Kevin Hickey takes a sip.
We were walking the pavement looking for hot tips about the restaurant scene. We stopped at a shoeshine stand. “What do you know about Kevin Hickey’s new place Allium in the Four Seasons Hotel, Johnny?” we asked. “I don’t know nothin’ about it,” Johnny said. We slipped him a fin and Johnny leaned in close, so as not to be overheard by other food bloggers. “He’s makin’ his own beer right now at Goose Island,” Johnny said. At last, the inside dope we needed. We raced over there and sure enough, Hickey and a couple of his chefs were there, working alongside Goose Island Clybourn head brewer Jared Rouben. They were making a Belgian Red Ale which Hickey planned to call Allium Roses— “red onions”— which will be ready about the time the new restaurant opens in late February. Here’s our slideshow about the brewing process at Goose Island as Hickey and crew experienced it, and a little more about Hickey’s plans for Allium.
Chef Kevin Hickey of Allium in The Four Seasons and Jared Rouben, brewmeister at Goose Island Clybourn, next to a barleywine and a cherry-infused ale aging in bourbon barrels.
Rouben pours off a little flat beer from one of the tanks for us to taste. We were kind of stunned to learn that he almost never makes the same beer twice— he’s always trying new recipes to fill the brewpub’s 24 taps.
Hickey takes a swig. His original plan was to make a winter dopplebock, but there wasn’t enough time for it to age and be ready for the opening in late February. Since dopplebock names always end in “-ator,” it would have been “Onionator.”
The beers brew for several days in these tanks, but some of the finished ones wind up being connected directly to the bar via a carbonation system. Juggling what’s in the tanks to keep the taps occupied with enough finished beer is one of Rouben’s challenges.
Hickey and Rouben look at the mash, which is the grain steeping at around 160 degrees to extract the sugars. The recipe includes both lighter and a dark-roasted “chocolate” malt, plus some wheat. The result, before fermentation begins, is literally a sweet barley tea.
The mash. While it steeped, Hickey told us about the new restaurant’s design, which will be an eclectic mix of the hotel’s traditional style and some modern, even flashy touches like a cheetah-print couch. Because it’s a hotel, he gets to just enjoy the renovation as a spectator and make beer— “We have four different engineering departments working on it.”
Going into the beer later on will be this combination of aromatic ingredients Hickey’s been making for years, including tangerine peels and vanilla beans.
Once the mash is done, the sugar water is drawn off and cooled as it goes into another tank. That’s sous chef Richard Polhemus watching the mash being rinsed; also present was Roberto Hernandez, a former cook under Hickey who’s now a pastry chef at The Four Seasons in Egypt. Back in Chicago for vacation, he jumped at the chance when his old boss invited him to come see the brewing process. Later, at lunch, Hernandez would reveal that he recently played Santa Claus for the guests in Egypt, appearing from a boat at the beach in costume.
Once cooled, the wort will be transferred to one of these tanks and yeast will be added.
This American ale was brewed the day before, and was already kicking up foam from the active fermentation— and more to the point, already tasted like beer.