Signifiers

Here Come the Lager Geeks — Goose Island's Old Town Yard

This month I got to tag along with Paul from Chitownontap.com to the first beer release from Goose Island’s new innovation center called Fulton & Wood.

The location, a new barrel aging room with enough space to make Goose Island one of the largest producers of barrel aged beers in the country, was buzzing with sheer possibility. And the guest list was a bit staggering. I’ll admit, between Michael and Louise from the Hopleaf, Pete Crowley of Haymarket, Chris and Margaret from The Beer Temple podcasts, and even the German Consulate, I felt a little underprepared for the caliber of palates in the room. But that’s the beauty of beer geek culture— in the end, we’re all there to drink and learn.

Old Town Yard was on tap. A Helles lager done in the traditional Munich style, Old Town Yard is a monument to the purity and nuance of lagers with an emphasis on pure ingredients. The Goose Island team spent a lot of time and effort working with their contacts on the ground in Germany to locate the specific hops and malts they needed to nail their recipe. In the end, it was all air-lifted back to Chicago. From there, collaborators Gavin Secchi and John Laffler got to work with the brewing.

Typically known for his big, experimental brews, John was noticeably on the spot to explain the brewing of a lager to this eager crowd. It would be easy to be cynical — AB buys Goose Island and the first thing out of the “innovation” center is a lager. But there’s a larger trend happening here in craft beer. As bigger experimental beers run their course with hop bombs and sours, a large portion of the market is swinging back towards more sessionable, traditionals flavor profiles. 

I’ve heard a lot of craft beer geeks saying things like “there’s nowhere to hide in a lager” and “sometimes doing the simple things right is harder” when they talk about these types of beers. Maybe that’s uncomfortable rationale for a craft beer market going more mainstream and losing its edge. But I think it’s people just getting comfortable with a broadening identity of what it means to be a beer geek. Lagers can look like a safe play. Agressive experimentals can look desperate. Somewhere in there are brewmasters responsible for delivering good beer that people like. 

So as for the beer itself — in his recap for The Chicagoist, Paul describes it as 

The bready, grainy, slightly caramel-sweet malt profile is balanced by a subdued earthy, spicy hop aroma. Brightly carbonated and brilliantly clear at 4.3%.

Legit. I could have enjoyed a slight bit more bitterness in the aftertaste. It came off just a hair to bready for my taste. But it was a great chance to start thinking about the nuances in a style I rarely get to enjoy with any real craft behind it. Metropolitan’s been holding it down in Chicago for some time now. As more lagers pop up on the scene, and they will, the beer geek conversation will help push this style as far as any ale. 

Michael Kiser