Beer Review 0419: Goose Island Big John Imperial Stout


Goose Island (Chicago, Illinois) recently began distribution here in North Carolina, and likely your neck of the woods, too. But here’s the rub: Goose Island is owned by ABInbev, the multinational brewing giant that produces Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois. With all those billions of dollars, ABInbev now produces many of Goose Island’s lower alcohol content beers themselves, and uses their massive distribution arm to get those bottles in as many markets as possible.

While we normally don’t review mass-produced beers, choosing instead to focus on artisan brews, Goose Island is still making a good portion of its lineup in Chicago, on their original equipment. Big John is one of them.

Opening 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. The sale to ABInbev happened in 2011, with 58% of the company being immediately sold, with the remaining 42% still slated to be purchased. The Goose Island beers that ABInbev are producing are actually from Baldwinsville, New York, and are all in 12 oz. bottles.

Big John, an Imperial Stout inspired by Chicago’s skyline, is brewed with an assortment of dark and chocolate malts, and cacao nibs. Coming in at 11.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), this beer is aptly named.


Pouring delivered a small, dark tan head that quickly faded away like soap bubbles. The beer was pitch jet black, with a clear body and no particles or sediment. Lacing didn’t exist, likely due to the large alcohol content. Looks like a typical Imperial Stout.

Here’s where things start to get bad. The nose has an immediate hit of solvent-like alcohol, and…metal. Whenever I smell metal in a beer, I suspect infection. These metallic notes overshadow the dark chocolate, which is present, and it’s creamy, like beer that’s been brewed with cacao nibs tends to be. There’s a general note of roast, some dark fruits, and a small bit of black coffee. But the alcohol and metal notes totally overwhelm the aroma.


Sliding even further downhill, the taste isn’t much better. Right away, I knew something was off. There’s creamy dark chocolate, dark fruits, and a slap of rusty metal. What a weird combination of flavors, and I’m nearly 100% certain that Goose Island didn’t mean for this to happen. The metal continues to the finish, which is super medicinal bitter, and not offering much else. The chocolate has long faded, and the palate is left with a boozy dark fruit aluminum aftertaste. Big John is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel, and a higher than average carbonation (another signal to me that this is infected).

Wow. This is not a good beer. I’m calling infection on this one — not sure if anyone has bottles of this lying around, but if someone out there does, check it out and see what’s going on. This particular bottle was made on December 7, 2012. Not what I expected out of a Goose Island beer in a bomber from Chicago, and this joins the incredibly small list of drainpours I’ve had in my 419 reviews. I think my score is generous here.

And I’ll be starting a new tradition: whenever there is a drainpour, there will be video footage! Rest in peace, Big John:

[vimeo w=500&h=281]

Goose Island Big John Imperial Stout, 60 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.



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