When it was announced in January 2013 that Jared Rouben was leaving his position as Brewmaster of the Goose Island Brewpubs to open up his own brewery, many (myself included) had mixed feelings. Sure, we were excited for Jared to venture off on his own. But selfishly, we wanted to be able to sit down at the bar at Goose Island Clybourn and order one of his culinary-inspired concoctions. We have been without Jared’s beers going on 10 months, but hope is on the horizon. In August, a press release went out announcing details of Rouben’s new venture: Moody Tongue Brewing Company. The brewery, located in a former glass factory in the Pilsen East neighborhood of Chicago, will include a room next to the 20-barrel brewhouse where Jared can explore and prepare various culinary ingredients that will be used in his beers.
I met up with Jared at Chicago’s premier farmer’s market, the Green City Market. As if agreeing to an interview wasn’t gracious enough, Jared provided a guided tour of the market for the hubby, baby Flynn, and me, introducing us to farmers and affording us the ability to taste the season’s exceptional produce. Jared isn’t only a rock star in the brewing world; he is also a bit of a celebrity at the Green City Market. A member of the Market’s Junior Board, Jared had no less than five people come up to him during our 20 minute interview, including the Chef from Avec. A huge thank you to Jared Rouben for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with us and for showing us around the market!
You started out as a Chef. Did you always want to be a chef? How did you decide on that career path?
I started out wanting to be a physician just like my father. And the way he and I would bond was to cook together. We would grill or bake; the conversation was always about food. I don’t think we knew that cooking was a career option, but after taking a couple science classes at Washington University, I called my dad up and said, ‘Am I supposed to really love biology and organic chemistry?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘What about blood?’ And he said, ‘Well, yeah, you might need to be OK with blood. You might want to start exploring other career paths.’ My dad was very supportive and asked me what I liked, what I was interested in, what I cared about. I said I love food. My dad suggested I start looking into what that could mean. So I started looking into different culinary schools and I came across the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York. And so, like very open-minded parents, they told me to finish my degree at Wash U and then we could go visit the CIA. When we went there, my parents saw the level of professionalism, they saw the food that was being put out. My parents did some research about the chefs that had been through there and then told me that this might be the right place for me. It was focused and it was disciplined and it rewarded hard work. Which is not a bad combination if you are going to get into brewing eventually.
How did you become interested in beer?
My first week of culinary school, I tried to join the wine club but each session was $45. I was a culinary student and didn’t have that kind of money. And you had to have a minimum GPA to join the wine club. This was culinary school, not Oxford, and I didn’t know why I was being judged on my math or English when all I’m trying to do is learn about wine. Beyond that, I didn’t have a GPA; I had been there for one week. So I started a beer club. Instead of charging $45 a session, I charged $1. I got the school to buy a homebrew kit and we started homebrewing. And at the same time we brought in different chefs from the school to show us how to use beer as an ingredient and as a pairing item. We also brought in different breweries like Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and Magic Hat to teach us about the beer, and it was fun. And students were responsive and we really started to get creative, especially when we moved beyond beer and cheese. We thought with all of these different resources, all of this different kitchen equipment, all of these different ingredients, we can do better. And we did.
What can a brewer learn from a chef? What can a chef learn from a brewer?
A chef can teach a brewer where to source different ingredients, where to best use those ingredients, and what techniques are going to bring out the best flavors and aromatics from those ingredients. And that’s only because chefs are using those ingredients on a day to day basis whereas brewers might only use them at a certain time of year or for a specific style of beer. We can help each other in that regard. And what can a chef learn from a brewer? This is difficult because I don’t have my chef coat on right now, but I’ll take a step back. Maybe a chef can appreciate what a brewer has to offer if he wants to explore the process of brewing, the process of beer, because it is so similar [to cooking]. Overall, a kitchen and a brewery aren’t so different. You still have to keep everything very clean, you still start with great ingredients and you finish with a great product. We just wear different outfits but otherwise we are the same people.
How did you start incorporating culinary ingredients in your beers?
I think my real ah-hah moment occurred when I was cooking out in Napa. I would go to the farmer’s market there and everything was so full of flavor, so full of aromatics and I realized I could really make my homebrews pop and standout by using these fresh ingredients. I think the first ingredient for me was the pluot, which is a hybrid between a plum and an apricot. I don’t know who decided to put those two things together, but yes! Thank you! You made my pale ale so much better. These are all the flavors I want in my beer; why am I waiting on hops to provide these flavors? This was before the time of Galaxy and Citra. And Cascade was great but I wanted something beyond grapefruit notes. Where Moody Tongue excels is the focus on balance; balance of using the culinary ingredients, hops and yeast, and understanding the ingredients to a point where you highlight and showcase the best that they can be, flavor-wise and aromatically.
Have you had any backlash from traditional brewers who feel that you should stick with malt, water, hops and yeast and not use culinary ingredients?
