Moody Tongue Brewing’s new tasting room in Pilsen isn’t for everyone. It’s not for those who prefer to watch TV or snack on fried foods while drinking a pint. In fact, it’s not even for those who want to drink from a pint glass. Or from a tasting flight of small glasses. The beer is served in hand-blown Austrian goblets with stems so delicate they look liable to shatter if you sneeze too hard, and there are no flights. There are oysters, however—served by the dozen or half dozen—and gargantuan slices of 12-layer German chocolate cake. As far as food goes, that’s it.
The extremely limited food selection may seem like an odd choice, especially given the culinary inspirations behind the beer that head brewer Jared Rouben has been making at Moody Tongue since he launched the brewery nearly three years ago. Among the former chef’s flagship beers are a nectarine IPA and a caramelized chocolate-churro porter, and over the years he’s brewed with many other edibles, like pawpaws, green coriander, and purple raspberries. If Rouben is making food-inspired beer, why not have more beer-inspired food to go with it? In a phone conversation a few months ago, he told me that he thinks having one savory option and one sweet one is “a great way to show focused beer pairings.” Oysters and chocolate cake also happen to be the two foods he most wants to eat when drinking beer.
It’s obvious from the moment you walk up to the host stand that this isn’t your average brewpub. The tasting room, located in the same former glass factory that houses the brewery, has brick walls painted white and a high black ceiling, giving the impression that it extends upward indefinitely. Midcentury-modern furniture, a white marble bar, and a fireplace flanked with glass-doored cases that house old books on brewing all combine to create an atmosphere that’s simultaneously cozy and stark. Everything feels intentional, from the hanging ferns to the globe in the corner to the thick vintage copy of One Hundred Years of Brewing placed carefully on a side table.
The same attention to detail is apparent in the beer—not to mention each element of the excellent chocolate cake. On top of a crust made of pretzels, chocolate cereal, graham crackers, and butter are layers of chocolate cake alternating with espresso cheesecake, coconut-pecan caramel, and chocolate buttercream; the chocolate mirror glaze is so shiny you can see the hanging lamps reflected in it. Made by pastry chef Shannon Morrison, it’s served in wedges that weigh nearly two pounds, cost $15, and are best tackled by at least four people. Despite our most determined efforts, my friend and I couldn’t even manage half.
When I imagine pairing beer with cake I think of heavy stouts and porters, but instead our bartender recommended the smoked Applewood Gold lager and the Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison, two beers that he said would cut through the richness of the chocolate (he also suggested the saison with the oysters). The pairings worked pretty well; I preferred the light-bodied, smoky, mildly funky lager to the herbal, citrusy saison. (But then, I’ve never quite gotten out of my head the association my colleague Philip Montoro once made between that beer and a certain cleaning product.) I’m glad I didn’t try the cake with the bourbon-barrel-aged barleywine, a lovely beer that tastes like dates and brown sugar with a dash of bourbon and is much too sweet to pair with dessert. But I would be interested in a pairing with the bourbon-barrel-aged gingerbread imperial stout: its spiced molasses notes and creamy chocolate flavor with a touch of graham cracker combine to create a relatively dry beer that doesn’t hint at its whopping 14.2 percent ABV.
Moody Tongue is clearly fulfilling a vision of Rouben’s: carefully crafted beer served in carefully crafted glasses in a thoughtfully decorated room along with thoughtfully selected food items. The atmosphere isn’t stuffy, but it is exacting. The cake, for example, could easily be sold in more reasonable portions—but that wouldn’t make for the head-turning, Instagrammable dessert that the brewer envisioned. I respect Rouben for not compromising on what he wants. The execution is flawless. But really, would serving a few pretzels kill him?
The Tasting Room at Moody Tongue, 2136 S. Peoria, 312-600-5111, moodytongue.com, Sun noon-11 PM, Mon 5-11 PM, Thu 5-11 PM, Fri 5 PM-midnight, Sat noon-midnight