The beer deities must be smiling at the timing: This week, Goose Island released a series of beers heretofore known as the Sisters (one of those beers hasn’t been seen since 2011, the year Goose was sold to Anheuser-Busch/InBev). In this same week, one of the country’s major independent craft breweries, Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing, was sold to Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat for the tidy sum of $100 million, prompting a mixed response (to put it mildly) that was perhaps familiar to a Goose Island employee around in the days of its 2011 sale.
Brewer and Head Cellar guy Brian Taylor is just that Goose Island employee. In fact, get this—he’s actually worked for both breweries.
Taylor was a part of Goose when they were sold to Budweiser. “As far as I’m concerned, it was great for everyone except the outsiders,” he told me. “There are plus sides to [the sale] that people will never know.”
Having seen firsthand how A-B stayed hands-off with Goose, he’s unconcerned about this week’s news, saying, “What people don’t realize is that it’s the same brewers, making the same recipes,” noting also that the unpopular Goose/AB deal had some pretty serious benefits. “We brew [Bourbon County Stout] every week. Now, we’re nonstop BCS. Before, we were nonstop 312.”
Those same benefits—additional fermentation space not stacked up with IPA and 312, along with the time to experiment a little—allowed Taylor to oversee Halia, a beer he created in memory of a friend who passed away from cancer three years ago; the name of the beer translates from Hawaiian to mean “in remembrance of a loved one.” It was during a trip to Hawaii to attend a wedding that Taylor’s friend “pretty much told me I had to add peaches” to a beer, and so that’s what happened.
Brewing off the base recipe for Goose's Sofie saison, Taylor added some amped-up amounts of ingredients like wheat to help it age properly in the wine barrels, though it started its life fermenting in stainless tanks like pretty much every beer in the world. From there he added a few tons of Michigan white peaches, while a bacteria strain known as Brettanomyces claussenii added the sour/tart/funkiness. Then it was transferred to sauvignon blanc and chardonnay wine barrels to age for the better part of a year.
All that being said, how’s the beer?
The beer pours a sparkling but hazy yellow with a pillowy white head, and pops like champagne on the palate. It smells lightly of lemon, citrus and white grape. The layering of the peaches, the Brett and the wine barrels all add up to an immensely delicate flavor—just realize that if you're looking for peach cobbler in a bottle, you’re going to be disappointed.
Instead, Halia is softly sour and tart with grassy and wheaty flavors floating around in the background along with some more citrusy, pineapple-y-ness up front, appropriate to the beer's name's origins. The finish is quite long with a nice lip-smacking pucker to it and some spicy pepper to close. If you have an acquaintance who is firmly established in the pro-wine, anti-beer camp, this may be the brew to bring them around to our side.
As you may expect, there’s some rivalry when a line of beers brewed by different guys from the same company are released to the world en masse, and there exists a gentle competition between Taylor and fellow Goose brewer Keith Gabbett, who created fellow “sister” brew Gillian. “I called up Binny’s today just to see if they were sold out,” Taylor admitted to me. (They were.)
(There is also some friendly rivalry between beer writers as well—I was planning to dig into Gillian myself until Phil Montoro at the Reader published this exhaustively awesome examination of that beer earlier this week.)
Halia can still be found around Chicago in big fancy wine bottles (which makes sense) and per the label, can be aged for up to 5 years in the bottle. Owing to Taylor’s role as Head Cellar Guy, we’ll take his word for it. But we don’t imagine many bottles will make it that far. However, Taylor tells us this beer is slated for annual release.
Want to try the beer? Goose Island is holding a tasting of Halia, Gillian, Juliet and Lolita tonight from 6-9pm at the Lincoln Park brewpub (1800 N Clybourn Ave).