By D.J. Paul
Over the past month Portland has been receiving more varieties of beer from acclaimed Chicago-based brewery, Goose Island. In the past our area has seen the likes of a few of their Belgian-style beers: Matilda, Sofie and Pere Jacques. Now we’ll also be seeing their 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker’s Ale, IPA and their rotating Seasonal on the beer shelf and on tap.
Founded by John Hall nearly 25 years ago in 1988, Goose Island continues to operate their original brewpub in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. In 1995 when Goose Island outgrew their brewpub production, they expanded into a separate production brewery a few miles southwest on the city’s Westside. Then they opened a second brewpub a block south of Wrigley Field in 1999.
Then in 2006 a Portland connection began for Goose Island when Craft Brew Alliance (currently consisting of Widmer, Redhook, and Kona) purchased a 42% stake in Goose Island. Another Oregon connection that Goose Island has is in their Brewmaster, Brett Porter. Brett is a Portland native and prior to joining Goose Island in May 2010, he held the title of Head Brewer at Deschutes Brewery.
But the big news for Goose Island came in early 2011 when it was announced that Anheuser-Busch would be purchasing this growing craft brewery. Goose Island was facing challenging capacity issues and was discontinuing certain beers to meet demand of their more popular offerings. From this acquisition, Goose Island is now brewing some of their core beers at Anheuser-Busch breweries and this has allowed Goose Island to bring back some discontinued offerings and greatly expand their Belgian style ales and their barrel-aging program. With this sale, the two brewpubs did not change ownership and John Hall still owns these two fine establishments.
The most important piece of information to come out of this acquisition is the national roll-out of Goose Island to all 50 states. In 2011 they brewed 150,000 barrels of beer, up 20% from the previous year. This year their goal is 230,000 barrels. With this goal of growth comes their expansion into newer markets for them. Oregon and Washington is now beginning to see this expansion into their beer markets.
Last week Goose Island hosted a launch party for the brand in Portland. I was fortunate enough to attend and was able to sample their 7 offerings that evening. Below is a breakdown on each beer.
312 Urban Wheat Ale
This wheat ale named after Chicago’s original area code offers a slight hop characteristic to a traditional American Wheat Ale. Not the most adventurous beer but it is a great crossover beer to order for a friend that is just getting into craft beer. Over the years this beer has won 4 medals at GABF, 3 of them Gold. Plus at 4.2% ABV you can partake in a few of these on a Sunday afternoon.
Goose Island’s namesake beer is their take on an English Special Bitter. The hop and malt profile make this a well-balanced ESB. If you ever get to Chicago make it point to stop at the Clybourn Brewpub and order this on cask. Its delicious and well worth seeking out.
Just what Portland needs is another IPA? If you come looking for a Pacific NW hop bomb you will be disappointed. Goose Island IPA is one that is subtler IPA more in the realm of Bridgeport Brewing IPA. Using Styrian, Fuggle, Cascade and Centennial hops makes for a very nice well rounded IPA with a pleasant hop finish. Clocking in at only 5.9% ABV allows you to drink a few of these while out. Over the years this IPA has won 6 GABF medals in the English-Style IPA category.
Goose Island’s current seasonal is Mild Winter, a malty, hearty winter beer to take the chill off one’s body. I really appreciate the 5 malts used in this brew that takes over from the upfront hops. A very nice sessionable winter beer at 5.6% ABV.
The lightest offering from their Belgian Style beers is Sofie, a Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale aged in wine barrels. Pouring a nice appearance of Champagne color with notes of spicy citrus makes for a fine example of this style.
The most well known of Goose Island Belgian’s is Matilda, a Belgian Style Pale Ale. This fruity and spicy Pale Ale along with its wild yeast offers an enjoyable yet complexity for the beer connoisseur.
When a brewer decides to add more malt along with more Belgian yeast what results is a Belgian Style Abbey Ale. At 8.7% ABV I notice very little alcohol on the taste so be careful with this one. I’m not the biggest fan of Abbey Ale’s but this one does seem to be a bit more approachable.
During the Goose Island Portland launch event I spent some time speaking with Goose Island’s Western Sales Manager, Mike Kelley. He is excited to see a more diverse lineup of Goose Island beers here in the Pacific Northwest. Being from Chicago I too am glad to see that I can now purchase 6 packs of their well-balanced IPA. However, Goose Island brews some other outstanding beers that I would prefer to drink. Therefore I asked Mike when Oregon will begin to receive more of Goose Island’s specialty beers. It seems that Goose Island is taking a wait-and-see approach to how well their core product line is received here. I was told that if this line takes off well we will more than likely see additional offerings as the newly re-configured Chicago brewery’s production catches up with demand.
I feel that if they choose to not entice us with some Bourbon County Brand Stout along with a few of its variations or with my two favorite Belgian Style beers they produce, Juliet and Lolita their brand will have a tough up hill battle to fight here in Oregon. Shelf space is a premium but with Anheuser-Busch behind them it will allow for better placement at grocery stores and larger bars. Time will tell if and when they expand their offering to us Oregonians. I hope they do, if not you may see some of their bottles collecting some dust.