Since he announced his departure from what was probably the highest-profile brewing gig in town, head brewmaster at the Goose Island brewpubs, in January, Jared Rouben has kept beer fans watching and waiting to find out what his new project would be. He finally announced the basic details last week—a brewery called Moody Tongue, located in an old Pilsen glass factory and set to launch its products in December, with a tap room coming further down the road.
What got me curious was the description he gave his approach—"culinary brewing." Rouben, who trained as a chef before veering into beer, has been known for collaborating with local chefs on his brews and for dabbling in ingredients well beyond barley and hops, so it wasn't hard to imagine he meant something more inventive than merely pairing beer with complementary food. We spoke by phone.
Michael Gebert: So what is "culinary brewing" in your mind?
Jared Rouben: I've been exploring food and beer since culinary school at the CIA [Culinary Institute of America]. That's where I first started a brew club, bringing in other breweries and kind of experimenting with beers as a pairing ingredient, as an actual ingredient in food and just enjoying it on its own. And it's really from there that I started seeing a lot of the flexibility and opportunity with beer and food.
From there I went on to cook, and while I was cooking I started baking a lot with beer, using it in Bavarian mousses and cheesecakes. And I loved the fact that you didn't lose the integrity of the flavor profiles. A lot of times when you're cooking with beer you're usually reducing it, or brining with it, and you lose the integrity of the malt profile and the hop profile of the beer.
From there, it was my curiosity—I couldn't get enough of beer. And after a while, I realized I needed to actually learn how to create this. Which led me to a couple of stages at Chelsea Brewing Company in New York, and eventually I knew that I had to go to brewing school.
And when I first got my gig at Rock Bottom, I e-mailed all the CIA alums in the city to get them into a brewery to brew together. I saw so many similarities between brewers and cooks that I figured the best way to make the most flavorful beer that really takes advantage of great ingredients would be to get chefs in there. And to really break down the wall between brewer and chef.
When you made beer with Kevin Hickey of Allium, for instance, he basically added aromatics to the beer, and steeped them like tea. But you've also used things like carrots in beer. How do you make ingredients like that work in beer?
You're right, with aromatics, steeping it like tea, it kind of explains itself. We've all experienced something like that. But with other ingredients, for example chocolate, we've toasted the cacao bean to bring out more aromatics with it. And we've learned to kind of break an ingredient like that down, depending on when it's applied to the beer. So if I apply it when it's actually hot, I'll get some flavor profile to it, and when it's cold, I'll get more aromatics. So timing is also something that's very important when applying certain ingredients.
And I've also noticed when you use certain fruits, like blueberries—blueberries are full of water. But if I dehydrate the blueberries and I rid myself of the water, I get a much more intense blueberry flavor.
I'll tell you another really cool thing we're doing—we're brandying fruit. For example, I might take blackberries, and find a really beautiful brandy, and we let it sit. And what happens is, a lot of the alcohol characteristics go into the fruit, and a lot of the fruit characteristics go into the liquid. And we have the opportunity to use a ratio of liquid to actual fruit in order to incorporate a layer of flavor [in the beer].
You're going to have a tap room in your brewery. Is there going to be a restaurant side to that? It seems like some of the things you're talking about need food to fully bring out what they're about.
You know, I'm keeping an open mind. We don't have a food side to the tasting room yet, but food is just as much of a passion as beer for me. What I wanted to do, and what was really important for me, was that we focus on one thing first, and that one thing I wanted to focus on first was beer.
A lot of my beers sound like food just because that's my background, but they can be enjoyed on their own, and usually are. I just happen to think about food when I think about beer. For me, beer is food. We use our hands and take raw ingredients and create something that people consume. The only difference is, brewers intoxicate people.
Why did you want to leave Goose Island and go out on your own right now?
First of all, I'm ready now. I feel like I've honed my craft, I've learned a lot about ingredients, about techniques—I'm ready.
Two, now with this brewery I have a platform to share culinary brewing with Chicago. Where before I was limited to one keg, or maybe half a batch which could only be enjoyed if you came to the brewpub. Now I have a platform to share culinary beers on a much bigger stage.