Interview: beer pro Keith Gabbett (Goose Island Beer Co.)

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Keith Gabbett came west with Goose Island Beer Co. as part of Migration Week, an event that shipped rare Goose Island beers across the country.  After he returned home, Gabbett answered a few questions about brewing and the Chicago craft beer scene.

At what point did you know you’d work with beer for a living?

It was probably in 2006. After I graduated college, I didn’t really have a plan and was just living in Chicago until the next step came along. Of course I was homebrewing and going to as many events as I could. I knew that the Siebel Institute was based in Chicago, but the price point was beyond my means at the time and there weren’t a lot of brewing opportunities in Chicago at the time. I came into a little money in 2006 and quickly came to 2 conclusions. 1. I put some money down on a house and figure out a job later. 2. I could go to Siebel, work my way into the industry and figure out the house situation later. Luckily my wife (girlfriend at the time) was supportive and I went to Siebel in the spring of 2007.

Is there anybody who mentored you along the way? If so, what did they teach you that was so valuable?

There isn’t one specific person who mentored me. I try to pick the minds of all the brewers I meet and learn from everyone. My first boss, Matt Potts at Destihl, gave me my first chance and allowed me quite a bit of creativity in the brewhouse. Greg Hall and Brett Porter (former and current Goose Brewmasters) have given me a great brewery to work in and constantly pushed the brewers to hone their skills and push the envelope of brewing. Then there are all the brewers that I’ve talked to before and since becoming a brewer. There’s always something new to learn (techniques, ingredients, etc) that you can’t allow yourself to become stagnant or the brewing world will pass you by pretty quickly.

What was the first beer you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?

I think the first beer that I homebrewed was an IPA. I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Looking back on it and knowing what I know now, I think it was probably all over the place: super boozy and ridiculously bitter.

What’s the criteria for a beer that is brewed at Goose Island? What does a beer have to be?

One of the great things about Goose Island is that we have such a wide portfolio of beers so the criteria is pretty open. The short answer? The beer has to be good. Period. Beyond that it can be a classic style, a wild ale, a twist on an old favorite or using ingredients that don’t find their way into most beer recipes (like cucumbers, kombucha or lingonberries).

How would you describe the Chicago craft beer scene to a visitor?

The Chicago craft beer scene is exploding with great beer and great brewers right now. There are almost 24 breweries in the Chicagoland area at the moment and at least another 10-15 more in planning. The amount of creativity here is awesome.

How do you go about naming your beers?

All of our names begin with a story. For instance, 312 is the Chicago area code. Matilda is a homage to the princess who gave money to found the Orval monastery.  Lolita refers to the Russian novel of the same name and actually the label is an exact replica of the 1st edition.

Musicians are often asked “What comes first? The music or the lyrics? From a beer standpoint what comes first for a new beer? A new or special ingredient? A style?

I think brewers get their ideas from all sorts of different places. Gillian, a white pepper strawberry saison that we are releasing later this year came from a sorbet recipe. I’ve been at cocktail bars and thought, “man-I wonder if I can turn this cocktail into a beer”. On the other hand, I might decide to that I want to brew a Pilsner simply because I want to drink one.

If you could only drink one more beer, and you couldn’t brew it, what would it be and why?

That’s a tough question and one that changes pretty frequently. Right now, I like Duvel’s Triple Hop. It’s a great beer: refreshing, spicy, complex with a great hop aroma. I could drink those all day.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman's writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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