Sorry if some of this is a little noobish for this thread, I copied this from a blog entry of mine to a much more general beer drinking crowd.
TLDR: 2.5 hours at Goose Island, drinking for free and touring the brewery is fun.
Goose Island Brewery Tour Trip Report
A friend of mine recently invited me to a private tour of Goose Island's downtown brewery. Goose Island has several locations throughout Chicago, a main brewpub on Clybourn as well as a secondary brewpub near Wrigley Field. The main brewery for this tour, however, has no bar and is not open to the public.
My friend is a big beer fan, and at this point has far surpassed me in knowledge of various beers out there, particularly newer and rarer beers. He is an active participant and reviewer on the popular beer site, beeradvocate.com. There were roughly 15 total people in atendance for this private tour, all of them, except myself, being beer advocate users.
We arrived at the brewery a little early, I had to take a train and a bus to get there. We were greeted by one of the brewerys my friend knew, Dave, and he welcomed us into the warm brewery. We were one of the first few to arrive, so Dave started by opening a bottle of a belgian IPA that is not even released yet. We split the bottle four ways and talked a little bit with Dave. He then went back downstairs to greet the other people as they arrived, and left us with some pretty simple instructions: Go wherever you want, don't open anything without asking, and help yourself to as much beer as you want out of these six tap handles. Solid start.
After about 30 minutes of drinking while everybody else arrived, the tour began in the main brewing area, where another brewer was making an actual beer.
(above) A monitor displaying various points during the brewing process for the brewery to check, and adjust when necessary.
We started the tour in the grain room, located underneath two large silos filled with base grain for making the beers. Inside the grain room were 50lb bags of various "speciality" grains. Think of the base grains as your milk, and the specialty grains as your chocolate if you were making chocolate milk.
Inside the grain room was a grain mill, which is used to crush the grain to a certain degree, so that the sugars inside the grain can be optimally extracted during the brewing process. Dave told us that this is where the "fun and games end" in the brewing process. If the toughest part of being a brewer is hauling some 50lb bags around every so often, count me in.
(above) The view from the top deck where we started the tour. The plastic buckets are filled with hops. The unit in the foreground is a brewing kettle, I believe. Most of the units in the background are fermenters, where the yeast eats the sugars from the liquid and creates alcohol, turning the product into beer.
After we left the grain room, it was fairly loud. Since at least one beer was being brewed, a lot of things were happening at once, and it was tough to hear. Yet, the beauty of the tour was that it was very informal. You could ask any specific question at any time, and unlike every other brewery tour I've been on, the guide did not just give you a basic overview of the brewing process. And the guide was more of "another beer guy" than an official guide. Dave was actually joined by two other employees, John, a general maintenence guy at the brewery, and Adam from the marketing department. They went in and out of guiding the main tour, just starting up side conversations as we went from the brewing area, to the fermenters, to the barrel aging areas (both bourbon and wine barrels), the bottle aging area, holding area, santiation area, and the lab where the yeast is developed and stored.
(above) A blowoff tube is pictured. When the beer is fermenting in the fermenter, the yeast climbs on top of the beer and when there is not enough space or the beer is stronger and has a more vigorous fermentation, there needs to be a sanitary place for the yeast and co2 to escape. A tube is then put in the top of the fermenter and outlet into a bucket, usually half filled with water or sanitizer. This bucket is much larger than the entire beer that I brew. When I actually use a blowoff tube, it is a half filled 64 oz glass bottle, so it was quite a sight to see this beast of a blowoff active and splashing around.
After about an hour, pretty much everybody on the tour was drunk. You could go at any time back to the tap area upstairs and refill your beer, all night. In fact, you were encouraged to do so. Within two hours, everybody was completely hammered, including our tour guide. Questions became more interesting, people were a lot more loose and friendly, and it was honestly just a great time.
(above) Need a barrel? Every year, Goose Island uses over 2,000 bourbon barrels to make their famous Bourbon County Stout. The barrels are only used once, to maximize flavor and consistency. At the end of the cycle, they give away the barrels in any way possible, to minimize waste. Pictured, I believe, are wine barrels, for various other beers that they barrel age. Wine barrels can be used multiple times, unlike bourbon barrels, which are usually only used once by the distiller, and once by the brewery.
If I haven't already mentioned this detail, the tour was completely free. No fees, no donations, nothing. Some people brought a beer to "tip" the brewer with. I hadn't even thought of that, or I would've definitely brought a special treat or two.
(above) Boxes of Bourbon County Stout.
(below) The bottling line.
After about 2.5 hours, the tour came to an end. We were gathering, finishing our last sips from the taps and Dave tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a bottle. It was the belgian IPA that we were lucky enough to sample when we had arrived. He asked that I review it on beeradvocate and thanked me for coming. He also gave one to my friend. I've never done a beer review on the site, but I definitely will be doing one later this week for the beer I was lucky enough to get. I don't believe the beer will be available for a few months.
(above) Dave, brewer at Goose Island, talking about sanitation procedures and quality control in the lab.
(below) Boxes of hops.
All in all, it was a great night. My expectations coming in were that it would be a fun time, but I wasn't especially looking forward to the crowd of beer guys. In my experience, the beer "expert" crowds tend to get a little egotistical and quickly dive into specific beer advocate forum issues. This crowd was much more relaxed, friendly and non egotistical. Dave was great, as were John and Adam. Adam, in particular, had some good insight into the world of beer marketing and how Goose Island, along with other brewers, are working to change the perception of beer in America.