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Not A Guinness To Be Found: Goose Island Clybourn's Stout Fest Impresses

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 19, 2012 7:10PM

In addition to St. Patrick's Day, mid-March also means Goose Island Clybourn holds its annual Stout Fest. This year's edition sold out in minutes, according to pub brewer Jared Rouben. When I arrived, guests were already forming queues at each of the 25 participating breweries, while others were already sampling beers while taking advantage of the brewpub's free wifi to buy golden tickets to Three Floyds Dark Lord Day.

Goose Island continues to make a case that sometimes being part of a big beer company's corporate umbrella can be a good thing. Rouben still has a long leash to brew as he pleases, while barrel program director Tom Korder and "Director of Innovation" John Laffler have the autonomy at the brewery's Fulton Street production house to bring new twists on traditional beer styles. The Bourbon County Stout line continues to show amazing flexibility, like the Old Rye '84 BCS, aged in rye barrels. Another example of their forward thinking is "Hansel and Gretel," a Russian Imperial stout aged in Rittenhouse Rye barrels and dry-hopped with rooibos tea. "It's our take on gingerbread," Rouben said.

Stout Fest also serves as a coming out party for newer breweries, such as Pipeworks Brewing. Pipeworks' Gerrit Lewis was on hand with plenty of "End of Days" milk stout (Paul Schneider's "Beer of the Week" selection last week), as well as Jones Dog stout and Jones Dog coffee stout. Michigan's Greenbush Brewing represented itself well with its Mr. Hyde Russian imperial stout and an Irish Cream stout called "Pain."

One of the breweries that always seems to participate in the brewery events at Goose Island is Destihl Brewing, with brewpubs in Normal and Champaign. Destihl's Black Angel, an American stout with some strong hop flavor, is a favorite and worth a trip to either of their brewpubs. The Wild Onion brewpub in Lake Barrington is one of the more underrated breweries in the area. Their Jack Stout, an oatmeal stout available in cans retail around the city, is a sweet take on the style, while the Java stout they brought to Stout Fest was one of the stronger coffee stouts from a flavor standpoint I've tasted in recent memory, while still drinking like a session ale.