When I was brewing at Goose Island, it was really, really important for me to not only explore my passion which is bringing the culinary arts into a brewery, but also to be able to create Reinheitsgebot beers. If I was going to explore the unknown, I wanted to make sure that I could make all of the traditional styles first. So if you ever looked at my beer list while I was at Goose Island, I would have a Farmer’s Market beer on there but I would also have three traditional styles. Always. An English Bitter, a Porter, a Marzen. Every homebrewer wants to brew the greatest beer and change the brewing industry. But what I’ve learned is to stick to one style and keep brewing it until you get it dialed in and then move on to the next one. Don’t try to take over every beer day one. You are not going to become a better brewer that way. My passion is bringing the culinary world and the brewing world together. But I love brewing traditional styles and always have.
How long has Moody Tongue Brewing Company been in development?
I think when any brewer creates his first beer, he gets excited about the opportunity to one day start his own brewery; to have your own place, to make your own recipes, to really explore different ingredients. So I started thinking about having my own brewery after I created my very first beer at Rock Bottom. I thought, ‘hey, I could do this. This is exciting.’ I knew that the beer wasn’t at the same level as the brewmaster’s beer but I hoped that if I kept my head down and learned, maybe my beer will eventually be of the same quality as his. And that person was Tim Marshall, who is now the brewmaster at Solemn Oath Brewery. He was my first boss.
How have you see the Chicago craft beer scene grow since you started brewing? How do you see Moody Tongue fitting into that scene?
I had no idea that the Chicago brewing world was going to look like this. I remember back in the day, when I graduated Siebel, you could either become a Rock Bottom brewer or a Goose Island brewer. There was Piece but you knew you couldn’t get in there. So what did I do? I applied to 65 places and was rejected by 64. I got a call from [Senior Brewer] Pete Crowley and he offered me a 20-hour-a-week job at Rock Bottom Warrenville and a 20-hour-a-week job at Rock Bottom Lombard. And I said I’d take it. It was a two-hour commute out there with one using well water and the other using Lake Michigan water. Two very different types of brewers doing two very different styles of beer. And that’s where the adventure began.
And back in the day you knew who was making what style. Wil Turner was making fantastic English styles. Pete Crowley was making hop bombs; really delicious hoppy beers. And you knew Jonathan [Cutler] over at Piece was doing German styles like no one else could. And the Three Floyds guys were making beer that everyone wanted to get their hands on. And that was it. Now I don’t know most of the brewers in Chicago. But change is wonderful. I think it’s difficult in the beginning but I think it’s something that you really should embrace. Now people are more educated about beer, they care more about beer. People are curious and it allows you to do more as a brewer, it gives you more flexibility. And where Moody Tongue fits in all of this? I’m not really sure, I think we’ll find out pretty quickly. As long as I use great ingredients and make great beer, I’m sure we’ll have a place. But I can’t tell you for certain because the beer landscape is changing every day. And that’s great, that’s OK, because that means more people are interested about beer here in Chicago. That’s a good thing for us.
What is your process for coming up with a beer recipe?
I go and I find ingredients to build recipes with; the ingredients provide the inspiration. Look around at all of the different colors and the different produce [at the Green City Market]. If you’re not inspired to go home and go into the kitchen or into the brewery, I don’t know what’s going to do it for you because this is where the real wealth is. This is the wealth of Illinois and Michigan right here. I love it.
At what point do you add the culinary ingredient, or does it change depending on the ingredient?
It really does change depending on the ingredient. You should showcase the ingredient in its most natural form. So what does that mean? That means that if I put the ingredient in at 200 degrees at the end of the boil, you probably are not going to really taste the ingredient unless it’s coffee. And even at that point you are getting more flavor with your coffee beans rather than aromatics. So timing and temperature is super important. And it really does depend on the ingredient. But for me, the less I harm, the less I damage the ingredient, the better off my beers are. That’s why I decided to put the ingredient in there initially. If you taste any of my beers with these culinary ingredients you’ll know that I want to showcase them. I don’t just want to say I put it in there and for them to be lost. I’m not going to make a strawberry beer if you are not going to taste or smell strawberry in there. It would be a waste of the ingredient.
You recently announced that you are participating in an auction for Green City Market. Can you tell me a little about that?
Definitely. The Green City Market and the Junior Board are putting on our big event on October 3rd. There’s a band, there are chefs, there are mixologists and there are obviously farmer’s market ingredients. What I’m auctioning off is a day of brewing. We will start the day at 8 am and we brew together. You participate in every single part of the process, from mashing in to digging out, to hopping and finally sending that beer into the fermentation tank. After the brew day, we take you over to Nightwood, an absolutely incredible restaurant in Pilsen with Chef Jason Vincent. And Uber’s involved as well to make sure you get to all the right places. It’s fun. And let me tell you something, it is just you and me and we’re brewing; you won’t be chilling out and drinking beers. We’re going in there and we’re really learning how to brew. So if you are interested in brewing on a 20 barrel custom-made DME production facility brewhouse, you should take a look.
If you are interested, be sure to check out the online-auction and get your bids in before 5 pm on October 6th. Happy bidding!
For more photos from my interview with Jared Rouben, check out Christopher Murphy’s Flickr page!