By Matt Osmundsen
Chicago, IL — I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and later moved to the north side of the city after college. Because of my hometown roots, Goose Island Brewery holds a special place in my heart.
Goose Island has three main locations in Chitown. First is their main production facility on Fulton Street. (This is where the magic happens!) Second is a brewpub on Clark Street in the heart of Wrigleyville. (Great place to meet up before, after, or before and after a Chicago Cubs baseball game.) Third is their original brewpub and small-batch testing facility on Clybourn Avenue in Lincoln Park. (The brewery tour is given here.)
A quick historical note about the origins of the Goose Island name … According to Wikipedia, “Goose Island is the only island on the Chicago River in Illinois.” The original, natural island was reportedly home to seasonal flocks of birds; hence, Goose Island. However, that particular island no longer exists, but a manmade island was created and took the original’s name.
Soon, the island became home to factories as well as Polish and German immigrants. Many taverns were opened to serve the people and the drinks started flowing. All in all, I think Goose Island is a perfect name for a beer company.
Before the Tour
First things first, you need to get tickets to the tour. The size of our tour group was about forty people, which seems quite large, but actually fills up pretty quickly. Therefore, I would highly recommend calling a day or more in advance to secure your spot. That being said, my girlfriend and I decided to check out the tour last minute on an early Saturday afternoon. (Do as I say, not as I do.)
When we called to inquire as to the availability of open spots for the tour, the powers that be said that all advance reservations were spoken for. Disappointing, for sure. But, undeterred by this momentary hurdle, we asked if there was anything they could do for us. The very nice woman on the other end of the phone said she could put us on a waiting list and if anyone backed out, we would be in.
About an hour later, we arrived at the Clybourn Avenue brewery filled with cautious optimism. Lady Luck was shining down upon us that day and we snagged the last two spots.
Upon checking in, we exchanged $7 a piece for some swanky, yellow wristbands. (Update: The tour now costs $10, but is still worth every penny.) This tour fee also entitles you to some free beer (totaling approximately a pint and half) and a complimentary logo pint glass, which is very nice. The aforementioned wristbands were our tickets to the inner sanctum of the brewery.
We still had a few minutes before the tour began and people were milling around, ripe with anticipation. Since we had time, we decided to wet our whistles with some beers from the bar. The spacious bar has plenty of options on tap for you to choose from. You do have to pay for these suds, but the upsides are twofold. First, you get to choose from a wide selection of Goose Island brews, some of which are only available on draft at the Clybourn location. Second, you are allowed to bring them with you on the brewery tour, which is unique in my experience. Sold!
Shortly after obtaining our pints of choice, the tour guide shepherded us all together to begin the tour.
Touring the Facilities
“Tour” is a bit of a misnomer in the case of Goose Island. I would call it more of a tasting with a short interactive monologue preceding it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Our trusted tour guide for the day was Mr. Wil Turner. He started out by giving us a primer on the history of Goose Island and what they stand for … great beer. Wil seemed very happy to be working for such a cool company. I don’t blame him.
During the tour, the group only moved twice. The first time was our initial entrance into the brewing area of the facility. This area is not very large in comparison to the bar and restaurant areas. It takes up approximately one-third of the facility’s square footage, although it does rise high in the air to accommodate the tall tanks.
The second time was when we moved into a more open space and Wil perched himself on the rafters to teach us the basics of brewing and explained all of the required ingredients. To better demonstrate his points, Wil passed around buckets of malted barley, whole hops and hop pellets. The hops looked like dried flower buds and exuded a pleasant fragrance. The hop pellets looked like rabbit food and were extremely pungent.
We found space to be at a premium, so be prepared to be a little aggressive if you want to stake out a good spot to properly see and hear your tour guide.
One new nugget of information (new to me, at least) that Wil shared with us … Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, not Sam Adams, was actually the first known craft brewer in the United States.
The tour portion of the show only lasts 15 minutes or so. At the end, our tour guide wrapped it up and announced to the group that the beer tasting was up next. Judging from the smiles on my fellow brewery tourists’ faces, everyone was excited for the next phase of our Goose Island adventure.
The tasting portion of the Goose Island Brewery tour is definitely the most organized and structured one that I’ve attended. We entered a large meeting room equipped with two long tables cutting through it.
