IN DEFENSE OF GREG HALL

The craft beer community recoiled in horror this week from ex- Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall following a piece in the Chicago Tribune that revealed the Bourbon County Stout pioneer had urinated into two pint glasses at the end of a night of heavy beer drinking at trendy beer-and-brat hotspot Bangers and Lace. I learned of the incident Monday when our Johnny-On-The-Spot Kid Carboy recounted the episode in his usual humorous but measured tone. As one who has made some questionable (OK, awful) decisions involving all manner of bodily fluids after nights on the town with Alehead buddies, I winced in sympathy at Mr. Hall’s position- the recent announcement that Anheuser Busch is acquiring Goose Island, along with his decision to step down after 23 years with the company meant that the embarrassing non-story might have legs. Yet I was unprepared for the waves of virulence his unfortunate pit stop generated, especially considering the quick and sincere acknowledgement and apology offered up by the former brewmaster:

“I feel awful,” he said. “I wouldn’t stand it if someone did it at my place or if one of my people did something like that… I did what I did and I take responsibility for it.”

Chief among those not willing to forgive or forget was bartender Matty Eggleston, the hero and source of the Trib piece who caught Mr. Hall in the act and confronted him on the street:

“It was disgusting, vile and revolting,” he said. “We all do dumb things; that went to a level that was pure insult.”

The well-coiffed Eggleston, described as “One of Chicago’s most famous bartenders” and purveyor as such hoity-toity ‘tails as a Bloody Mary with veal demi-glace and other exotic “farm-to-table” libations is a well-traveled veteran of a string of impressively pretentious high-end bars. B&L owner Matt Eisler, no doubt mortified at his establishments’ attachment to the event, refused to rule out the discontinuation of Goose Island products (a threat made easier, no doubt, by the recent industry backlash to the AB acquisition) but indicated any decision would be made “discretely”.

A personal apology from Hall to Eggleston via Facebook was rebuffed and sent to the Chicago newspaper (presumably to serve as an indication of guilt); a case of GI Big John Stout sent to B&L did little to assuage the delicate sensibilities of the offended parties. Across social networks, blogs, and message boards judgement and condemnation rained down upon Hall like his own urine upon an unsuspecting pint glass.

No doubt Greg Hall’s actions were ill-advised and gross. If a patron at my pretend bar were to engage in such behavior, there is no telling the way I would react- he may have been cornered in the alley and offered the option of drinking or wearing home his warm yellow homebrew. But one thing is certain- you would not have read about it in a rag newspaper.

What made Matty Eggleston decide to get the media involved in this non-story? Let’s examine what we know to determine the level of trauma endured by the beleagured suds-slinger:

  • Greg Hall and his Goose Island crew patronize Bangers and Lace for a birthday party; drinking commences.
  • He and his cohorts spend several hours consuming large quantities Belgian Goose Island offerings like Madame Rose (6.0 ABV) Juliet (6.7 ABV) Lolita (7.0 ABV).
  • Near the end of the night, Eggleston noted Hall in a suspicious piss-like stance.
  • Eggleston confirmed his suspicion with a quick temperature check by touching the pint glass with his fingers.
  • When confronted, Hall moved the offending glassware to a ledge near the exit. After further “choice words” from Eggleston, Hall left the establishment.
  • Eggleston presumably wiped down the bar, got rid of the glasses in a dumpster outside, and continued his verbal affront of Hall, whom he found waiting in his car outside for a ride home from his girlfriend.

The more closely I examine the events of last Friday, the less sympathy I have for the bartender. He witnessed an unpleasant event, no doubt. He had to carry glasses with someone else’s piss outside and throw them away. But by all accounts he got to lay into the chagrined Hall verbally both in and out of the bar, scoring some zingers such as:

“I said, ‘Hey what’s this?’” Eggleston said. “He said, ‘Beer.’ I said, ‘Perfect, let’s have a toast before you go.’ and “I told him to enjoy his newfound fortune and have a great night.”

Advantage, Eggleston. Not content to drive the chagrined brewmaster from his bar in shame, Hall’s notoriety in light of the AB takeover of Goose Island meant some press for the “famous” Eggleston.  In this era of Twitter, Facebook, and self-aggrandizing “Me” Culture, whenever something vaguely out-of-the-ordinary happens, the narcissistic are compelled to tell the world. On a night when thousands of more important things were happening in Chicago, and workers went about occupations hundreds of times more unpleasant than Egglestone’s cushy gig, the bartender felt his tale of woe was newspaper material. Commenter “Bob” of the enjoyable Beer and Whiskey Brothers felt that Mr Egglestone’s actions constituted a breach of the bartender code; I’m inclined to agree with him.

