Signifiers

John Laffler Rolls Out the Barrel — Goose Island's Barrel-Aged Domination

A couple weekends ago, I had the chance to spend some time with Goose Island’s brewer, John Laffler. What’s special about John is that he’s specifically in charge of overseeing Goose’s incredible barrel aging program. And with Anheuser Bush’s recent investments in the company, this barrel room might be what puts Goose Island out in front — for good. 

The new space across the street from the main brewery on Fulton and Wood in Chicago’s west side is a raw, cavernous series of rooms with a stunning barrel-vaulted ceiling and crumbling brick walls. It’s a space out of Chicago’s undocumented past — the forgettable blue door reads: King Auto, Body Repair & Body Shop Inc. And this is where John nurtures each barrel into the beautiful, mysterious beer it was seemingly meant to be. John uses a mix of bourbon, oak and wine barrels to get what he wants out of each one. 

In these stacks, each barrel of Juliet, Bourbon Country Stout, Madame Rose and fruity variations of them all, flex and bulge as they grapple with the bizarre manifestations inside. On this visit, a barrel of Lolita overflowed with rasberries, coughed up with the CO2 being produced by the secondary fermentation.

Off in another, darker room, sits a separate reserve of the Bourbon County stock. Whether for the barrel itself, or alternative ingredients like rye, this is a special watch. And as you heard from Paul Schneider yesterday, Bourbon County Stout is going into year-round production.  

Afterwards, we had a few drinks up on the mezzanine inside the main brewery. Old Town Yard and the new En Passant were on tap. But also a 1/6th keg from a barrel of Pere Jacque that went long forgotten. Stuffed with pear by who-knows-who and lost in the stacks like a signed copy of The Old Man and the Sea, this brew was boozy as hell, and almost like a crazy-tart cyser. Whatever happened in that barrel along time ago, we all agreed that it could have used a watchful eye like John’s. 

Michael Kiser