Placemats were laid out in front of each seat along with a mysteriously wrapped gift. The laminated mats were chock full of great beer information, including descriptions of different styles of beers and which Goose Island beers fit into those groups. The mystery gift turned out to be a very nice Goose Island pint glass to commemorate your tour adventure. Aww … they shouldn’t have! (Just kidding. I’ll take it.)
To start, small tasting glasses are presented in front of you and promptly filled with different Goose beers. We had the honor of tasting six (count ‘em, six!) different styles of Goose Island beer. We started with 312 Urban Wheat Ale (their most popular); then we tried the Schwarzbier, Mild Winter and Sate. Next up was their IPA, which is one of my favorites. Finally, we finished with the FrankenPorter.
No matter how tempting it may be to start gulping them down, resist the urge. Delayed gratification is a virtue. The reason to wait is that your tour guide will provide much-appreciated context to the beers that you’re drinking. As we drank our beers, our expert guide, Wil, described each one, including the malty and bitter notes we might expect to taste.
We sniffed and sipped our beer like it was a vintage Merlot (well, maybe only me). After a minute, Wil would ask us what we thought. Then we would pretty much say the same thing … “That’s a pretty tasty beer.” For non-experts like myself, it can be very hard to pinpoint particular flavors, unless “delicious” is considered a flavor.
But some of the tour goers actually knew their brew. Some especially ambitious people had even brewed their own beer at home. These go-getters were not shy and readily volunteered their opinions about the beers and how they compared to other styles and even offerings from other breweries. Wil was more than happy to engage these budding experts and also answer their questions.
Throughout the tasting, Wil stood at the front of the room and sipped on a pint of his favorite winter brew, Bitter Cold. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring enough to share with the class.
After the Tour
If all that intense beer tasting left you hungry, then they have you covered. The connected brewpub offers the standard slightly fancy grub you might expect from an outfit like Goose Island. On the menu are plenty of great burgers topped with lots of fun ingredients, plus plenty of more sophisticated main plates and salads. Overall, the food was above average and worth a dedicated trip for my fellow Lincoln Park residents.
A nice bonus is that some of the seats are situated next to a large window peering into the brewing area of the Clybourn location. That fact, combined with the brick walls and massive wraparound bar, make for a nice, but comfortable dining setting suitable for a quiet weekday dinner date or a larger, more raucous group event.
Before you leave, make sure to pick up a few six-packs and a bomber (22oz. bottle) or two. They make very nice consumable souvenirs. Plus, they seem to be cheaper than normal retail prices and the bombers of specialty limited production brews like Pere Jacques and Sofie can be hard to track down.
The gift shop also sells some very nice schwag, including a decent selection of t-shirts and glasses. Also on sale are some very nifty tap pulls featuring the signature goose head and 312-inspired old school phone receiver. Any one of these would be the perfect capper to your basement bar. (Bonus points for a Chicago-themed one.)
Side note … Goose Island also offers advanced degrees in beer drinking. The Goose Island M.B.A. (or Masters in Beer Appreciation, of course) is a special designation given to those who sample and critique 45 of Goose Island’s many varieties of beer. Although, I don’t recommend trying to earn all of your credits in one sitting, you can pick up a checklist card from your friendly Goose bartender and have at it. To encourage your pursuit of beer knowledge, they generously offer one free growler for every 15 credits (or different beers) you consume and check off. Awesome, huh?
The tour at Goose Island is a good one, although more for the tasting afterward than the actual tour. If you’re a local to Chicago, I think it makes a great weekend activity, especially when combined with a late lunch or early dinner at the attached pub. This tour does Chicago proud.
- Cost: $10 (payable in cash or credit card upon arrival)
- Reservations: Required (call at least a day in advance to reserve your spot)
- Free Beer: Yes (approximately six 5 ounce tasting glasses worth)
- Extras: Complimentary logo pint glass
- Official Website: Visit for tour times and contact info
- Google Page: Visit for directions and reviews
- Bonus Tip: Buy a beer at the bar beforehand to sip while you tour the facilities.
Correction: Originally, this post stated that our tour guide was Jared Rouben. In fact, Wil Turner was the name of our guide. But Jared is the current pub brewer at the Clybourn location and I’m sure he also gives a great tour. This post has been corrected accordingly. Thanks for the great tour, Wil! (And thanks for the heads-up, Ken!)
Read on! If you liked this write-up about Goose Island, you might also want to read about my tour of Samuel Adams, the nationally famous brewery in Boston. For a list of all our write-ups, please check out the BREWERY TOURS page.