I love beer, but bear in mind the following- alcohol is a drug, one of the most deadly and unpredictable drugs out there. It can cause poor decision making, depression, and erratic behavior. It draws out sides of your personality normally repressed and controlled. Amongst the Aleheads, the Commander has urinated on computer keyboards, roommates, and out of windows after too much alcohol. I’ve seen Brother Barley stuff a diminutive red-headed pre-med student headfirst into a large trash can full of stale beer cups with no provocation after a few too many. Mashtun’s hand-eye-coordination drops from Korean Table Tennis Champion to Special Olympics participant in the blink of an eye, mid-brew. I won’t even get into nights I’ve had out with the Czar. And Magnus? Forget about it.  The amount of alcohol one can safely consume on a given night is impossible to guess and varies widely based on the amount of food in your stomach, how much sleep you had the night before, and overall state of mind.

Greg Hall has been under enormous pressure lately- we can only surmise at the backstory involving the Goose Island takeover, but suffice it to say he is out of a job he has done proudly and well for many years and GI is now in enemy hands. He mentions kids in the press release when he stepped down as brewmaster of his family’s prized brewery, but the Trib article noted a girlfriend picking him up for Bangers and Lace. Trouble at home? I have no idea. I don’t know the man, but from the outside one can certainly extrapolate that his life is at a crossroads.

Aleheads are the descendants of Norse warriors, who sang rowdy ballads in their beer tents after conquering foreign lands. No doubt they pissed in each others’ flagons from time to time, be it for prank or convenience. Our civilization has progressed much over the past centuries, but the animal part of our brains pulses beneath the surface, and is always susceptible to revelation by sufficient quantities of our favorite craft brews. Before you judge Greg Hall too harshly, think back on some of the mistakes you’ve made under the influence of our favorite beverage- let he who is without sin cast first… it’s pretty quiet in here, as I would expect. If you’re the kind of person who has never let yourself get out of control enough to make a mistake you’ll regret, you’re the kind of tight-assed d-bag with whom I have no interest in sharing a brew.

Given the choice between tossing back a Belgian Ale with Greg Hall or an Appletini with Matty Eggleston, their is no parallel universe that exists in which I would drink with Matty. Here’s a toast to you, brewmaster Hall! I respect your decision to part company with Goose Island. Keep your head up- this all shall pass, and further success awaits you down the road.

But of course you’ll understand if I check the temperature of my beer first, just in case.

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22 comments

  1. His name is Greg Hall. I think you might be confusing him with Greg Koch (pronounced like Cook) of Stone Brewing Co.

  2. Oops. That was an impressive and much repeated typo. Thanks Mike.

  3. Yes. If Greg Koch pissed in my beer glass I’d shove him out a 100th story window. Greg Hall, I’m less concerned about. Bartender is a douchebag. End of story. Great post.

  4. anonymouse · · Reply

    there’s no need to be a snitch and little bitch. if a guy pisses in your bar, punch him in the face and be done with it.

  5. In Slouch’s defense, he had just urinated on his keyboard and the “H” and “L” keys weren’t working.

  6. It’s the pro and the con of “celebrity,” to whatever degree. If this was a random drinker who did it, no one would feel the need to defend him. At the same time, a random drinker would never be a story in the Chicago Friggen’ Tribune.

    As I noted in my post when I first wrote it, there isn’t anything more that Hall could reasonably have done by way of apologizing. Still, I would have been right pissed at him.

    Why? My own Friday is a pretty good example. On the same day that these events were happening, I spent about 8 hours drinking in Chicago. I worked my way through the whole lineup at Haymarket, visited Half Acre, drank at Fountainhead, and drank at Resi’s Bierstube (also shnitzel) before heading to a show. At no point did I ever feel the urge to piss into anything that wasn’t a toliet. It’s difficult for me not to expect the same from a guy twice my age.

  7. God I hope I never attain a level of celebrity sufficient for my, um, ‘misadventures’ to be newspaper-worthy.

  8. Herr Hordeum · · Reply

    Isn’t that why we use these silly fake names? So we maintain the “right” to pee when and where we want, regardless of what the news may say?

  9. I can’t say that I’ve pissed any where other than a toilet when I was drinking. Well… maybe in the bushes. Sober, well let’s just say the Capital Building in Colorado has been marked as territory, and yes, I went to jail for it. But that’s another story.

    I’ve done some crazy shit whilst drinking… must be my Norse/Irish heritage. Mostly the bartenders were amused by me, and those that weren’t, just cut me off. Growing up in a mountain town with 600 residents, some of the crap I pulled was not near as insane as most of the nutters of old. Back when mining was the main industry, it was a typical night when the miners would bust up the bar & each other, pay for the damage, and be back the next night to do it all over again. That being said, if a bartender pulled what Matty did, he’d be mobbed, beat the shit out of, pissed on, & hung outside the second story window of the OMI bar head first, as a warning to those who would be a ‘whiney pussy’. And the guy that pissed in the bar glasses would be made to drink his own piss, and called an asshole. That’d be the the end of it, & everything would go back to its usual level of craziness. Small town living can be quite entertaining.

