Jessica Nash

In this column, we celebrate the best beers our writers have ever enjoyed. But it’s not just about the beer: it’s often just as much about the who, where, or when.

There’s a scene in the animated food film Ratatouille in which, upon eating the eponymous dish, the esteemed and notoriously difficult food critic Anton Ego is rocked to his core: as his eyes well up with tears, he is transported to a moment in his childhood when he’d tasted and enjoyed his mother’s cooking. I have had few food experiences in my life that transcendent -- but one was the moment I first tasted Goose Island Halia paired with The Publican’s signature Ham Chop in Hay.

Before I landed a job at Anheuser-Busch InBev, I only knew of three types of beers in the world: “Regular beer”; “hoppy beer;” and Guinness. Of course, the craft beer scene had already exploded -- but I didn’t know any better. So on the fancy end of “regular beer,” I would occasionally drink Stella Artois out of a chalice; I enjoyed Guinness for its smooth mouthfeel and foamy head; I had a strong dislike for bitter, hoppy beers. I was an average consumer and a marketer’s dream.

During my first few months on the job, I learned all about American and European lagers, saisons, porters, IPAs, Belgian witbiers -- and the list of styles seemed to be endless. Yet, at the bar, I’d continue to stick to my three simple types of beers. Why make things complicated? Can’t we leave that to wine?

Then, one day, I was asked to attend Goose Island University in Chicago, a multi-day program organized by the brewery to educate employees, partners, and fans, all about the brand’s rich brewing culture. We touched upon everything from ingredients to brewing process; from glassware to food pairing. And we even got a glimpse into the resurrected and flourishing Elk Mountain Farms. It was at Goose Island University that I was first introduced to the Sour Sisters: Halia, Gillian, Lolita, Juliet, and Madame Rose…and it was love (or polyamory) at first sight. The Sisters are farmhouse ales each aged in wine barrels with a unique kind of fruit. Bottled like wine, the Sisters are to be enjoyed with friends and food -- and opened my eyes to a fourth category of beer.

Towards the end of Goose U.’s program, we were taken to The Publican for a beer pairing lunch. And when the main course -- their previously mentioned Ham Chop in Hay over grits, peaches, buttermilk, and dandelion greens -- arrived alongside a cold glass of Halia, my beer-drinking life would be forever changed. I smelled the Halia; I inhaled the aromas of the pork. I looked at the peaches on my plate, and smelled the Halia again (more peaches!).

In that first big bite, I took in the savory quality of the ham and grits, the smokiness of the preparation, the creaminess of the grits, and a hint of tart acidity imparted by the peaches. Upon following up that bite with a sip of Halia, I was utterly humbled. Like Anton Ego, I was rocked to my core. I looked around to see if my lunchmates were experiencing this meal in the same way. As my heart and head raced, I felt like I’d just discovered a new world of wonder that I needed to shout about from the rooftop. I’d preach the gospel of Halia and pork; beer and food.

For me, Halia shattered the mystique of pairing food with beer. Fermented with fresh, whole, macerated peaches, the beer provides a clear roadmap of the dishes with which it wants to be drunk. Halia was my gateway to redefining beer, understanding food pairings, and a new pursuit of becoming a Certified Cicerone.

Halia is the best beer I ever had.