Beer Review 0356: Goose Island Honker’s Ale ESB

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Goose Island recently began distribution here in North Carolina, so we’re taking a look at all three beers they’ve sent this way — this is the second beer; the first, India Pale Ale, scored 86 points.

Owned by ABInbev, the world’s largest brewer, Goose Island opened in Chicago, Illinois, in 1988. John Hall was the visionary, and he was inspired by the beers he had tasted in travels across the country. He started the brewery with the notion that drinkers wanted to see their beer being made, so Goose Island began life as a brewpub. In 1995, a dedicated facility was built with a bottling plant to keep up with demand.

Now, what you won’t find on the Goose Island website is that they sold 58% of the company to ABInbev in 2011, with the other 42% slated to be sold as well. The reason why North Carolina and many other states started getting Goose Island brews is because of ABInbev’s gigantic distribution arm…and, you’ll notice that they are brewing Goose Island’s classic lineup themselves. Think this comes from Chicago? Guess again. Try Baldwinsville, New York — it says so right on the label.

While that is disappointing, hopefully the heavy hand of ABInbev hasn’t messed with this brew. I’d have no idea if they have, since I’ve never had Honker’s Ale, which is an ESB (English Style Bitter), but I can certainly tell you if it’s a good beer or not. Inspired by English country pubs, Honker’s Ale registers just 4.3% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 30 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Shelf life is 180 days.

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The pour delivered a small, soapy, and fast diminishing head atop an orange-amber beer. The body was very clear, no particles or sediment, and there were tons of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top to support the very thin cover of suds left on top of the liquid. As I sipped, the beer laced up the glass nicely, leaving behind spiderweb trails.

Aromatically, this is very mild, presenting light floral hops, fresh cut grass, and a hint of herbal lemon tea. The malts are much the same, with some bready and straw scents, and just a hint of toast. Not impressive, but not bad, either…it did kind of remind me of a macro lager.

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The taste follows along with the nose. Crisp and herbal up front, there’s a flash of orange peel before the malts come in, grainy and with a slight edge of toast. The finish is clean and has a super mild bitterness, a touch of orange peel, and toasted grains. Light in body and thin in mouthfeel, this is an easy drink, leaving the palate refreshed but not challenged.

Honker’s Ale certainly isn’t as good as the IPA, but give me a hot summer day and I could probably toss a few of these down. That said, while it is a respectable entry level beer, I could think of several others I’d hit up before I graced this door again. Did ABInbev mess with this? Tough to call.

Goose Island Honker’s Ale ESB, 79 points. Price: $1.79 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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