CIW Q&A: Moody Tongue Brewing’s Jared Rouben

When Jared Rouben first started studying at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he wanted to sign up for the wine club.  But the club’s requirements of a minimum GPA—he hadn’t yet completed his first semester—and a $25 fee proved prohibitive.  So, instead he started a beer club—and kicked off his own love for beer, leading him to his current position as brewmaster at Moody Tongue Brewing where he puts his culinary education to use in the brew room, brewing beers that take on the flavors of exotic fruits, chocolates and other pairings Budweiser never considered.  We talked to Rouben about brewing, the beers we can expect to taste from Moody Tongue and why Chicago has some of the best beers on tap.

Jared Rouben.

Tell us a little about how you got started brewing, given that you initially trained to be a chef.
[At the Culinary Institute], I had the opportunity to work with all these breweries—Ommegang, Brooklyn, Dogfish Head [and] Sam Adams. I was on the other side of the table, and I was looking at this as a cook. We started taking these beers…and cooking with them, and pairing with them. That’s when I had an a-ha moment because I truly appreciate the complexity of all these different beer styles and their flavor profiles.  So much of the culinary education revolves around wine, but here we have beer—this growing industry—that’s still approachable. If you and your friends—everyone throws in about $5—you have the opportunity to taste beers from all over the country and even all over the world.
I said, there’s a huge opportunity here, and I really wanted to know more about creating beer, pairing with beer, cooking with beer and baking with beer.
Wait—baking with beer? 
Absolutely. I think baking with beer is the best way we can showcase beer. You keep beer in its most natural form. You could take your barrel-aged stout, and you soak your lady fingers for your tiramisu. It’s just a wonderful way to showcase beer the way beer is supposed to be tasted—in its natural form. If I had to incorporate beer into any culinary style, it would easily be baking.
The brew process actually is quite similar to baking.  It’s a lot of time and temperature [and] being meticulous with your measurements.  Just like with baking, there’s nothing you can do to fix it.  You kind of cross your fingers, you put everything in there, and with baking, you hope it rises.  That’s the same thing with beer: You put it in the tank and hope fermentation happens.
So is the finicky, “cross your fingers” nature of the brewing process the “moody” in Moody Tongue Brewing?  Where did you get the name?
The name came from someone with a discerning palate. I think we all have “moody tongues.” Depending on what we’re in the mood for we have the opportunity to choose what we consume.  People are much more educated and care more about beer and food than they ever have before.  People do have discerning palates.  That’s where Moody Tongue comes in.  We know everyone has a moody tongue, and we’re here to satisfy that moody tongue.
How exactly do you do that?
I think the beginning of creating Moody Tongue beers is understanding where we source our ingredients from—whether it’s Korean watermelons from Green Acre Farms or paw paws…. The first step is sourcing.  The next step is, how do we handle that ingredient?  You have to handle that ingredient so you showcase the aromatics and the flavors in the best possible way.  The third step is, how do we incorporate it into the beer?  So those three steps—sourcing, handling and the incorporating that ingredient in beer—are three things that differentiate Moody Tongue.
How has the Chicago brewing community helped you along the way?
I’m so fortunate to have started my brewing career here.  Chicagoans have such a passion for beer and food, and for me those are my two favorite things to talk about, to create.  If anything, with that kind of support from the community, it’s really allowed me to grow into the brewer that I am now and allowed me to create a company that focuses on beer and food—beyond pairing, but creating as well.
What would you like to see next for the brewing community?
One of the things we lack in the beer world right now is just a language framework.  You’ll find people at bars saying, “Give me something hoppy.”  But the truth is all beers have hops in them.  If you start speaking in culinary terms…when we do have the communication, then we do end up ordering something we actually enjoy and appreciate, instead of rolling the dice, which I think happens so much these days.  Using culinary language is an easy way to bridge [the language] gap.
So, when and how can we start drinking Moody Tongue beers?

We’re going to launch [in bars and restaurants across the city] on June 21, so right now we have beers in the tanks.  You can get it at local restaurants and bars like Dusek’s, Longman and Eagle, Aviary, Hot Chocolate, the Bristol, Vie and GT Fish and Oyster.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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