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The Beer Thinker: Mothership Goose

A vocal contingent of craft beer drinkers has given Goose Island a hard time about selling out to Anheuser-Busch. Yet, that doesn't stop them from swarming bars and liquor stores when Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout arrives, as it did this week in the Chicago area. It also doesn't stop them from buying up every last ticket to Goose events like this month's Goose Island Belgian Fest 2012.

The BCBS release and Belgian Fest offer two points of proof that Goose Island should not be dismissed in craft beer circles.

True, Goose is not by the definition of industry regulators and business analysts a craft brewer, but it hasn't been since well before the A/B acquisition.

Part of the attitude directed at Goose Island stems from paranoia. Many craft beer folks want to see their universe only as small local companies doing adventurous things with their own limited resources and independent of corporate machines and mass-market dynamics. They don't think Goose qualifies on those grounds.

But with its Bourbon County line of beers (which also includes a coffee stout, a rye stout and, reportedly, though not listed on the Goose website, a cherry stout), and its Fulton and Wood series of limited releases (my favorite of which is fig-flavored Black Mission), Goose seems to be doing what the rest of the local craft brewers are doing - innovative variations on styles it likes to brew, with very limited appeal to adventurous drinkers, and in limited volumes that won't do much for its bottom line.

At close to 15% alcohol, BCBS certainly isn't a mainstream beer, and it's practically a love note from Goose to craft beer nerds who like to cellar-age bottles for later consumption and/or sale on eBay.

I bought a four-pack of BCBS this week (roughly $22, a price that once alarmed, until other craft brewers started pursuing their own elevated pricing). I had to travel a bit further than my favored craft locals after being told by a few stores that they either didn't have it, or had already ran out (which may have been code for "saving it for ourselves.")

Goose routinely gets credit for popularizing the concept of barrel-aging beers, and it really seems to know what it's doing with BCBS. It's definitely pungent with burnt-wood bourbon odor and looks like black molasses in the glass. It's got a sweetness about it, too, but tastes more strongly of bourbon and very dark chocolate. Amazingly, it is easier to drink than the alcohol level suggesst, without any of the bourbon burn, though I'd advise sipping it from a juice glass and making a single bottle last a few hours.

I've been told this year's BCBS isn't as good as last year's. I wouldn't know, but I would put this one among my favorite barrel-aged beers from this year, a list that includes Greenbush Brewing's Mr. Hyde and Revolution Brewing's Black Power.

BCBS isn't the limit of Goose's creativity. The Belgian Fest was hosted by Goose Island's Clybourn location on September 9th, and while it wasn't a Goose-only event - featuring beers from at least a dozen breweries - the host pretty much stole the show by having about 10 beers ready to taste, at least four of them brews you won't find anywhere else. Goose already has a long line of vintage Belgian ales (Sofie, Matilda, etc.), but it continues to experiment and find new angle on a style, something A/B probably couldn't care less about.

Here are my favorites from the Belgian Fest:

* Goose Island Barrel-Aged Amaro Amo: Whiskey barrel flavor and cherries combined for something that was almost like fruit roasted on an open fire. Really interesting collaboration brew with the folks at Balena, and unlike anything else I had that day, or this year.

* Solemn Oath Whisper Kisses: It was the first beer I tasted at Belgian Fest and probably my favorite overall, a very fizzy and tart Saison.

* Destihl Brew Works St. Dekkera: Another fizzy one, this one more of a strawberry sour ale, with a deep fruity and complex flavor.

* Flossmoor Station Golden Strong: I'm not even sure what to say about this, except that it was the most balanced beer I had all day, not too much of the sweetness, tartness or earthiness that characterized some of the other Belgian riffs. It was just plain good.

The Beer Wire
* The Full Pint reviews Stone Enjoy By (9-21-2012) IPA. If you have one in your fridge, you have less than a day to drink it - if you want to play by the rules. I had one myself just after Labor Day, and was surprised how distinctively fresh and hoppy it was. Maybe the name is just effectively suggestive, but I felt like it had been bottled about a minute earlier.

* The Huffington Post looks at a new bill proposed by an Illinois state representative that would loosen restrictions on homebrewers and their ability to share their beers with more than family and friends.

* The Tribune has more on the BCBS release.

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Previously in The Beer Thinker:
* Tapping Lincoln Square
* Size Matters
* Lagunitas Changes Everything
* Make Beer, Not War
* Collaboration Brewing
* Summer Brew

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Dan O'Shea is The Beer Thinker. He welcomes your comments.



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Posted on September 20, 2012


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