Stepping inside the Goose Island Beer Co.'s Fulton Street brewery, which lies on the outskirts of Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, I was struck by the sweet, bready aroma that saturated the warm, humid air. The heat was intense—the brewery runs 24/7 to meet demand—but the smell was welcoming. Goose Island's communications manager, Mark Mahoney, was leading the way; he had invited me to visit for a rare private tour of the facility, which is not typically open to the public.
Ever since the company's sale last year to Anheuser-Busch InBev, the site has taken on new meaning—as much for the company itself as among the craft-beer enthusiasts who have long admired Goose Island's ambitious lineup of brews. Production of Goose Island's more widely consumed beers like 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Honker's Ale has been moved to two other A-B breweries, both in the Northeast, allowing Fulton Street to focus on Goose's Vintage Ales and Bourbon County lines and, more recently, the brewery's experimental one-off projects known as the Fulton & Wood series. If the Goose Island Beer Co. has a spiritual center, then this building is surely it.
Mahoney introduced me to Claudia Jendron, one of several young and talented brewers who work at the brewery on Fulton Street (being a female brewer, she goes by the much-more-fun-to-say title of "brewster"). Jendron recently collaborated with two other brewers on En Passant, a Fulton & Wood series beer that took inspiration from the Old Fashioned cocktail. The limited release was flavored with blood orange during fermentation to give the English mild rye ale a potent citrus zest.
Brewers have been given free rein to take chances with these projects, which are distributed primarily in Chicago and disappear once the last pint is drunk. Jendron accompanied us on my tour, which winded its way through the towering facility and even crossed Fulton Street, in order to pay a visit to the heart of Goose Island's burgeoning barrel-aged beer program—which, after a big recent expansion, is now the biggest in America.