“Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
Greetings! As today approached, I found myself trying to expand outside the geographical bubble that has constrained my first few columns. While I will eventually get to some great international beers for full reviews, America is the land of the great modern brewing experiment. In the past few weeks, I’ve covered from Maine to Delaware, so I have some room to spread. This week I venture to America’s second city, Chicago, to try out an offering from Goose Island Brewery: Père Jacques, a Belgian-style dubbel ale. While it was hard to choose a beer brewed in the city that just stole away my beloved Red Sox’s general manager, I picked Goose Island because their beers are fairly widely available. (If the Cubs win the World Series under Theo, he gets a monument in Washington, full stop.) That makes Goose Island a great pick to lead off for the Midwest.
Goose Island started, as seems a trend with the beers I’ve reviewed so far, as a small brewpub called Clybourn in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood in 1988. At that time, the beer culture on America’s coasts was picking up, Anchor and Sierra Nevada in the west and Samuel Adams and Brooklyn in the east, churning out styles that challenged Americans’ Budweiser taste buds. Goose Island had a particularly hard row to hoe, being smack dab in the middle of the grain belt, the source of most brewing staples. Luckily for us, they succeeded. Goose Island’s most common beers to find on tap today are the 312 Urban Wheat Ale, named for the local area code, and their Honker’s Ale, a tasty extra-special bitter (ESB) style.
Some craft-beer purists might say they’ve done too well for their own good, because in March 2011, Goose Island announced they were being purchased by Anheuser-Busch, of Saint Louis, itself a subsidiary of a Belgian-Brazilian brewing conglomerate called InBev. So, is Goose Island still a craft brewer? Time will tell, but for now it appears Bud recognizes the importance of keeping Goose Island beers brewing in their Chicago brewery. To show their commitment, Anheuser-Busch started by investing $1.3m in upgrading the Fulton Street brewery where all Goose Island beers are currently brewed.
However, one piece of troubling news concerns the aforementioned 312 Urban Wheat Ale. Newspapers and beer websites went a little haywire this summer, when just months after purchasing Goose Island, Bud trademarked a list of thirteen national area codes, including 202 (Washington), 702 (Los Angeles), 305 (Miami), and 412 (Pittsburgh). The speculation is that the 312 Ale will be rebranded in these cities to entice the local populace to buy them. It seems like a cheesy marketing scheme, but not the end of the world. That being said, many people think the proverbial fox has gotten into the henhouse, so I expect a lot of scrutiny in the coming years to assure that the quality stays consistent.
With the doom and gloom aired out, let’s get to the beer!
Today I’ve picked Père Jacques 2011, one of Goose Island’s fine vintage ales, sold in 12-ounce bottles or 650ml bombers. These ales are vintages because space does not allow them to be produced continuously at the brewery. Instead, batches of these beers are produced, stamped with a bottling date, and released for sale, all within the span of a few weeks. My bottle of Père Jacques was bottled on 02/22/11, so it has a tad bit of age to it, but nothing extreme. When perusing one of my local liquor stores, I spotted a Père Jacques 2010 bottled on 03/26/10, but I passed on it because that particular store keeps their bottles in a rack lit by very warm stage lights. I suppose they think it makes the bottles look cool; I think it’s more like keeping your mayonnaise in the sun. (If you get the Krusty Burger reference, you, sir or madame, win a prize.) So, I went with this 2011 bottle instead. Beer education tidbit: beer should be stored in the dark and at cellar temperatures, around 50 degrees, or quite literally the year round temperature of my basement.
The Père Jacques poured a great reddish-brown color, with little to no head. The carbonation has mellowed over the months, which is normal for something that’s aged a bit. The smell was pretty interesting; I got a big whiff of apple cider and some dark fruits. This can smell different depending on who you are. For instance, my wife noted it smelled a bit like soy sauce, but not in an unappetizing way; it’s umami, baby. There’s definitely a smell of alcohol in the nose as well, as this dubbel style ale is a take on what Belgian monks brewed in their abbeys for winter, so its 8.0% ABV shows.
On first sip, it has a creamy mouthfeel to it, with a low amount of carbonation. This can lead to the sensation that the liquid is almost thick, which makes sense since it does have a high malt and grain content, like a slice of bread in your glass. The cider smell morphs into a plum or raisin taste, which is really quite nice. The finish was on the sweet side, so unlike dry beers that make you long for another sip, this is a relaxed one to savor. A great American take on a Belgian staple. Grade: B+
Goose Island Père Jacques 2011
Glass: They suggest an open goblet, I use my usual tulip snifter! Rebel!
Enjoy: Around 45 degrees, pull it out of the fridge 15 minutes before enjoying.
Pumple Drumkin, Cisco Brewing Company (Nantucket, MA). My favorite local pumpkin brew. s=Sorry if it’s not available in your area. Great earthy pumpkin smell and taste, with a not too pungent spicing. ABV: 6.0% Grade: B+
Tripel Karmeliet, Brouwerij Bosteels (Belgium). If you’re familiar with Belgian tripels, you know they’re usually golden, effervescent, and citrusy. This one has that, plus a deeper character, due to what I think is some rye in the grain mix. I could confirm it for you, but their website is in Dutch. ABV 8.4% Grade: A-
A Closing Note
Forgive the long entry, I thank you for reading this column in its entirety. I just wanted to acknowledge that I recognize that many of my grades for the 3-4 beers in each bi-weekly post I review have been very good, but I can tell you it’s because of the philosophy of this column. With each piece, I’m trying to bring to The Inclusive a guaranteed delicious brew, so most of the beers you see me write about have leapt bounds above your average tailgate beer and their grades will correspond with their quality. However, while trying not to seem like an easy grader, I also don’t want to come off as an elitist. Don’t get me wrong, I like tailgate beer.
(Put a gun to my head between the big macro-brews, I’ll take Miller Lite. All. Day. Long. Go Pats!)