After more than three decades, Goose Island Beer Co. is leaving its original brewery in Lincoln Park and moving to a new space near Elston and Division intersection, where the former Morton Salt Factory stood off the Kennedy Expressway’s Division Street exit.
This year, 16” on Center — the owners of the Empty Bottle, Dusek’s, and Revival Food Hall — unveiled a new music venue at the salt factory called the Salt Shed. As construction on the interiors continued, Salt Shed hosted an outdoor concert series along the Chicago River. The new space will come with a riverside patio where customers will be able to hear music from the Salt Shed concerts. The Clybourn brewpub didn’t have a permanent patio. During the pandemic, crews set up makeshift outdoor seating in the parking lot. The new venue gives Goose an option for outdoor events, like its 312 Block Party, that have been held outside its Fulton Street Taproom.
The move brings Goose Island Beer closer to the actual Goose Island, the area along Division Street between Halsted and Elston. The new brewpub is expected to debut at the end of 2023. Goose Island’s Clybourn brewpub will remain open “as long as possible” brewery president Todd Ahsmann tells Crain’s.
16” on Center co-founder Bruce Finkelman says he’s excited to bring Goose into the fold, to be part of the Salt District along the Chicago River’s North Branch. He emailed a statement to Eater:
When I first started the Empty Bottle, Goose showed a kinship for our desire to intersect music, food, and drink, working with us on some great neighborhood events together (music, frozen, dancing). For the Salt Shed project, Goose was our first call (heck, it’s on Goose Island). They have been willing participants in engaging our neighborhood community, and we look forward to them joining us in our new digs.
The space at Clybourn and Sheffield is the brewery’s original space, where Goose Island founder John Hall’s crew created the original Bourbon County Brand Stout and where alums like Off Color’s John Laffler and Moody Tongue’s Jared Rouben worked. It’s where Goose forged an identity, launching Chicago toward a golden age of craft beer. Located a few steps away from Binny’s Lincoln Park, the two venues developed a synergy that produced long lines during annual Black Friday beer releases. During the pandemic, even that synergy was tested as social distancing has apparently made those queues (which often came with fans sharing beer with other strangers waiting in line) a relic. Lines have been replaced by online sales and raffles. Meanwhile, Goose Island has increased production. Other than tradition, there’s no need to camp out as some fans would do overnight. The beer is more readily available.
But as inspirational as the space became, in recent years it lacked the same buzz as other brewpubs across the city. It seemed InBev only reluctantly took over brewpub operations in 2016, five years after the parent of Budweiser had purchased the brewery from Hall in 2011. InBev would open Goose Island-branded pubs in Philadelphia, London, and in airports across the country.
An InBev-mandated remodel in 2017 in Lincoln Park hoped to bring back some of that energy. But the brewpub model began showing some wrinkles. While diners were content with pub burgers and fish and chips when the brewpub opened in 1988, Chicago’s dining scene had since been transformed by Michelin stars and culinary tourism. There seemed to be an internal conflict at the brewpub about whether the food could be allowed to outshine the brews. And so, the status quo remained. In recent years, Goose has shifted the focus away from Clybourn, spotlighting its Fulton Street Taproom (which doesn’t serve food) and its brewhouse (also founded in 2017) which is closed to the public and available for private events.
Earlier this fall, clothing retailer Patagonia vacated its space across the street from the brewpub for a new flagship in Fulton Market. Store workers believed developers would raze the complex, which includes Goose Island and a Bed, Bath & Beyond, in favor of a residential project. In November, when asked about the prospect of Goose Island moving, Ahsmann had no comment. The building has gone through many incarnations. In one iteration, it was a development called 1800 Clybourn and was home to Muddler’s Pool Room.
Goose Island shared two statements about the move. The first is from Ahsmann:
I am thrilled for the next chapter in Goose Island‘s history in Chicago. Our passion for brewing great beer will continue to be at the center of everything we do. We are excited that this new location gives us a great opportunity to evolve with Chicago, and is only a short distance from the birthplace and namesake of Goose Island. Chicago was recently named the best beer city in America and we intend to uphold and contribute to that title with this new location. It also connects us with live music and entertainment, which has always been such a defining cultural aspect of Chicago. The Salt Shed has already begun to reshape the Chicago music landscape with fantastic shows and they’re just getting started. I can’t wait to welcome everyone to the new space and cheers to the future.
The second statement is from founder Hall:
The minute we were approached with the opportunity to join our friends at The Salt Shed in their new venue I was all in! Goose Island has been committed to celebrating Chicago culture and live music has always been a part of our story. It really clicked in 1997 when Los Lobos played at the brewery. That show really kicked off our passion for music and since then we’ve had 312unes, tons of local musician collaborations, we throw a great block party every year and it’s a natural and exciting fit for us to bring our beer to this incredible performance and community space.
Closing the brewpub represents the end of an era for a once humble operation that would give diners unlimited baskets of pub chips to start their meals. A new space gives Goose an opportunity for a full reset. Check back for more next year.
Goose Island Brewpub, 1200 W. Blackhawk Street, planned for a late 2023 opening.