REVIEW: Honker’s Ale by Goose Island Beer Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Goose Island Beer Co.
Location: Chicago, IL
Style: English Style Bitter
ABV: 4.3%
IBUs: 30
Hops: Styrian Golding, Super Styrian
Malts: 2 Row, Roasted Barley, Wheat, Caramel
Appearance: Light Copper, Soapy Foam & Lots of Carbonation
Aroma: Mild hints of Citrus & Fruit, Little Malt
Flavor: Slight Malty Sweetness, Marginal Hoppiness
Availability: Year-round
Pairs With: Cheeseburgers, Fried Fish, Roasted Potatoes, Cheddar Cheese

Most craft beer followers probably know Goose Island Brewery for its controversial selloff to Anheuser-Bush back in 2011. Many of you out there may even still carry some animosity toward Goose Island for what might be thought of as “selling-out.” I have to admit I also have trouble stomaching the idea of a craft brew company selling to this megalith of mainstream beer companies, but I am going to hang my emotions at the door and just review a beer for what it is… a beer. I ask that you try to do the same.

This is my first time trying Goose Island, which is a shame, because it would be nice to have the ability to compare Pre and Post merger Honker’s Ale’s. See if there are any differences in the Honker’s ale of Goose Island past and the Honker’s ale of Goose Island present. But, my ability to review this ale at all is entirely due to the merger and Anheuser-Bush’s nationwide distribution ability.

Goose Island was first opened as a Chicago brewpub in 1988, by John Hall. John Hall traveled extensively while working in the packaging industry and was continually surprised by the craft beer scene in Europe. On one of these travels an article in an in-flight magazine about boutique beers became the final catalyst that would begin a two year stint of planning and research and ultimately lead to the birth of Goose Island Brewery. The pub grew quickly. In 1995 John opened a larger brewery and bottling plant and in 1999 it expanded again to a second brewpub location close to historic Wrigley Field.

“A goose did bravely sound, but sadly on sight of bird, it did not match what was heard.

Then in 2011 John made the call. Faced with rising production capacity restraints he sold to Anheuser-Bush. Anheuser-Bush has now taken over production of Goose Island’s year around line of beers including the one setting on my desk as I write this. Does this change the beer? Maybe. Goose Island brewers will say no. Extremely upset fans will have a tendency to say yes. I’m not in a place to take one side or the other. I’m just here to try a new beer.

The Pour and Aroma

This goose pours a light copper color. A finger of loosely packed, soapy foam builds briefly before falling away. The first thing I really notice is the amount of carbonation. It seems high for an English Bitter. Bubbles race one another to the surface as if trying to escape overcrowding.

Goose Island Honkers Ale

The aroma is mild even as it warms. Some hints of citrus and fruit… orange peel, lemon grass? Apricot? Not sure. Surprisingly there is very little cereal aromas associated with malt and no hints of any hop character.

Mouthfeel and Taste

The body is pretty watery with a thin mouthfeel pushed hard by prickling carbonation. Not much complexity in the taste. This defiantly has a lot to do with the amount of carbonation.

After I’d let the carbonation settle off there was a slight malty sweetness at the front of the taste, though the beer still seemed very thin across the palate. I catch the fruit and citrus now. The apricot is most noticeable in the aftertaste along with a marginal earthy bitterness of hops.

Finishing The Impression

Though some may be upset about the selling off of Goose Island, it seems to have left the Goose Island leg of brewing operations in a better place to focus more on specialty beers. Goose Island is one of the largest producers of bourbon barrel aged beers in the nation. Something those seeking the novelty of experimental beers should be excited about.

As for their year-round offerings, brewed by Anheuser-Bush… I’m not too impressed with my first try. The Honker’s ale is, in the end, pretty characterless. It is over carbonated for an English Bitter and everything about the beer is hidden under this blanket of carbonation. In fact, I left my sitting for a while and found it much more enjoyable after it had “gassed-off” to a great extent.

I do like keeping an open mind. Though this one ale wasn’t the best, would it keep me from trying another year-around? Maybe not. But I also feel like I am much less likely to take another shot. I think I’d prefer, if the chance ever arose, to try the barrel aged specialty beers still brewed by the “true” Goose Island brewers.

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Nick Carr

Nick Carr

Nicoli Carr has been tinkering with homebrewing for over 10 years and is currently enrolled in the American Brewers Guild (CBA). When he’s not studying or working, he is likely out foraging wild brewing options, writing, or hunting stillness in remote places.

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