Craft Week in the Windy City

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

What better way to celebrate the end of a decade and close our 2019 rotations than by spending a few days in Chicago. Skyscrapers, deep-dish pizza, sports, but most importantly, amazing beer.

Hey guys, I’m Phil, I’m from Gatineau and I graduated from HEC Montreal with a Bachelor of Business Administration, specialized in accounting. I started with Labatt as a merchandiser and later as a finance intern in Montreal before starting this wonderful program. Fast-forward 4 months (already), and we’re heading to Chicago after 2 weeks of marketing in Toronto and in New York City. Craft week in Chicago was something we were all very looking forward to, and it delivered.

The Goose Island Beer Company is definitely a big name when you talk craft breweries, so it was fitting for us to learn about craft brewing from them. We started off the week at their brewery where we visited the brewhouse and the packaging lines, which are running an impressive 24/7. For those of us who were in Edmonton for our supply rotation and had the chance to visit the hop farm, it was amazing to close the loop, now seeing where the hops grown at Elk Mountain end up. If you didn’t get the chance to read about the farm, you can find the blog post here. We then proceeded to the place where we would spend the majority of our time, the Goose Island Barrel House.

The Barrel House is a huge facility used for events and training, but it also houses Goose Island’s barrel aging warehouse and facility (hence the name). It is at that facility that the renowned Bourbon County Stout comes to life, as well as other barrel aged products. While at the Barrel House, we did some beer tasting, had a chance to chat with Goose Island’s senior leadership, toured the barrel warehouse, and we even had a pizza-making class! Yes, you read that right, we were lucky enough to have the chef from the Pizza Culinary Academy give us a class on pizza dough and how you can incorporate beer in your dough. We then prepared our own pizzas and savored them with a beer pairing.

One thing that stood out during our time at Goose Island is how they embody the spirit of their home market. The brewery employs proud Chicagoans who make sure there’s a bit of that Chicago grit in every beer they produce, and they come up with products that reflect the local culture and history. Perfect examples include their famous 312, named after the Chicago area code, the Natural Villain, developed with the help of Chicago band Twin Peaks for Pitchfork Music Festival, and the Born + Raised, a limited release Chicago style ale with tap handles painted by local artists. A great story which shows that local and familiar touch is Jonny’s story. Jonny, a long-time employee, recently emerged victorious from a grueling battle with cancer, during which he lost his ability to taste many flavours, at the exception of two: cinnamon and mango. Following his recovery, Jonny, with the help of the brewing team, developed a recipe for a cinnamon and mango hazy IPA, the Lost Palate. Like Jonny says, “this beer pays tribute to the flavours that were never lost”!

To finish craft week, we headed North in Michigan to visit Virtue Cider for a very different type of operation than what we had seen so far. We sampled a lot of different ciders, all of them very different and unique, and got to see the small scale and very manual process of making those ciders. We had a great lunch while chatting with the employees before we headed back to Chicago. Let’s just say that the bus ride was a lot of fun!

And that is how we closed up the first half (and a bit more) of our GMT program before going back to our respective homes for the Holidays with friends and family. Chicago was an absolute blast! Time is flying by, but we are enjoying every moment of this incredible experience.