Thursday, September 06, 2007

Goose Island Revisited

Does familiarity breed contempt? That's the question we here in the midwestern bureau of Beer Jangling have been asking ourselves. It seems that for two or three years now we have been turning our noses up at the mere mention of Goose Island Beer, and more and more it seems like it's a contempt bred from over exposure and local opinion more than any hard and fast evidence.

But lately after noticing that 6-packs of the Goose Island Summer Ale seemed to keep appearing on the shelf in our refrigerator, and noticing the stellar scores the Summer Ale, and Goose Island's newest special offering Matilda got in All About Beer magazine, it seems that maybe we have been judging Goose Island a little too harshly.

The question of course is "Why?"

The answer lies not in the quality of the beer itself, but rather in the image we have created for it in our heads. The blurry outline of the image begins when we grew tired of seeing the same Honkers ale tap in every Chicago bar right next to the Miller Lite tap, and the image begins to take notice when we can't help but notice the same basic six-packs of Honkers and Seasonals in the grocery store shelves of Jewel and Dominick's, Chicago's 2 major chains, as well as the dust covered shelves of every mom and pop corner store and liquor store in the City. Many is the night we have stopped at the store on the way to a BYO restaurant excited for the opportunity for a new beer and a new meal and instead found ourselves grudgingly blowing the dust off the 8.99 six pack of 312.

But it's when we visit the brew pub that the image truly takes focus. To be sure, part of it is a "grass is always greener" mentality that we have long suffered from and that certainly has us convinced that no brew pub within a 40-minute train ride can possibly match up to the brewery in Michigan, Indiana or S. Illinois that we have not yet discovered. But that belief in the magic of Brew Pubs in far away places has some merit when compared to experience one has when visiting Goose Island.

One of the great things about visiting Brew Pubs in smaller cities like Kalamazoo or Davenport is the opportunity to walk in on a Saturday afternoon and spend a quiet hour or two enjoying the atmosphere with the few locals who have wandered in to that point; invariably one of them is sitting at the bar nursing a beer and a cigarette and reading the local sports page. Anyone else in the bar is probably a friend of the bartender.

It's that hominess that is missing from the Goose Island experience. Wander in there on a
Saturday afternoon and its you and 200 other patrons. Take a seat at the bar and try getting the bartenders attention for some info on the beer and you'll be lucky if they hand you the
menu. And frankly it's just not as much fun when your sampling the same basic beers you can
buy anytime you go the grocery store.

So yeah, we will continue to sully the shelves of our fridge with the 6-packs of Goose
Island Summer while it is available, but know full well that with each one we pull back out
of the fridge we will be longing for October and the arrival of the two brothers wet-hopped
IPAs and of course our next road trip when even the tamest of light ales proves more exciting and adventurous than any of goose islands offerings.

Quick Hits (Where we channel our inner Peter King):

Last month we wandered down to Flossmoor Station, where once again we were disappointed to learn that the famous IPA was not on tap. That makes us 0-2 in our visits to Flossmoor.
However, hops lovers will be happy to learn that the Panama Red Ale and the Pullman Nut
Brown Ale did not disappoint.

August proved to be a very fruitful month for us in new tasting experiences. We traveled
east for weddings in both Buffalo and Syracuse, and while out on the road we were able to
check the Pearl Street Brewery. Excellent India Brown Ale. Great bartender. Good experience
all around. The Trainwreck German Alt is also worth mentioning.

We also got to spend few minutes sampling the wares at out our "home Brewery" Middle Ages in Syracuse. As always there was nothing on tap that could disappoint. The Wailing Wench was
easily our favorite. But the highlight was the few minutes we spent chatting with the
brewmaster. He was excited to learn we were from Chicago and primarily wanted to talk about
the great beers from Goose Island.

But the highlight of the month was an evening at Clark's Ale House in Armory Square. Good
food, good friends and great beer in an atmosphere conducive to enjoying all three. Anyone
want to make a lot of money? Figure out a way to transport Clark's to Chicago and make it
work. You'll get 20% of my paycheck for life.


rsbs team said...

Wow. The only times I have had the experience at Goose that you describe was at 9pm on a Friday or Saturday night. I almost always get good service at the bar and I'm usually there once a week.

Last night I was there and I had a Midway IPA (not available bottled) a Summer Bitter (not available bottled) and an awesome Smoked Porter (not available bottled). The IPA, 312, Honkers... are always available, but since they usually have 12 or more beers available, about half of them are beers brewed at the brewpub and they are only available in draft at the brewpub.

Also, Flossmoor has no regular IPA. They switch them up throughout the year and serve them as seasonal/specialty offerings. Keep an eye on their often updated blog (linked from their main website) for the current draft selections.

Willie Moe said...

You are quite the scribe sir! You should check out this little known brewery I've heard about that's in Wilwuakee. I think it's called Past or something like that. See if you can track it down.