Beer Review 0469: Goose Island 25th Anniversary Ale

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Goose Island are celebrating their 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, they brewed an accompanying beer — an Extra Special Bitter (ESB) modeled after their Honker’s Ale (my rating: 79 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.

As mentioned, Goose Island are owned by ABInbev — 58% of the company was sold to ABInbev in 2011, with the other 42% slated to be sold as well. The reason why my state, North Carolina, as well as many other states recently 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 most of their beer comes from Chicago? Guess again. Try Baldwinsville, New York — the labels say so.

But the 25th Anniversary Ale is indeed brewed in Chicago. Previously brewed as “Honker’s Deluxe” and unreleased, this ESB is a call to rich malty flavors and the classic English hops that inspired Mr. Hall back in 1988. The beer hits 6.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is available in six-packs.

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The pour sees a small, soapy head form that diminishes fairly quickly. Color of the brew is a nice golden-amber, typical for the ESB style. The body is translucent and features no particles or sediment. Lacing was fair to sparse, but what is here is quite creamy and solid.

On the nose, we’ve got a very balanced beer that edges between grapefruit and herbal hops and a toasty malt backing. There’s some lightly sweet caramel, bready notes, and a general toasted scent that plays well with the somewhat dampened but still sharp grapefruit notes. Again, very typical of an ESB; as the beer warms, a small note of dark chocolate begins to come out.

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Goose Island’s 25th anniversary offering begins with toasted bready malts that have an edge of sweet caramel, mingling with a light ruby red grapefruit and orange peel. The balance here is superb, so if you’re looking for yin and yang, it’s here. Middle of the mouth brings out some herbal hops and sweet grains; the finish is clean to just barely bittersweet, lingering on the grapefruit and herbal lemon tea. I found the beer to be light-bodied with a medium mouthfeel; carbonation is soft.

Without doubt, this is a nice, easily drinkable beer that is pleasant and refreshing. But is it worthy of a 25th anniversary? I can see both sides: they brewed a flawless traditional beer, but it’s not very exciting or different. If you’re a fan of tradition, you’ll like this, but if you like to stick your neck out a little, you might be somewhat bored.

Goose Island 25th Anniversary Ale, 86 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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