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Penrose Brewing Rounds Its Way Into Chicago

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 27, 2014 4:00PM

Penrose Brewing Company's Eric Hobbs (right) and Tom Korder. (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

Anheuser-Busch/InBEV’s 2011 purchase of Goose Island Beer Co. has been a boon for fans of good beer in Chicago. Goose Island is still doing wonderful work (although their new 312 Urban Pale Ale is the first misstep of the Goose Island-A-B/InBEV era, a story for another time) but the exodus of brewers from Goose Island starting their own breweries has been nothing short of phenomenal and a testament to the company John and Greg Hall built and nurtured.

The newest brewery to join the Chicago area’s craft beer boom, Penrose Brewing Company, has direct links to Goose Island. Owner Eric Hobbs worked for years on the sales side of Goose Island, placing the company’s beers in bars and stores across the area. Brewmaster Tom Korder worked as Goose Island’s brewery operations manager and headed up the company’s heralded barrel program. “I had the idea for Penrose before A-B bought Goose Island,” Hobbs told Chicagoist Monday night at a launch party for Penrose in Chicago at the studios of Good Beer Hunting founder Michael Kiser in Humboldt Park. “And I knew when it was time for me to leave I wanted Tom to come with me. I didn’t want to bring on a home brewer as brewmaster.”

“And I had no idea Eric was having these discussions,” Korder joked. “It’s a good working relationship and it’s amazing to have Eric place his faith in me with this.”

The relationship between the two principals is an equal partnership that’s an extension of what they did at Goose Island. Hobbs handles the marketing and sales; Korder concentrates on the brewing. The Geneva-based Penrose focuses on “Belgian-inspired” beers with alcohol contents bordering between session ales and medium-strength brews, balancing the flavor of the malts with hop blends leaning more toward the aromatic rather than adding bitterness to a beer’s flavor profile. This ongoing focus on balanced beers continues a philosophy espoused by Off Color’s John Laffler, 5 Rabbit’s John J. Hall and Moody Tongue’s Jared Rouben—Goose Island veterans all.

Penrose has a 40 barrel brewhouse in the middle of Geneva’s downtown district, with four 40-barrel fermenting tanks currently in use, another three on order and plenty of room in the brewhouse for proper barrel and sour programs. Korder, a mechanical engineer, helmed the build out. Three of the brewery’s four beers were available for tasting.

Proto Gradus, a single ale brewed from Carapils and 2-row malts given a floral nose with Columbus, Saaz and Saphir hops. Proto Gradus was fruity on the palate with a pleasant, floral nose reminiscent of the spring we keep waiting to kick into high gear around these parts. Proto Gradus was a favorite among the guests who attended Penrose’s Monday night launch party and Korder said this will be the base beer for Penrose’s sour program. Ardennes yeast used in the brewing process lends a light, acidulated flavor to the beer perfect for blending and experimental fermentation.

Tom Korder pours a Penrose P-2 ale. (Photo credit: Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

Navette is a medium-bodied black ale redolent of bitter chocolate and an herbal undertone brewed from 2-Row, Munich, Crystal 40 and Carafa II along with Aramis hops. Navette will play with your taste buds and run from sweet up front to a bitter finish. This is a mild spring and autumn sipper yet light enough (6 percent alcohol content by volume) to be a tasty offering all year.

The third beer, P-2, is a classic Belgian-style pale ale named because it was Korder’s second attempt at a pale. This one will be a winner of beer drinkers who want some hoppy bite to their drink. Galaxy, Bramling Cross and Cascade hops pierce through the blend of 2-Row, Munich and Carapils hops. The Bramling Cross hop is a varietal which I was unfamiliar so I did some research on it after I got home. It’s a hybrid between Bramling (which is a Golden hop clone) and a Canadian wild hop called Manitoban. It’s a bittering hop commonly used in stouts and porters but it can also be used for aroma. This is where P-2 gets much of its bitter flavor but it isn’t so overpowering that you’ll have pucker face drinking the beer. At 5.4 percent alcohol content, this is another lighter offering.

Penrose is available in draft only for the time being; some of the bars where you can find their beers include Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Small Bar Division, Hopleaf and Fountainhead. (Their distributor, Windy City Distributing, has a full list here.) Hobbs said they do plan on bottling their beers in 12-ounce, four-pack bottles sometime this summer. Small Bar Division Street will also host a Penrose pop-up taproom April 14.

If you want a good day trip adventure, Penrose is located at 509 Stevens St. in Geneva and their taproom is now open. The brewery and taproom is a 10-12 minute walk from the Geneva Metra station.