The beer market in the 1980s was dominated by a few megabrews, leaving beer lovers wanting something other than the mass-produced pale lager so ubiquitous at the time. The megabrew culture was especially strong in the Midwest, where the overweight, sausage-eating football fan stereotype was alive and well. Can you imagine “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” sipping craft India pale ales while talking about the latest Bears game?
This state of beer in the United States certainly stood in stark contrast to that in parts of Europe, where local brews dominated. In fact, in some places in Europe (Bavaria, for example), people still hold a strong preference for locally produced beer and a fierce loyalty to their local breweries. Witnessing this firsthand in his travels through Europe, John Hall saw the enormous lack of local beer in the United States as an opportunity, and in 1988 he opened Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago.
While I was waiting out a long layover in Houston, I decided to try the only craft beer on tap at any of the airport bars — Goose Island’s IPA. This beer purports to be brewed in the English style, which is a bit different from the American IPA style. American IPAs are often brewed with insane amounts of hops, with many rightly referred to as “hop bombs.” While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you like the flavor of hops, it is nice to find a classic IPA with a good balance among hop flavor, bitterness and drinkability.
It’s worth noting that hoppiness and bitterness in beer are not the same thing, even though these terms are often conflated when people discuss craft beer. The compounds responsible for the bittering potential of hops are so-called alpha acids, which are not bitter in and of themselves. In fact, if you chew on a fresh hop cone, it will taste very grassy and resinous but not bitter. However, with enough heat and time, like during the boiling process of brewing, these compounds isomerize and turn into iso-alpha acids, which our taste buds perceive as bitter.
This isomerization process takes time, so hops added earlier in the boil contribute more bitterness but lose some of the volatile aromatic compounds that we associate with hop flavor and aroma. Hops added later in the boil result in more flavor compounds surviving into the final product, leading us to perceive the beer as hoppy. It is the job of the brewer to balance the bitterness from early hop additions with the aroma and taste contributions of late hop additions.
Goose Island’s IPA, I feel, strikes a good balance. The beer poured a deep, slightly hazy gold color with a nice, lasting foam stand. There is nothing too special about the aroma, besides that it struck me as very fresh. Tasting the beer, the crispness of the malts and the strong but not overpowering hop presence are at the forefront. There is a sweet, lingering aftertaste but no encroaching, resinous finish like many strongly hopped IPAs. This is simply a straightforward, really solid IPA that I can best describe as crisp and fresh.
If you ever happen to be stuck at Bush Intercontinental Airport, may God help you. But do what I did and grab a Goose Island IPA over at Terminal E. Because this beer clocks in at only 5.9 percent ABV, you’ll be able to have a few at the airport bar and still remember to pull firmly on the red tab in the unlikely event of a water landing.
$7 for a 20-ounce glass