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Sharon Van Etten + Goose Island at Pitchfork

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Photos and text by Amanda Koellner 

Live music and beer have a healthy relationship. The experience of each is easily improved by combining the two—but rarely does the creator of the former take a stab at making the latter. For the past two years, Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery and Pitchfork Music Festival have fused the two, inviting musicians to work with top brewers on a special beer made specifically for the three-day indie music extravaganza in Chicago’s Union Park.

For Pitchfork 2013, hip- hop duo Run the Jewels created an eponymous dry-hopped Belgian wheat ale sold exclusively at the fest; for 2014, the brewery turned to singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten for the collaboration. When senior brewer in the company’s barrel program, Eric Ponce (a huge SVE fan), received a staff email asking if anyone was interested in working with her on the 2014 installment of the Pitchfork-specific beer, he jumped on the chance.

The process began with a phone call about what Van Etten generally looks for in a brew—a tad tricky considering the artist fancies herself a red wine drinker above all. “Initially, I said, ‘Are you sure you want to talk to me about this?’ But they knew my background and that I was into wine, so they knew I’d have some type of vocabulary in talking about beer, which was cool,” she says. “But I definitely called my brothers, who are both really into beer, before I talked to everyone to make sure I didn’t sound like a moron.”

The two settled on kölsch (Van Etten’s favorite)— crisp, clean, and delicate— but took into account the fact that the artist also loves pale ales. “Because she likes both, we made a dry-hop kölsch, which isn’t traditionally how kölschs are made, but we thought we’d give it a shot,” Ponce says. “She wanted it clear, grassy, and spicy, so that helped us decide what hops to use.” He also notes that Van Etten wasn’t looking for a wheat ale (despite the fact that 20% of the malt recipe used for the kölsch is wheat), so the Goose Island team swapped out the ingredient and substituted rye. “It adds a nice, underlying layer,” he says. “It’s a good complexity to drink during a hot summer day—at about 5% alcohol, it has enough flavor where people can still break it down and appreciate it.”

The beer’s airiness paired well with what Van Etten tends to prefer at a music festival if she opts for beer over her usual wine or her band’s celebratory pre-show shot of whiskey (“which is medicinal—it sooths the throat”). “I know that I like a lighter style because if you’re drinking crazy Belgium beers for hours at a time in the summer, you’ll feel pretty gross after a while,” she says.

The light drinkability of the appetizing Sharon Van Etten brew allowed the singer to sip on a glass of her very own beer as she took the stage to perform on a sunny summer day at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

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