Saved By The Max is the Geek Bar Wicker Park popup that opened in April 2016. The initial three-month residency was insanely popular and had to be extended until June 2017. The Max is the diner from the 80’s teen cult classic TV show, Saved By The Bell.
During its stay in Chicago several stars of the show made guest appearances including Mr. Belding and AC Slater. The bar was an exact replica of the diner in the TV show and sold 20,000 burgers over their year run.
As a way of saying farewell to Chicago, the nerds invited legendary Brewmaster Greg Hall to host a dinner discussing the early days of the city’s oldest brewer – The Goose Island Beer Company.
To be clear we don’t throw words like ’classic and legendary’ around lightly. Currently there are 71 breweries in Chicago. Back in 1988 there was only one. Greg and his father John Hall (The Founder) did nothing short of put Chicago on the brewing map when the old Clybourn pub opened its doors.
When current GI staff engaged Greg about hosting the dinner, one his first inquiries was would his dad be there. What ensued was a whimsical ride through 9 beers/ ciders and stories behind each one told in a way made this one of my all time favorite events.
The Goose Island impact can be found everywhere around Chicago.
Piece, Off Color, Revolution, Moody Tongue, Motor Row, Penrose (to name a few) were started or lead by former GI employees. The Chicago Beer Society and the Siebel Institute routinely educated the next generation of Chicagoland brewers on Goose Island at First Thursdays.
It was Greg’s charm and influence with the local chef community through pairing and beer dinners that made local beer a common option at restaurant tables in the early days. Everything from elegant glassware, to epic bottle release events, to designing beers meant for barrel aging all trace back to the efforts of Goose Island.
The evening got started with Matilda, Sofie, Green Line and Honkers Ale. Then Greg gets into some fun stories about the other beers and the launch of Virtue Cider.
Belgian Dubbel 8.7%
*Greg’s on the time he met Pere Jacques at Rochefort. *
“So we fly over to Brussels, we drink a lot. Then we take the bus down to Chimay, they are very guest welcoming there. After that is was to Orval in the south of Belgium where there’s another café and a self guided tour, then back on the bus up to Rochefort for a tour.
It was a rainy day, there’s no sign but there’s a beautiful building at the end of a dirt road. It looks like more of a bathhouse than the other abbeys we visited. There was a lone wooden door with a sign that says ‘No Visitors’. Everyone on the bus had been to Chimay and Orval before but Rochefort was really special. We knock and a monk opens up. This young kid is in a robe and he says “No visitors!” We say “But we called!” he’s says, “No calls” we say, “But were from Chicago”, he says, “Oh, come in!” So that’s the password apparently.
We go in and they sit us at this big, long wooden table. If you know anything about these Trappists, over the 24hrs in a day they pray a third of the day, they rest a third and they work. Outside of those things there isn’t much else to do there so they so they cut down local trees and carve them into beautiful things.
On our visit they brought out the Rochefort beers (the 6, 8 and 10) wonderful, dark and malty. Accompanying these were some homemade gingersnap cookies. You don’t think of those as a pairing but it was nice and we were all having fun. At this point we forgot about the tour. So the doors opens up and in comes this little, short guy with a salt n pepper beard and big bushy eyebrows who says, “Welcome to Rochefort, I am Pere Jacques.”
He went on tell us the story about the abbey and how Napoleon tried to burn it down twice, but it rained on both occasions. He then gave us a tour of the brewery, the chapel and the monk’s quarters. The tiny monks quarters is an 8×10 room with a futon, table, stool and two hooks for his brown ropes. The brewhouse was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, it was all copper with stained glass windows. There are no lights in there so they only brew once a day under God’s light.
We invited Pere Jacques to dinner; he suggested we go to a better place and took us to an inn deep in the woods. We walk in and everything is already setup. This beautiful country feast had local boar, sausages, aged ham, cheese and trout from the local brook. This meal was a very extravagant and lasted 2 or 3 hours. At the end we asked for the bill but were informed by the staff that Pere Jacques bought dinner for all 20 of us.
When we got back home I was inspired by the visit and the meal but more by the man and we decided to make a beer in his honor. We liked the Rochefort style, there’s no other beer like it. So the beer we made was a tribute to him.
