Beer Review 0516: Goose Island Pepe Nero Farmhouse Ale
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.
After seven months of sending NC their “classic” series of beers, Goose Island have finally began distributing their “vintage” line in the state, which are all offerings made at the Chicago brewery, not in an ABInbev-owned facility. Four beers in the vintage lineup have made their way to my neck of the woods, and I’ll be looking at one each Monday for the next four weeks. (Click this tag to see the other reviews from the vintage line: goose island vintage)
Celebrating 25 years in 2013, John Hall was the Goose 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.
Pepe Nero (translation: black pepper) is a dark Farmhouse Ale brewed with, what else: black peppercorns. The beer is available year round, reaches 6.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and has 30 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
This beer spills out of the bottle a very dark color, which is initially surprising. The head is average to large size, creamy in texture but fast diminishing. Color of the beer appears black when held out of light, but in a bright light, it’s actually a very nice ruby red. It’s translucent, clear as can be, and has no particles or sediment. Lacing is sparse.
On the nose, the aroma is a bit strange; the peppercorns are dominant, but it’s not spicy like you might expect. I know when I sniff freshly crushed pepper, sometimes I’ll sneeze — that doesn’t happen here; instead, the peppercorn seems to prop up the strong dark malt scent of roasted and toasted barley. There’s some burnt toast and a lighter touch of caramel, but on the whole, this one smells pretty burnt and dark. I noticed some light herbal hops, but unfortunately, the aroma is rather one-note in the direction of the heavily roasted malts.
Taking a sip, the Farmhouse qualities immediately shine through with doughy yeast, amped up by the obvious peppercorns used in this beer. Again, the peppercorns aren’t spicy at all, they’re just flavorful — and when you swirl the beer in your mouth, this quickly turns into a dark beer, with the pepper switching roles to enhance the malts, just like on the nose. It’s heavily roasted and toasted, deep, almost burnt bread with crushed peppercorns providing a bit of a break. The finish eases up a bit, bringing out the fruity side of the pepper, some orange peel, lemon, herbs, and a touch of faded black coffee. Pepe Nero is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy texture.
Surprisingly, this is a very drinkable beer. If I had judged by the aroma alone, I would have went with this being too malty on the burnt end; instead, there’s a nice balance here that sees the heavily roasted/burnt side meld well with mild peppers and fruit. If you’re after a Saison/Farmhouse Ale that is out of the ordinary, this is your guy; it’s certainly interesting and enjoyable.
Goose Island Pepe Nero Farmhouse Ale, 86 points. Price: $3.49 US for one 12 oz. bottle.