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Classic Beer of the Month January 2010: Goose Island IPA

Goose Island India Pale Ale, 5.9% (USA)

There are some beers that just make you sit up and pay attention. Last month’s Classic Beer, Rodenbach Grand Cru, with its tart, sour fruitiness is one. Goose Island India Pale Ale is another, but for very different reasons.

Goose Island IPAFlip the cap off a bottle of this American brew and you know you’ve stumbled upon something special. The outpouring of fragrant hop aromas is as welcoming as it gets when it comes to beer bouquets and is indicative of the big, complex but ultimately well-judged hop character of this beer.

There hadn't been a brewery in Chicago for more than a decade when Goose Island opened as a brew pub in 1988, taking over a site that had formerly been home to a car wash.

The original brew pub has since been joined by a second, close to the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, as well as a separate microbrewery that meets demand for Goose Island beers from further afield.

The Goose selection becomes more cosmopolitan by the year and now incorporates remarkable beers such as the Orval tribute, Matilda, the oak-aged Bourbon County Stout, the saison-esque Sofie and 312 Urban Wheat Ale. But India Pale Ale is a beer I keep coming back to.

American Bravado

This is American-style IPA in its prime. The concept of strong, hoppy pale ales that were once shipped to India has been hijacked (in the best possible way) by the US craft brewing industry and pumped full of American bravado.

As you’d expect, the resultant brew is bigger and bolder than the British IPA style, but in the best examples it’s also brilliantly balanced, with full malt and exaggerated hops in heightened harmony.

It was Goose IPA that broke this style in the UK, when it was stocked by Safeway eight years ago. Since then it has found its way into other outlets and steadily garnered fans. Along with stalwarts such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Liberty Ale, it has finally nailed the myth circulating among many British drinkers that there is no more to American beer than bland, light lager.

Goose IPA is built around just pale malt, but plenty of it, enough to provide the fermentable sugars for the yeast to create 5.9% alcohol. A simple infusion mash gives the beer what brewer Greg Hall describes as a ‘nice and fat’ malt character, similar to that found in historic IPAs. The malt also lays a solid floor on which the hops perform their all-singing, all-dancing routine.

The hoppy ambition of the brewers is obvious from the choice of bittering hop – Styrian Golding, a hop normally employed late in the copper for its floral, fruity aroma. More Styrians are then added as the beer goes through the whirlpool stage (where the solids are separated out), and here some Cascades join the party, too.

But the Goose guys are not through with the hops just yet. American Centennials and English Fuggles are thrown into the fermentation tank, just as primary fermentation is ending.

One sip is all it takes for you to recognize how cleverly the hop regime has been devised. Pungent lemon, grapefruit and orange flavours fill the mouth, backed up by tangy resins. It’s a robust and multi-layered taste but, despite the welter of hops, not excessively bitter.

If you’ve not sampled Goose Island IPA before, you will undoubtedly marvel at this hop profile. You’ll also be astonished at the fact that, for some US drinkers who have followed the progression of the style to its extreme, it’s somehow just not hoppy enough now.

To me, however, it has everything: character, flavour, harmony and drinkability. It’s class in a glass.

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