About 5 years later we went back with bottles of the beer we produced in his honor. We were told we would never get a tour back again at Rochefort, but we tried every year and finally we got back in.
We brought a couple bottles of the beer; a different guy gave us the tour as Pere Jacques was basically retired that time. We presented Pere Jacques with the beer; his response was “You used my name? Where’s my money!” We offered to make a donation to the abbey.
He signed bottles of the beer for everybody and that’s the last time I got to see Pere Jacques.”
Class of 1988
Belgian Ale collaboration with Deschutes. 11% Released in 2013 brewed w Michigan Riesling + Oregon Pinot Noir grapes, Mt. Hood hops and pilsner malts, aged in wine barrels.
*Chicago’s oldest brewpub opens Friday, May 13, 1988 *
“We opened up in 1988, the same year as Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland) love the Conways. In Denver Wynkoop Brewing Company opened; they were the first brewpub in Colorado. Co founder, John Hickenlooper ran for mayor 10yrs later and won. Some years later he ran for Governor and won that. John would stay at my parent’s house whenever he came to Chicago. But the brewery that is probably our favorite from that class is Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon Gary Fish started it out as a brewpub. John Harris was the first brewmaster there. Nowadays he runs his own brewpub, Ecliptic in Portland.
When we were opening up our 50bbl brewhouse in 1995 we bought our system from JP Northwest, they installed the same type of system a year earlier at Deschutes. I went out there for two weeks to learn how to brew on it. They upgraded to a 200bbl system three years later, we have the same system today. They came to Chicago to brew with our team as a celebration of 1988.”
Black Saison 6.4%
“ There was a gap in our portfolio, many people were doing black IPAs at that time. We took saison yeast and added Malabar black peppercorns. Pepe Nero is Italian for Black pepper. It turned out to be one of the best food pairing beers we’ve ever made. ”
Belgian Blonde Ale 7.2%
*A real brewpub classic *
“When we opened in ’88 a mall surrounded us. By 1992 they decided to tear down this mall around us. Back then we were the only game in town. This was our first take on a Belgian ale. They knocked out all the walls surrounding 1800 Clybourn. We’d get to work and the lot has a wrecking ball and construction equipment everywhere, they were literally wrecking the side of the building. People that were braving their way into our pub back then had obstacles. You often saw a coaster under each beer and one on top because so much dust would come down every time the wrecking ball hit the building.
We patterned Demolition after a beer I’m very fond of, Duvel. It’s a pale strong golden ale, good amount of hops and fermentable sugars but its also very refreshing. It looks like a lager but its 8% and catches up to you quickly. We modeled it after Duvel which of course is Flemish for devil. We wanted to keep it thin so we used a lot of pilsner malt and Belgian candy sugars so it nice and dry. Then we hopped with Saaz and Styrian Golding. It was grapefruit forward. Back then that was it really weird, nowadays people put actual grapefruit in their beer all the time.
Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Rye
BCS rye variant released in 2014 with a mix of Mexican and Madagascar vanilla beans. 14%
*The Legend of Bourbon County Brand Stout *
“Bourbon County Stout was our 1000th batch. Our friend Larry Bell was using Batch 500, Batch 1500 to commemorate his Bells Brewery milestones. Around that same time we got invited to a beer and bourbon dinner in South Bend, IN. I had the great and awesome pleasure of sitting next to a true legend of drink, a gentlemen named Booker Noe. Bookers was Pappy before Pappy was Pappy, it was the great American bourbon in the early 90’s.
At Jim Bean they were the first American distillers to release long form projects. They also released Basil Hayden, Bakers, Knob Creek in the 90s and we would serve all four at the Goose Island brewpub.
Booker was a dear old southern gentleman. You know how in Lady and The Tramp there’s that basset hound that sounds really slow? Well that’s like Booker Noe on coke. He has a seriously southern way of talking. At this dinner we talked him out of six bourbon barrels. We fermented out our imperial stout, stuck it in a barrel for 100 days and Bourbon County Stout was born.
It was a fun beer to make because we had no idea what we were doing. We just wanted it to be special and we’ve made it every year since. BCS and Honkers Ale are the two longest running continuously produced beers in Goose Island history.
