Goose Island is now brewed at different Labatt plants including the London, ON plant. I’ve had the lower-gravity Honker’s Ale as brewed here but not, to my recollection, the IPA, so I opened a can last night to test it out.
It was a chance to see if a classic craft beer had “changed” under the aegis of the mega firm, AB-In Bev, which has owned it for about five years.
I visited the original brewpub in Chicago many years ago and tried the IPA and other beers in the range. First, I never thought they were outstanding beers. The flagships, including the IPA, were the best, but you have to like the aggressive, edgy interpretation Goose Island places on American pale ale viewed broadly. (I.e., there is no firm dividing line between pale ale and IPA just as there never was in the England, it’s more a continuum with deviations here and there).
Numerous hops are used in the brewing, and they weigh in with citric and bitter force. Styrian Goldings are included, a European variety at least originally, but most of the hops are New World types as one would expect of the style, such as Centennial and Cascade. As poured from the can, the beer is somewhat turbid, which doesn’t mean it isn’t pasteurized; I’d guess it is but can’t be sure. The taste is full yet on the dry side, and it reminded me quite a bit of Grant’s India Pale Ale, the first American beer to use the India Pale designation in modern times (early 90s). I’d infer it had an influence on the Hall family, founders of Goose Island.
Check out especially early reviews on Beer Advocate of Grant’s India Pale Ale. There are a number of parallels to Goose Island IPA, particularly with adjectives such as harsh, astringent, herbal. (Bear in mind these are compliments for a certain style of IPA).
Goose Island IPA has every marker of a craft beer – visual look, nose, lavish hops and cereals taste – and is very similar to what I recall tasting in Chicago and elsewhere when Goose Island was brewed only there.
It’s a very credible example of American IPA, indeed a classic type given the probable influence by the first generation of modern American IPA. Bert Grant amped up and dried down American Pale Ale but used the same type of hop approach. I tend to prefer a sweeter IPA and one with a more refined hops character, but that’s subjective. Goose Island IPA represents a defined style of IPA with its lemon verbena, almost sage-like intensity. It has won the awards it advertises for a reason, but the taste, as with any beer, will not appeal to all.
Generally I don’t care meticulously to pair beers with food – drink the beer you like with the food you like. In this case, I can see the company’s point that the beer goes well with blue cheese and curried dishes. Sometimes a strongly flavoured beer is right with very spicy or strong-tasting foods, not just to stand up to them, but so you still taste the beer after starting on the dish.
My verdict: it’s the beer it always was, the Labatt plants haven’t changed it or not significantly. The choice to buy it should be based on the kind of beer it is, nothing more.