A few times a year, Goose Island puts on an educational program called Goose U for its wholesalers and distributors ― a deep dive into the process of making its beer and how to recognize the properties and flavors of each. In June, for the first time, Goose U shifted its focus to another important aspect of beer, its relationship with food. I was invited to get an inside look at this inaugural session.
Wine pairings are common in the dining world, but beer is often pigeonholed as an accompaniment for bar food. Goose Island teamed with chef Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality to provide a new appreciation of how beer and food can work together, with the ultimate goal of a six course beer-paired dinner to round out the weekend.
The journey began on Friday at the Goose Island Fulton & Wood brewery in Chicago. Here the beer professionals invited to participate were in their element, asking probing questions about the intricacies of the brewing process (of which I was woefully ignorant) and tasting the brewers’ as yet unreleased beers. This foundational grounding in the brewery and its background and products has been a standard of the Goose U program.
From there it took a turn towards the foodie focus as chef Kahan took the reins. The Goose U students gathered in the kitchen of Publican Quality Meats with a host of acclaimed One Off chefs: Erling Wu-Bower, Cosmo Goss, Julie Wapinski, Kim Leali, and Paul Kahan himself. Gathered around the steel island, we tasted raw ingredients against some of Goose Island’s best beers as the chefs quizzed us about which flavors matched and which didn’t impress. The input, though amateur, helped steer the chefs as they planned the finale for the next day.
Saturday was filled with some of Chicago’s finest food experiences, each punctuated by a connection with beer. Sofie mimosas accompanied a delicious breakfast spread at Perennial Virant. That was followed by a trip to Green City Market, Chicago’s largest farmers’ market, with Paul Kahan and Kim Leali to find the local gems that would round out the culminating dinner. Such intimate experiences with lauded chefs are rare, and the ease with which Kahan chose an unfamiliar green as an ingredient was a reminder of his caliber.
Lunch was held at the Goose Nest, a Logan Square loft outfitted with every luxury – a bags set, vinyl records, speakers made from Goose Island barrels, multiple flavors of Black Dog gelato, and, of course, a fridge stuffed with Goose Island beer. Chef Renee Gabbert led a four course cooking demo that incorporated beer in each dish, adding another dimension to the working relationship of beer and food. Strawberry-fennel gazpacho was drizzled with Sofie; The Butcher & Larder pulled ham was cooked in Matilda for 24 hours, then added to a riff on eggs Benedict with a Matilda cheese sauce; and a Lolita float with lemon mascarpone ice cream was perfectly summer-y sweet.
Participants had a few hours of free time to rest up for the big finale: the six-course beer paired dinner that began with our ingredient tasting session. Chef Kahan and company displayed their chops, laying out a feast that embraced the flavors of the Goose Island brews. Seated on Big Star’s coveted patio, we journeyed through the dishes we had witness from ideation to market to plate.
First course was a salad made from our earlier Green City Market visit. Paired with Sofie, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale, the salad featured heirloom tomatoes, baby squash, and spicy nasturtium flowers. Shepherd’s Hope, a creamy and mild cheese, and opah bottarga, a cured fish roe, added depth to the greens and enhanced the inherent funk of the farmhouse ale.
Pasta comprised the second course. English pea anolini was served with chickpea pesto, fresh porcini mushrooms, and La Quercia prosciutto. Gillian, a Belgian style farmhouse ale brewed with strawberry, white pepper, and honey, was the paired beer and an important element of the dish. The tartness and acidity of the beer was necessary to cut the rich creaminess of the pasta, urging us to go for a sip, then a bite, then another sip.
Third course was the seafood course, paired with Halia, a farmhouse ale brewed with whole peaches and aged in wine barrels. Soft shell crab was the star of the dish, fried up and topped with mojo rojo, a red pepper sauce, and argula. Plums added a bright, summery note and brought out the flavor of their fellow stonefruit in the beer.
Next up was smoked quail brushed with a Calabrian chili glaze. Hearty Tuscan kale dotted with pancetta enhanced the smoky elements of the quail, and market-fresh strawberries lightened things up with a little sweetness. This course was paired with Matilda, a Belgian style pale ale, and the beer’s spicy notes and dry finish accented the preparation of the quail very well.
The fifth course went playful with build-your-own lamb barbacoa, paired with Lolita, a raspberry Belgian style wild ale. The toppings leaned toward the Mediterranean with Castelvetrano olives, cucumbers, and cherries, though classics like cilantro and queso fresco rounded out the choices. The lamb was rich and savory, accented perfectly with the acidity and brightness of the accompaniments. The cherries made a perfect bridge to the fruity Lolita.
We finished with a traditional tres leches cake, drizzled with cajeta, a caramel sauce, and piled high with whipped cream. Accompanied by the Four Star Pils, the soft cake was the perfect send-off into a well-earned food coma.
It was a weekend whirlwind of chefs, markets, ingredients, and lots and lots of beer. The connection between the craft of beer and the craft of cooking was revealed in every step of the Goose U program. As the beer distributors go forth from this experience better equipped to speak to chefs about that link, I leave with an elevated opinion of what beer can do for my meal, beyond the buffalo wings.
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