Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Visit to Chicago and the Siebel Institute

"Get happiness out of your work or you may never know what happiness is." ~Elbert Hubbard

Photo above taken at Goose Island, L to R: Top Row: John Hall, Jeff Sparrow, Teri, Will Turner, Kerry O'Donohue, Keith Lemcke, Lyn Kruger and Greg Hall. Bottom Row: Ray Daniels and Steve Hamburg.

July 19: Joy and her neighbor Jill and I visited Rock Bottom in downtown Chicago. Brewmaster Pete Crowley invited me via email only a few days ago, and I'm really making a concentrated effort to visit the brewers and breweries who have invited me, or at least as many as I can fit in.
We enjoyed an extended sampler set, including Pete's delicous Bourbon Barrel Brown. I've only had beers at some of the Rock Bottoms, and Pete's beers may rate as some of the more interesting versions.

Although Rock Bottom is a chain and the beer names are consistent, the brewers are given full range to come up with their own interpretations and recipes for those beers. If you've tried the beer at one Rock Bottom, you have NOT tried them all! (Photo above, L to R: Teri, Pete, Joy and Jill.)

After our tasting Pete gave us the requisite tour of his extensive brewery. He and two brewers produce about 3,000 barrels a year, ten barrels at a time, two batches a day. It's a pretty hoppin' joint with restaurant seats on three floors including a rooftop deck and banquet/group facilities. I took a photo of Pete's well-organized beerline routing area (right).

Then we took the Red Line subway to Goose Island's original Clybourn Avenue location. We were running a bit late but Keith Lemcke of the Siebel Institute was there to greet us. As a Siebel Alumni (Diploma Class of 1988), I wanted to see if the history and tradition of the Siebel I knew and loved had followed the school to its new location inside of Goose Island. I am happy to report that the two Siebel areas (the classroom and the Bier Stube) look surprisingly reminiscent of my old stomping grounds.

The Bier Stube is much smaller than our old student hangout, and there's no more foosball table, but Keith and company kept a lot of the old decorations and fixtures, including the old bar. They had to shorten the bar by about five feet to fit it in, but the bar, chandeliers and the beer steins all made it to Goose Island.

The classroom looks very different, as our old classroom had the lab counter up front. Now the labwork portion of the Diploma Course is taught in Germany and only the bookish theory is taught in Chicago.

Nevertheless, my two favorite parts of the old Siebel are right here at Goose Island: Siebel's extensive and priceless library, and the "rogues gallery" of student class photos. When I was a student, the class photos lined the hallway and I would study the photos between classes. I'd ask questions about prior year's students: Which ones were craft brewers? Where were they now? Anything I could learn about my future peers in the craft brewing industry was important to me, and was a bonus on all the knowledge I was learning in the classroom (and in the Bier Stube).

The photo below is a partial scan from my Siebel class. There I am nearly at top center. I was the only homebrewer/ craftbrewer-wannabee in my class of 24 students. My fellow students were employed by large breweries all over the world. I remember the first day of class, everybody was asking each other what brand they brewed. I replied that I didn't brew brands, I brewed styles. They didn't know what that meant, as all of them produced light yellow lagers. I decided my duty would be to educate my classmates on craft beer, microbreweries and brewpubs, world class styles, and brewing at the tiny batch size of 5 gallons.

To that effect I organized tours to all the existing Chicago breweries, organized and shopped for a world beer tasting, and drafted a teacher to guide us in brewing an Oktoberfest on Siebel's 5-gallon pilot brewery. My classmates responded by electing me Class President, the first woman class president in Siebel's history.

My 12 weeks at Siebel in 1988 were a great experience and I have such wonderful crazy memories of it. I still keep in touch with a few of my classmates and saw Doug Gallagher, now Brewmaster at Molson's Alberta brewery, at the 1999 MBAA National Conference while I was on my 1999 Teardrop Adventure.

My second favorite part of Siebel was the priceless brewing library. Every night after school while the other students were off at restaurants using their employer-paid per diem on dinner, I was in the library. After studying and doing my course homework, I studied the crumbling books. I looked for any books published between 1880-1920 that were in English. I had discovered that the problems the breweries were having then, were often the same problems the craft breweries were having now. Most of the books from that time were in German, even though they were American books, but I managed to find a few gems written in English.

After reminiscing about Siebel, I bellied up to the bar where Ray Daniels and Lyn Kruger were keeping some seats warm. Soon we were joined by a host of other Chicago area beer people. See photo at the top of this page. We all hung around talking beer until after 7:00 pm.

Goose Island now owns 243 bourbon barrels that they age special beers in. They just purchased some barrels that had contained Rip Van Winkle Whisky, casked in December 1986, which is two years before Goose Island opened. For those who don't know, Goose Island started the wood-aged beer revolution in the craft industry when they introduced their Bourbon County Stout. Now the GABF has three separate wood-aged beer categories because so many brewers are producing such stunning wood-aged beers.

Thank you to John and Greg Hall of Goose Island for picking up the tab for our beers and appetizers.

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