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Monday, January 14, 2013

Goose Island Beer Co.'s Christmas Ale

  • Style: American Brown Ale
  • AVB: 7.3%
  • Season: Winter (Holiday)
  • Ease to Locate: Grocery & liquor stores (lets put it this way, I used zip code 90210 in the beer finder and found over 10 stores that had it.  You'll be fine.)
  • Color: Medium brown with flecks of gold & orange
  • Head: Two finger head with wonderful lacing
  • Aroma: Caramel & roasted malts with mild pine hops    
  • Mouthfeel: Medium (creamier than it has a right to be)
  • Finish: Long
  • Food Friendly: Yes.  I can see this working with any sort of winter meals from roasted chicken to baked ham to broth based soups.  For a cheese plate try Asiago or Parmesan selections

I've made a somewhat disturbing discover about myself over the last year or so. I am becoming a craft beer snob. I'm not sure exactly when it began (although I expect that New Glarus Brewing may have something to do with it). But beers that once satisfied me as perfectly amicable options now force a turned up nose. Is this a good thing? Is it a sign that something as simple as brewed malts can create a pretentious snob right out of a mediocre 80's movie (I'm looking I at you, Mr. James Spader). I know that it's the very definition of 1% problems, that's for sure. For example, I used to think that Goose Island Beer Co.'s Honkers Ale was a sophisticated fall back solution when the bartender is giving me the stink eye for taking too long with the drink list. Now I can only order it with a roll of the eyes and an unsolicited explanation to anyone within earshot that the beer list leaves a lot to be desired. This is not the girl my mamma raised (she drinks the occasional Guinness with a certain amount of gusto that must be admired in a 70 something woman). When I was handed a Goose Island Christmas Ale by my brother on Christmas Day this year,  I was faced with a high school mean girl moment. Laugh haughtily at his sincere seasonal offering or take the damn beer with a smile while secretly planning on dumping it down the sink as soon as his back was turned?  I did insist that we pour it into a decent glass first.

Goose Island Beer Co.was one if Chicago's first successful craft breweries. It started like many breweries do today, with a single brewpub in 1988 (can we say Granddaddy Goose, little baby Haymarket and Moonshine?) A decade later, it opened a second brewpub in the bar friendly Wrigleyville area of the city. By then it was distributing at least a half a dozen year round brews and a good amount of seasonal beers. In 2008 it started distributing a small batch of it's Bourbon County Stout (a Russian Imperial Stout that is aged in bourbon barrels) to all 50 states and the rest of the country soon realized just how good a Goose could really be. An American craft beer success story, right? All was right with the world until that fateful year of 2011, when Goose Island agreed to sell all of it's shares of the brewery to Anheuser-Bursch. And there you go. Enemy waters. But in the name of family love and in the spirit of Christmas, I let the fallen Goose into my home.

Gorgeous foam.  Who have thunk it?

Christmas Ale poured a medium brown color, flecked with hints of orange and gold. Eh, mediocre is as mediocre does. But when I held the pint glass up to the light, the color lighten to a lovely honey amber hue. It was sort of cloudy and hazy, like a decent spiced brown ale. So they got that right, I allowed. Then I noticed the generous two finger ivory head. The foam took it's sweet time settling into a one finger head, which stuck around for most of the drink. I hadn't expected that. And certainly not out of a bottle.  It looked like a just pulled draft. For a moment I thought that maybe my brother had given me a surprise in home bar for Christmas.  But then realized that he, like most people I know, was not Richard Branson.

                                                                                                         Neither looks at all like my brother 

OK, so the foam was pretty. Kind of capital G gorgeous in a glass, with lots of amazing lacing clinging to the sides. The head was by far my favorite thing about the beer.  I took a sniff of the still lingering foam. The soft aroma of sweet caramel and roasted malts whiffed back at me. I could also detect a bit of cinnamon and a hint of piney hops. The taste echoed the aroma to a "T". Sweet caramel, brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon hit my taste buds right away. A few sips let me find a bit of nutmeg and what was the nicest touch imaginable, a bit of smoke to up the complexity. Quite honestly, the beer reminded me of a holiday version of a Scotch Ale. On the back note, the piney hops emerged and stuck around for a while (like a single guy waiting for an unsuspecting gal to cross under a mistletoe). The mouthfeel was creamier that I would have suspected. I believe that the lingering head helped the lushness of this beer considerably. The finish was also longer than I would have guessed. It consisted mainly of the hop note, but mildly so. Like the single guy who was waiting under the mistletoe for an unsuspecting gal, but first introduced himself properly before laying one on her.

Pretty, pretty lacing

I would serve this beer along side most winter meals. Try it with roast chicken, honey baked ham and broth based cold weather soups. I think it might even work with sweet barbecue sauced meats.  The mildness of the hops and moderate lushness of the mouthfeel will work with almost any sort of casual meal. It's definitely a decent beer to keep in the fridge for a laid back Saturday night.

Goose Island Beer Co. sold out to the corporate monster. There is no two ways around it. In my opinion, for what it's worth, I no longer consider them a real craft beer. But does that necessarily mean that the quality of their beer will defiantly suffer because of their now generic beer legacy? If their 2012 Christmas Ale means any thing, it just may not be the case. I don't know if I can judge the whole brewery on just one seasonal offering, but it does give me hope. This was the first holiday beer offered since the great sell out and it was better than expected (and what I expected was a Bud Light with some apple pie poperri thrown into it.). I suspect that the real test of the pudding will be what Goose Island does with it's most popular and profitable beers in the coming year. But since they took the time to create a better than a Leinenkugel holiday offering, I'll be willing to give the old Goose a chance. If my brother brings another six pack, of course.