It seems a very good friend of ours is celebrating a rather special occasion. That's right friends, while I might be late to the party there was no way that I was going to miss offering a hearty and well-deserved "Congratulations!" to Goose Island on their silver anniversary! Twenty-five big years of holding down the craft beer scene in Chicago. It wasn't always easy, but their persistence, dedication to quality, and determination to spread the craft beer gospel has paid off in spades. Before I get this review started, if you haven't seen it already be sure to check out the interview with Goose Island Founder, John Hall. It was conducted by cool guy and all around beer badass Nik from Chicago Beer Geeks. Talk about an insane privilege! All right, now let's see what GI has whipped for us for this festive event. Let's pour!
The first sniffs of the chilled brew are almost akin to a good German lager. European hops are prominent with their earthiness and a delicate, fresh citrus that blends with it. A faint but unmistakable pine note enters later as the beer warms. The malts are barely roasted and bready with only trace amounts of caramel. Not a powerhouse of an aroma, but they don't all have to be, do they?
This beer absolutely sets the glass on fire with its bright reddish-coppers and orange hues. Super high clarity and capped with a nicely contrasting ivory colored foam. No movement from bubbles inside, but the head remains as a surface covering for some time and shows no sign of stopping. Hold this one at arms length and look into it as you move it toward and away from a light source. You won't be disappointed.
A malt-driven beginning showcases some dry, crackery, and crystal malts. Things get only a drizzle of caramel before a bitter fades in slowly as does a tart tinge. The main backbone is a caramel/crystal malt combination with some spicy hops thrown in the mix. Thankfully, the caramel's round, mellow sweetness increases as the beer warms in the glass. The delicate hop citrus notes from the aroma have been made even less of a presence, but are still detectable. Well, balanced but with an emphasis on the bitter as the style demands. The finish actually allows the caramel to finish its say before washing it clean with a light, resinous bitter that makes the sides of the tongue tingle ever so slightly. Aftertaste is more of the resin clinging to whatever it can.
I like this. It's a moderate-full mouthfeel that helps you to ration out the beer and take your time. Its lighter flavors would have you drink it more quickly and fall victim to the invisible 6.4% ABV. In fact, the body is the only clue that you're getting anything other than a standard strength ale. The carbonation is initially fairly aggressive, but slides deceptively into the hops' spiciness as it sits in the mouth. It's a neat trick. Somehow despite that nearly prickly carbonation, the beer swallows with a smooth and creamy finish. There's a lot of neat stuff going on here if you're willing to pay attention to a characteristic that often goes unheralded.
Overall Impression 7/10
I suppose the beer does the style well: the English hops are well used in the "bittering only" capacity, the color is gorgeous and appropriate, it enjoys a caramel sweetness, and exhibits a sturdier body than expected while remaining quite drinkable (as most English styles demand). For a reasonably priced sixer this beats out a lot of options that are available.
This is not a bad beer. It's not a knockout either. Maybe Goose Island is brewing this as a tribute to one of their earlier beers and I don't know about it? Note: Upon further investigation, it is. Click here. I'd definitely purchase this over a lot of other beers available. I might even use it to win over the adventurous few who are thinking of taking the leap into bitter beers, but aren't ready for stronger IPAs or American-style brews just yet. I suppose that experiencing year after year of big ol' anniversary beers from any number of brewers I was expecting something a little more "special" from Goose Island on their 25th. In hindsight, I appreciate the tip of the hat they are giving to their roots, and if I want something bigger I'll turn to a bottle of Big John or Bourbon County. Also, since I haven't said it yet on the blog... big, huge, massive kudos to Goose Island for proving all the pessimists wrong and still brewing amazing beer after they were bought by AB-InBev. If that purchase had any effects, they were all positive. Goose Island's capabilities are expanded exponentially and AB-InBev has the ability to endlessly mimic a recipe, giving GI a consistent product even as their production happily ramps up to new levels. I won't claim complete amnesty and say I wasn't concerned at all, but Goose Island has proved us all wrong and I've never been so glad to eat a bit of crow... er, goose.