The Music That Inspires Goose Island [Behind The Brewery]

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andy-1 Andy Koval
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Let’s just start off by saying that we love Goose Island. Brewing craft brewing is an art form; there are so many potential different choices of ingredients and ways to blend them together. But how does music play a role in that process? What music influences the people responsible for deciding how your beer tastes?

This week on Behind the Brewery, I talked with Todd Ahsmann, brand manager at Goose Island, to discover what he has been jamming to lately, what Goose Island and their brewers listen to on a regular basis, and to find out what artists pair well with some of Goose’s different craft beers.

Todd has been a big time music connoisseur his entire life. A self-described “music geek”, Todd began his journey with Goose Island in 1988, bartending at their new brewpub on Clybourn. The landscape of music was changing at that time and Todd got to play his own mix tapes at the brewpub. “I remember playing Nirvana, Liz Phair, a lot of local bands like Smashing Pumpkins, but you know, for a bar in 1988 to be playing that kind of stuff, it was cutting edge.” Fast-forward 25 years later, and Todd still loves new cutting edge music. Some new bands he loves are; Parquet Courts, Savages, Diarrhea Planet, Head and the Heart, and Smith Westerns.

“One of the guys in Smith Westerns actually lived across the street from my mom and would shovel her driveway in the winter.” Todd’s favorite album of all time is Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies. Check out an early live version of title track “Crazy Rhythms”.

Goose Island has had music embedded in its DNA since 1988. They really started the trend of Chicago street festivals, by creating Goose Island Fest in the early nineties. Sonic Youth , Los Lobos, and Guided By Voices have headlined it, and Wilco even performed their first ever set as Wilco, at Goose Island Fest in 1994.  The fest disbanded 10 years ago, but this year Goose Island decided to get back into the music fest arena and launched Goose Island’s Urban Block Party, featuring Tokyo Police Club and Low.

Working at Goose Island has many privileges, none bigger than the “Tap Deck” that is located right in the middle of the brewery. “We’re up there drinking beer sometimes and the brewers are just blasting music all day.” Todd says.  Each batch of beer takes roughly around 5 hours to brew, and the brewers do not like to brew in silence. Brew Master Brett Porter, likes to blare his Pixies collection on the floor and even makes his own turn tables from scratch. The variety in music played depends on which brewer is in charge on the floor. It wouldn’t be unusual to hear Grimes, Yo La Tengo, or metal on any given day at the brewery.

So what artists pair well with some different crafts of Goose Island? Here are some suggestions next time you are drinking a Goose Island from Todd.

312 Urban Wheat Ale – Hall and Oates

Back when Goose Island first put 312 into cans, they decided to make this hilarious promo video to Hall and Oates. Instead of the lyric, “You make my dreams come true” they creatively changed it to “I’m drinking a 312.” Watch their entire marketing department launch 312 cans all over the city below.

Bourbon County Stout – Yakuza

Aged in a bourbon barrel, this extremely strong beer consistently gets rated as a top stout. Since Goose Island invented the idea of aging beer in bourbon barrels, another avant-garde local band, Yazuka, fits the beer well because of their genre, described as “Improv Metal.” Check them out below.

Honker’s Ale – Mumford and Sons

Goose Island’s first beer when they opened the brewpub in 1988, Honker’s Ale, was a tribute to English-style ale of the past. The band is a fan of the 25 year old beer, which is very special to Todd. They even tweaked the formula especially for Mumford and Sons at a music festival, adding more alcohol, which they liked.

Matilda – Theophilus London

Described by Todd as “complex beer, little bit funky, little bit out of the mainstream but still accessible if you give it a chance. Same goes for rapper Theophilus London, who has been flying under the radar ever since he emerged.

Fulton and Wood Series – Ken Vandermark

Goose Island loves creativity, so once a year they give their brewers 50 barrels to make whatever beer they can think of. Hundreds of different flavors have been cultivated, even one made with Saki yeast.  Chicago local jazz hero, Ken Vandermark, pairs well with the series well because you never know his next move. Watch him perform with The Vandermark 5 below.

Green Line Pale Ale – JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound

Chicago’s own JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound go hand in hand with Green Line because they are so energetic. The beer pays homage to the city, so naturally it should pair with a fun and emerging Chicago band. Just be sure not to enjoy a Green Line on the actual Green Line, the CTA probably wouldn’t be fond of that. Enjoy this past summer’s hit, “Rouse Yourself” below.

Now you know how music has played an important role in Goose Island. I will be taking you behind another Chicagoland brewery soon, so be on the lookout. Cheers!


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