We start with only six bourbon barrels when I left in 2012 there were 1200. Now there’s a McCormick Place sized warehouse that holds all the barrels. Its really unbelievable. All the variants we make now, Coffee, Cherry Rye, Proprietors are all a testament to drinkers in Chicago who’ve always been so damn supportive of everything we’ve done over the years. It’s a giant pain in the ass to make, but the fact that people line up every year to get some makes it all worth it. “
Bourbon County Rare
BCS aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels for two years. 14%
“This is the beer we released for the very first Black Friday back in 2010. A really special beer aged in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels for two years. The release was at Binnys behind the Original Clybourn brewpub. They told us to bring 20 cases. We ended up bringing two pallets and sold them both in about 90 minutes.
Years later we were doing a cider and beer tasting at my house for our current head cider maker. he pulls out at ticket, it was ticket ’Number 1’. He was the first person in line for the very first ever Black Friday and now he works at Virtue Cider. “
Starting Virtue Cider
* In 2011 Greg launches a European style cider house in Michigan *
“As a brewer I would go over to England and Belgium for inspiration. When I decided to make cider I did the same thing, went over to England and France to visit cider makers. What I found that all the great beer was made in great beer making cities. Beer in something that is made in cities because that’s where the drinkers are and the raw materials are portable.
Cider is different, it’s a lot more like wine making. Your cider is made where they grow the fruit. That’s in southwest England, that’s in Normandy, the north coast of Spain, etc. I wanted to know what the secret sauce was that we could replicate. I found out there were three things. Number 1 they buy all local fruit. We get ours from Michigan. Last years crop was about 950 Million pounds of apples. Number 2 is they fermented the cider mostly with whatever came in on the apple skin. It was funky that way, and then they put it in a barrel. Not because they wanted ‘barrel aged cider’ but because when their forefathers made cider they didn’t use steel tanks, they used nearby barrels. Number 3 is they all made it on a farm in a cider house. So that’s what we did for Virtue, we bought a farm in Fennville, Michigan.
We’ve got 30 farm neighbors within a 20-mile radius. We press local apples. We have a lab but other than that we like things the natural way. We blend everything together to get the final cider. “
Virtue Michigan Harvest
Semi dry cider 5.5%
“This one ferments out dry then when add fresh juice. ”
Virtue Michigan Brut
Proper farmhouse cider 6.7%
“Made in Michigan with all Michigan apples then aged in French oak. This is my favorite cider, both drinkable and dry. The nice thing about apples is that’s all you need is the apple. It is our water, malt and fermentable sugar source. You get your bitterness from the tannins in the apple and you get your yeast from the outside of the apple. When they come in from the farm there is no ‘brewing.” We have added yeast in some of our ciders but most of them ferment out all by themselves. Each cider is going to be a little different.
The thing you’ve got to remember about brewing vs. cider making is that brewing is all about control. Controlling time and temperature etc., so when it’s done you know it will come out right. Cider making is all about not having control; our raw materials are different every time.
You can control everything up to the barrel aging process. At that point it’s all about blending. Beer is like classical musical, if everyone’s playing the right note at the right time the symphony sounds amazing…that’s the way they make beer. With cider, it’s a lot more like jazz. If you’re a fan of Thelonious Monk he might have played ‘Around Midnight’ like 20,000 times, but every time it was a little bit different. To me that makes it cool and more interesting.”
Chef Brian Fisher’s Menu for The Max
Tori’s Fried Chicken
goose island 312 and coconut milk waffle w korean fried chicken + spiced Maple syrup.
goose island braised pulled pork + lillie’s q gold barbecue sauce + jameson
fries smothered in mushroom halfwit red eye gravy topped w cheese curds + tasso ham.
Snow White & The Seven Dorks
tangy chicken wings
-When Greg met Pere Jacques, he quickly informed Greg that he only works for 2 people, The Pope and God.
-Other noteworthy breweries that started in 1988 are Brooklyn Brewery and Rogue Ales.
-Goose Island was the exclusive beer provider for Saved by The Max during their yearlong popup run in Chicago.
-The next home for Saved By The Max is Los Angeles