Just give me all of the cardamom and the chai that you have — Goose Island's next Fulton & Wood beer — Devon Ave. Pale Ale

From five gallon test batches to fifty barrel production runs, the Devon Ave. is a unique Indian Pale Ale that required tweaking, spicing, and tasting at multiple stages to get it just right. Over time, brewers develop an instinct for the right amount of hops and grain — but with spices like amchoor, cardamom, ajowan, and chai, this Fulton & Wood team from Goose was in uncharted waters. 

Goose Island’s Fulton & Wood series is more than an innovation program. Plenty of breweries this size have a section of their portfolio devoted to experimentation — enabling their brewers to take a break from the production of their popular IPAs and wheat ales. But Fulton & Wood (the literal intersection of cross-streets for the brewery) has always had a bigger goal than just the beer. It’s a chance for people from around the company — accounting, marketing, operations, maintenance — to come together with brewers and concept new beers from scratch. And regardless of how bizarre the ideas are, it’s up to the lead brewer on each team to try and do the idea justice.

The Devon Ave. was imagined by Hallie Kuenning (Accounting), Layne Frost (Master Scheduler), Eric Ponce (Brewer), Katriona Elmer and Zach Greenwood (Lab), and finally put into the hands of freshman brewer Taylor Nelson upon his arrival. Among his other production duties, working on a Fulton & Wood team was a perfect way to drop a brewer in the deep end of both innovation and teamwork. 

Devon Ave. was inspired by the flavors and aromas of the restaurants and spice markets in Chicago’s predominately Indian neighborhood on the far north side. Devon avenue is a bustling street day and night, and the smells of curry, naan, teas and candles meld together on warm Chicago afternoons when the shops doors are propped open and music trickles in and out of earshot. 

 

Making a beer that would evoke Devon Ave. could have easily fallen into a soupy mess of spices, overpowering the palette and the nose. But no one on the Goose team wanted this beer to replace an Indian dish, rather, they wanted it to accompany and accentuate the experience. Starting with a couple of homebrew test batches, the team debated and sourced the spice array that would live up to expectations, and let the qualities of a true pale ale shine through. 

An english yeast, along with Chinook and Cascade hops provide a familiar base in the aroma. And Two-Row, Victory, C-60, and a bit of Briess Smoke Malt round out the malt profile. From there, the team went shopping, scoring the Patel Brothers market on Devon Ave. This place is packed to the ceiling with commodity-sized bags of spices from back East, but even that wasn’t enough for the quantities of some ingredients needed for a production run. For the Chai, critical for flavor and aroma, the team sourced a massive order from David’s Tea in Canada. 

The majority of the spicing occurred in the whirlpool, with bags of spices hanging like a ships anchor as the wort rose to the top. Others were dumped in by the bucket, along with the aroma hopping. Later in the fermentation cellar, the team would dry-spice the beer again, with Taylor climbing the ladder to the top of the tank and stuffing in a few more bags.

 

The result is a bright, dry pale ale with some mango, thyme and mint notes, ever-so-slightly smokey, with bit of tea-like astringency in the finish. It completely leaves you wanting more, and never overpowers despite quite a fragrant nose. 

Ian Law is the designer behind the Fulton & Wood series posters. His illustration, hand-lettering, and digital skills have created some of the best artwork in beer. He’s created labels and posters for Revolution, Penrose, Goose Island and others for years. For a look at the Devon Artwork, he pointed me to Dan McAdam of Crosshair Studios, a famous silkscreen house in Chicago that most often works with bands and sells at the Flat Stock show every year. His unique multi-color screening process (sometimes using dozens of screens) creates a look only McAdam has attained in the world of poster-making. 

In his loft on Lake Street overlooking the El train, he’s already run the first two screens for Devon Ave. When I arrive, fans are pushing air through the space and he’s setting up the mechanical press for the next color. McAdam and Law work together when it’s time to get technical, collaborating to ensure color traps and alignment will work in their favor. Like any creative partnership, the line between artist and technician blurs over time. 

Bringing together the English and Indian side of things, the release party was held at The Globe Pub, Chicago’s most famous soccer bar — curry chips and pale ales all around. 

It was a tough room to get attention from with the Blackhawks going into double-overtime, but bless their hearts, brewmaster Brett Porter and Taylor tried their best to describe the nerdy details of this special pale ale to a screaming room of hockey fans pounding the bar. But there was no beer lost on this crowd — about halfway through the evening, Stewart Johnston, the accountant-turned-bar-owner turned to me as said: “we’ve gone through about 12 kegs of the stuff!” After ten years running a bar, he’s still a numbers guy. 

Michael Kiser