Moody Tongue, Chicago’s Culinary Brewery, Is Breaking All the RulesJanuary 09, 2020
If you want your beer served in stemware, you’re probably taking it too seriously, or so they say. Chicago’s Moody Tongue doesn’t care about what people say—or at least it shouldn’t. The six-year-old brewery recently moved to its new home on the city’s South Side, which features a tasting room for its “culinary brews” and dining room serving 12-course meals paired with barrel-aged Flanders red ales and black truffle pilsners, and yes, they’re served in beautiful stemmed glasses.
Brewmaster Jared Rouben, who spent several years in the kitchen of Per Se before transitioning from food to beer and overseeing brewing operations at Goose Island’s brewpubs, appears to be on a one-man mission to destroy every beer stereotype in the book—although the modest Culinary Institute of America and Siebel Institute graduate would never admit to such. “I started my profession in the culinary industry and really broke my bones there, transitioned to the brewing industry, and now I have them both together again. So you can see it’s all come together—it just took me a while to get here.” Rouben says. “For me, it’s a long-time dream come true being able to bring beer to great food.”
That dream comes with some hurdles. The first of several factors working against Moody Tongue is its location. The former tenant of the building, Baderbrau Brewing, lasted just over two years in the space before auctioning off the brewery in pieces. It sits nextdoor to a janitorial supplies warehouse, across the street from a semi-truck parking lot, in a corner of Chicago that’s not exactly bustling with nightlife options. Rouben sees the off-the-beaten-path location as a way to bring fresh food and beer to an underserved neighborhood. “As long as we provide great food, great beverage, and great service, then we’ll be a great part of the community,” he says.
Walking inside is a breath of fresh air. The first floor lobby acts as a transitional area—preparing you both physically (brush the snow off your shoes, check your coat) and mentally for the experiences that await upstairs. Turn left and you’re in the 28-seat dining room, where chef Jared Wentworth will treat you to plates of smoked bass gougeres and oyster panna cotta. Head right and you’re in the tasting room, where you can choose from an a la carte menu and full selection of beer, wine, and cocktails.
When designing the new Moody Tongue, Rouben and team decided to leave sterile cliches in the 2010s and create a taproom for this new decade. While the first Moody Tongue tasting room, which operated in the nearby Pilsen neighborhood from 2016 to 2019, was a whitewashed warehouse number with a large fireplace surrounded by bookshelves and sprawling marble bar, the new Moody Tongue is a study in black and deep wood tones. The dining room is a sleek wood-paneled enclave with bronze birds flying across one of the walls and black leather chairs inviting you to get comfortable, because you’re going to be here a while. The bar, meanwhile, is like a sexy cave, where you can choose to take your beverage at the black marble bar or on one of the leather couches in front of, yes, another bookshelf-flanked fireplace.
Just as much, if not more, thought went into the food and beverage offerings. Rouben and Wentworth spent weeks coming up with the pairing for the tasting menu, where they would taste over a dozen different beers with each course, finding the perfect match: Maine lobster with creamy chawanmushi is paired with a pressed Asian pear saison while Berkshire pork belly is served alongside Carolina Gold rice and a bruleed banana dunkel weizenbock. And if you choose the more causal bar, you’ll hardly be slumming it with the likes of smoky beet tartare served with spruce infused ricotta, and the Japanese sweet potato agnolotti looks and taste unlike anything you’ve ever had at a brewery. Here you can choose from some of Moody Tongue’s core brews, including the toasted rice lager and recently released Scotch barrel-aged peated Scotch ale, or beers you’ll only find in this building, such as the Jolly Rancher-like sour watermelon saison.
With all of the pieces in place, Moody Tongue’s next challenge is the people who try to fit it into the same box as a wine-focused tasting menu restaurant instead of letting it be the beer-fueled paradise that it is. Much like how Chicago is plagued by its own Second City status—always trying to live up to big brother NYC, while New York City is too busy being New York City to care about the Windy City tugging at its pant leg—beer does itself a disservice when it tries to chase after wine instead of just being beer.
Rouben, however, isn’t underestimating his clientele. “I’ve always stayed true to my mission—always—regardless of other people's thoughts to bring great food and great beer together. If you look at my career trajectory, that’s all I’ve been doing,” Rouben says. A place like Moody Tongue, with its focus on food and less “marketable” brews, wouldn’t exist five or even two years ago. The stars aligned—the rise in craft beer, the success of the Moody Tongue brand during its early years, and the addition of Wentworth—to make it happen.
According to Rouben, “We’re in the golden age of beer. The fact that my mom is calling me when she goes to Whole Foods and saying, ‘Hey, there’s a homebrew kit, should I get it for your dad?’ shows how far beer has come. Everyone not only knows beer, they understand beer, and that’s a reason why we can build a restaurant like this and take 12 courses and pair it with beer.”