dart board, and the original, tiled Goose Island art that once greeted patrons upon entering. Nice little area (although the circular tables are way too close to the dart board) that now has some event flexibility without the booths in there.
The Private Dining area (formerly the Siebel Room among other names) probably has changed the least. The staircase up to the mezzanine area has been replaced by glass windows that allow guests to look into the brewhouse. Posters of past Goose Island Fulton & Wood beers line the wall, while the whole area exudes a more intimate dining experience than the previous, mess hall vibe from before. Tables and chairs llitter the room, which can easily be moved for events.
I was wrong. The bathrooms changed the least. The old, dark, cherry wood has been replaced by (you guessed it!) black and silver dividers and sinks. An additional bathroom (like one in the Vintage Ale room area) would have been nice, as would additional hand drying stations. (The old bar had 3; this one, 2).
You knew the Goose Island Brewpub had a kitchen, right? That food was definitely coming from somewhere, but you could never really see it. Originally tucked away behind the wall by the check-in desk, the kitchen is now out and in the open and clearly visible. Well, the prep stations aren’t, but everything else is. The whole time chef Marcus Rasmussen’s creations were constantly being brought out of that kitchen and circulated about the establishment. I was able to try the Stilton burger (with some delicious cheese sauce on top), some flatbread pizza with sausage and red onions (tasty), and a cuban sandwich (perfectly created and something I ate way too much of). But the real star of the food I had was the pecan brittle ice cream.
Recommended by head brewer Jon Naghski (and his mom), the pecan brittle ice cream was a joy to eat. With just the right amount of salty and just the right amount of sweet, this ice cream was screaming to be paired with some 2016 Bourbon County Brand Stout, which paired well, adding some bourbon, oak, and some subtle sweetness to the mix. The 2016 Bourbon County Barleywine was also on tap, so I figured why not give that a whirl. The bourbon, caramel and toffee flavors of the barleywine might actually have made a better pairing with the pecan brittle ice cream, which I was more than thrilled about. I’m hoping a BCBS float of some kind will either be available (either on the menu or by special request). It was that good.
I enjoyed going to the old Goose Clybourn brewpub and having a pint. It had that cozy and warm aesthetic that made it feel like you were in a den at home, kicking back, relaxing, and enjoying a cold one. It lent itself especially well to the Christmas season and the cold months in Chicago.
The Goose Island Brewhouse does improve upon the old one in a few ways. I like the exposed kitchen and the opening up of the main bar area. The exposed brick walkways upon entrering the main bar area do remind me of some European pubs (or ones like Novare Res in Portland, Maine stateside). But the main bar area is both harsh and uninspired, as I told someone there that I had seen this bar (or something similar) in about 10 other breweries I had been to. I always like how the original location of any successful business is usually different from the rest and is worth a trip to visit it (like McDonald’s). It kind of sad to see the birthplace of Bourbon Country turn into one that is similar to any of the other brewhouses plan to open.
That being said, I’ll still frequent it to try whatever Jon concocts. But you’ll find me in the Vintage Ale Room, enjoying a little coziness and conversation.
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