  10. Resie, that is without a doubt the best comment I’ve ever had on a post.

  11. Thanks Slouch!

    Mocking sarcasm is sport where I come from. I was raised with the attitude of ‘take no shit’ & if you whine & cry about something petty & insignificant, you might find yourself forced into a diaper & a pacifier stuffed in your mouth. Yeah, we’re bat shit crazy, but we’re fun people, us ‘mountain folk’. I could tell you stories that would make you shudder in horror, but is taken with a grain of salt here. Being a hard ass is par for the course, and a source of entertainment.

    Ever see a drunk & stoned cowboy run through the woods naked & roll in a gut pile?

  12. Ummm… not recently?

    I’m no “Mountain Folk” but will cop to bar shenanigans somewhat on par with Mr. Hall’s wild weekend. Everyone offended by this incident, especially Matty E, needs to just chill out a little bit.

  13. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · · Reply

    mmm… gut pile.

  14. You are a moron. When is the last time you had to clean up someone’s piss? Oh- the pressure made him do it?? Please. Furthermore the last time I even SAW an appletini was 1999. You must not get out much buddy. Greg was in bad taste and you are worse. Shame.

  15. Resie Rae · · Reply

    Better pack your bags, Slouch. Someone’s trying to send you on a guilt trip.

    Speaking of ‘delicate sensibilities’, I forget there are people who equate drunk shenanigans with, say, slapping the queen, or drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. To which I say, ‘get over yourself.’ It’s just piss. It’s not the end of the world.

    I had to clean up my cousin’s piss when he was drunk sleep walking & mistook the bedroom trash can, and the floor, and the wall, for the toilet. Yeah, it was gross, yeah I was pissed off, but I just punched him, called him an asshole, cleaned it up, and it was over & done. A non-event doesn’t need to be made into the crime of the century, especially when there are real crimes going on, like Green Chili Beer. The horror!

    Focus, people.

  16. I accept your shame Ria. Thanks for reading!

  17. Oooh, I like stories. One time a friend of mine (And Brother Barley’s) was so drunk at a hostel in Kinsale, Ireland that he pissed on the door leading out of our communal room. He couldn’t open the door and really thought that he had reached the bathroom that was just on the other side. People were pissed in the morning, as they should have been, but at the end of the day you’re talking about getting hammered and peeing in an inappropriate place. If one can’t find humor in that, I fear for the future of our race. You either laugh or you punch – There’s no middle ground like tweeting or seeking media attention.

  18. UFO John E · · Reply

    It’s a shame too…those pint glasses really tied the room together. They might as well close down B&L right now.

  19. As an ex-bartender, including a stint at Goose Island Clybourn, from its’ inception to 1994, my professional opinion is, Matt Eggleston is a little be-yawch.

    Greg Hall apologized the next day, to everyone involved. He didn’t apologize after the story broke, so, it was sincere. Although Hall’s behavior was uncalled for, especially at age 45, many of us have done stupid things when overindulging.

    The fact that he urinated into glasses that had contained Goose Island beer suggest Hall’s feelings on the AB purchase were less than friendly. It seems he was shown the door by AB, who probably view distribution and marketing (John Hall’s forte) as more important than actually brewing (Greg Hall’s forte).

    Eggleston’s holier than thou comment to Hall, “Enjoy your newfound fortune”, shows that this was more about jealousy than anything else.

    Forget the Bartender Code of Ehics, which demands discreetness regarding the accounts of what happens in a bar, Eggleston violated basic human conduct. Hall offered a sincere apology the FOLLOWING DAY. Eggleston was compelled to accept it, yet, he attempted to turn the apology against Hall, for Eggleston’s own self-aggrandizement. His faux-revulsion is such a put-on. Cowboy up, Eggleston, or rather, bartender up. What a wimp..

    Anyone who serves a bloody mary with a veal demiglace isn’t a bartender, they’re just a pretentious DB with deep-seated self-esteem issues.

  20. Thanks for your perspective Mike- I couldn’t agree more.

  21. […] Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall was so distraught by the situation that he took his buy-out, urinated on a Chicago-area bar, disappeared for a few months, and has now quit brewing entirely to focus on cider. Aleheads […]

  22. […] is what we’ve got to go on so far. Could be soon. Presumably, Greg will try not to urinate in public during the celebration of its opening.      Broad Shoulders Brewing   You know, it’s […]

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