Goose Island Beer Company is obsessed with well-crafted beer. Maybe more so than any other brewery, Goose Island is at the forefront of long processes in order to satiate a deep and fundamental curiosity that is at the heart of what Goose Island’s founding here in Chicago started.
The folks at Goose Island are into what’s going on in the glass in a profound way. Obadiah Poundage is the fruit of a long labor that includes the words and wisdom of British beer historian Ron Pattinson.
Goose Island invited me up to their West Side Fulton Street taproom to hear Pattinson speak about this project and to sample the beer in question. Obadiah Poundage is a years’ long process in the making, during which they went back and found the original ingredients to a beer first brewed in 1840.
The name Obadiah Poundage is an homage to a run-of-the-mill brewer from the era who wrote a letter to a newspaper in London explaining the process of making this exact type of beer. I love this type of research into the annals of history — taking the everyday, finding the forgotten things and bringing them back to life.
This is most of the work I do in this column and in my beer drinking travels. I love the big, flashy, hype things of the world, as they capture a moment in time in a really interesting way. I look at these things similarly to Tamagotchi pocket pets, rocks or any latest fad that will be looked back on ages hence and think what a strange fixation these people had.
But if all you knew of the ’90s was the fads, you would miss the essential experience of that era. I don’t know if we are far enough away from a certain modern age to understand the era itself. It will take some time and distance to understand the craft beer movement.
What Goose Island went back to look at is Victorian-era London, probably the heyday of modern industrial brewing that paved the way for what beer is produced today. Brewing beer is a pretty simple process on a stovetop or a household brewery, which is something many families or small towns would have.
Brewing beer on an industrial scale just adds more to the same simple process. When you go back about 200 years, you can see what time, technology and resource constraints can do to a process.
One of the essential processes that is quite different today is much of the Porter beer drank in London during the late 1800s was aged and blended similar to Belgian Lambic style of beer. These aged porters were stored in massive oak vats that, according to Pattinson, were five or six stories tall in which a party of 20 people could dine together.
Goose Island built barrels — not of these expansive sizes but significantly large barrels for this project — but beyond the aging, the story of the malts truly is incredible. It would be enough to research the brewing method used of a historic beer and try as well as possible to resemble that method. It would be enough to assemble some special piece of equipment in order to get back to this older process.
Goose Island went back to the original barley used in the making of these beers, chevalier malt and brown malt as it was called. Obviously, during the years, agricultural processes have changed, and the types and even the species of grains used have changed as well. The barley we use to brew today is not even the same type of barley used in Victorian England, as farmers found better and stronger strains of barley to grow.
It went back to these heirloom barleys to find the exact taste these older beers would have had. They didn’t just stop at the barley crop but even the older process of malting these grains and the type of wood they would have burnt to malt the grain as well.
If you want to taste the beer of Victorian England this is the beer for you. This is history in a glass, and I am so excited for you to try it.
Obadiah Poundage from Goose Island Beer Company
ABV: 6.5 percent
Style: Porter — English
Notes: Old-world-styled porter
Where to Buy: You might be able to find this one at the Goose Island Fulton Street taproom. I am not sure how much it costs.