The beers of Goose Island, with founder John Hall

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‘One thing we pride ourselves on is that we make balanced beers,’ says Goose Island founder John Hall. ‘Drinkable beers.’

I caught up with him at the Goose Island Block LDN party in Shoreditch. It was a sell out event, with a band, food stalls, lots of Goose Island beer and a relaxed, alternative vibe.

John Hall, founder, Goose Island

John Hall, founder, Goose Island

‘Beer has been around for the ages, and the most popular beers that people drink are the balanced beers,’ says Hall. ‘That’s what makes beer such a popular drink.’

Hall’s story is an interesting one. ‘I was in corporate America, and I spent a lot of time in Europe,’ he recalls. ‘When you came over here you saw a much wider variety of beers than we saw in the States.’

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So in 1988 Hall decided he’d start making his own beer. He opened a brewpub in Chicago. ‘It was the best decision I ever made,’ he says. ‘I patterned it as much as anything after Fullers.’

A big moment for Goose Island was in 1992. Hall’s son Greg had begun working with him, and Greg met Jim Beam’s grandson at a cigar/beer/bourbon tasting. He had the idea of putting beer in a bourbon barrel. These barrels could only be used once, so there was a plentiful supply of them. Greg and John got six of them, and made beer in them. They were the first commercial brewery to do this style, and when they entered a beer in the Great American Beer Festival in 1995, it was a real hit. But the beer got disqualified, because it didn’t fit into any category. Now Bourbon-aged stout is an official category!

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A short film of the Block Party, with John Hall giving a speech:

 

In 2011 Hall sold Goose Island to Anheuser-Busch InBev. He’s now on the board. The world was watching: was quality going to suffer from this take-over, and inevitable expansion of production? Hall says he never had any doubts that quality would be maintained, and in some cases he thinks it has been improved. ‘The recipe hasn’t changed,’ he says. Hall is an advocate of balance. ‘I like a balanced beer,’ he says. ‘If it’s not balanced then I’m not crazy about it. I’m sensitive to ABV now.’

We tasted through a range of the beers, including some special production brews. These were a very exciting set of beers indeed.

Goose Island Sofie Saison
6.5% alcohol
Lively, spicy and vivid with lovely freshness and detail. Complex, spicy and food friendly with an almost saline edge to it. A lovely beer. 9/10

Vans x Goose Island Golden Lager
5.1% alcohol
This pilsner style beer is zippy and hoppy with subtle herby hints. There’s some spiciness and real bite. 7.5/10

Goose Island Juliet Sour
This is a sour made in white wine barrels with 50 lbs of blackberries in each. It’s inoculated with brettanomyces and spends around 10 months in barrel. Tangy and a bit spicy with lovely fruitiness. Very lively with a wine-like fruity quality and nice texture. There’s some sweetness here. 8.5/10

Goose Island Illinois Double IPA
8.4% alcohol
This is dry hopped with Citra, Cascade and Meridian hops. Sweetly textured and powerful with lovely spice, herbs and tangy hoppiness. Rich yet balanced. Lemon and tangerine peel notes here. There’s a hint of bitterness on the finish. A really lovely beer. 9/10

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
14.2% alcohol
This is a truly remarkable beer, and it’s from the 2014 batch. Opaque black in colour, it’s so rich and powerful with complex flavours of treacle, toffee, roast coffee and vanilla. There’s lots of chocolate and vanilla, and also some black cherry. Astonishing stuff. Apparently it went to barrel at 11% alcohol and came out at 14.2. 9.5/10

Goose Island Bourbon County Templeton Rye
13% alcohol
51% rye. Rich and textural with spicy, dense, intense flavours of toffee and treacle. Bold, but not as sweet as the stout. Pretty serious stuff. 9/10

Goose Island Brewery Yard Stock Pale Ale
8.4% alcohol
This is is made to an old fashioned recipe with 4-5 lbs of hops per barrel. Initially it is too bitter to drink, but time in oak mellows it, while the alpha acids keep bacteria at bay. After 11 months in barrel it has picked up alcohol and lost bitterness. Lively, tangy and herby with real power and zippy acidity. Tangy and bitter but balanced and lovely. 9/10

Goose Island Lolita Sour
8.5% alcohol
A sour aged in barrels on raspberries. Tangy and intense with a nice spicy bite and some fresh citrus notes. Lovely raspberry and cherry fruit with some noticeable volatile acidity. Detailed and exotic, and quite wild. 8/10

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