Bill Simmons, the outstanding sports writer, recently made an astute observation: “I’d like to thank Chicago for single-handedly keeping the following American big-city traditions alive: smoking, drinking during the day, eating terrible food, congeniality and breasts. It’s noble work you’re doing, Chicago. We’re all proud of you. Good luck with the Blackhawks.” True that, Bill. And that libation your smiling, busty muse is lifting to wash down her order of Hot Doug’s Duck Fat Fries? More likely than not an offering from the outstanding Goose Island Beer Company. Goose Island is an establishment very near and dear to this Baron’s heart. Ubiquitous on the Third Coast, Goose Island was, in many ways, a backdrop for my halcyon days in the legal academy, and, as such, the very flavor of beatitude. Crisp 312 Urban Wheat Ale flowed like honey through the taps at the ever-welcoming Timmy O’Toole’s, Honker’s Ale sat chilled on ice at Wildcat functions, and drunken debauchery Law Review-style prevailed annually at Chicago’s Original Brewpub on Clybourn. Indeed, you could quaff contentedly for three years courtesy of swell session brews and an impressive series of Belgian-style sweethearts… but, in so sipping, you might miss the chance to tongue-smooch that sultry princess of Imperial deliciousness: The Golden Goose. It was with this sense of ardor that I plucked two sublime Golden Goose offerings from my stock room shelf and tucked into a night of heady liver-leathering.
The first stop on our journey? Bourbon County Imperial Stout, and a trip down memory lane. I first sampled this 13% ABV monster of a brew at that Kichu Lhakhang of suds, the Hopleaf. It came in a snifter, black as midnight. I drank. Deep. Deliberate. The angels sang. Strong men wept. The beer was perfect. Now, like then, the brew poured dark as pitch and thick as crude with a foamy cocoa head that dissipated quickly past its event horizon and into the soul of the drink. The air was perfumed heavy with bourbon, smoke, vanilla, and oak, courtesy of 18 year old Elijah Craig barrels in which the stout is cask-conditioned. Huge, smooth, rich notes of chocolate, malt, and bourbon melted across the palate and a stillness settled over the room. This 4-hop sensation is a velvet sledgehammer of a brew wrapped in a warm wool blanket and wearing your granddad’s fishing hat. This, friends, is why we drink beer.
It would be easy for Goose Island to stand on the laurels of Bourbon County. A solid lineup of bestselling brews and a 4-hop beauty in short supply? That’s the stuff of dreamscapes. To the brewery’s infinite credit and my considerable admiration, however, Goose Island dared to dream bigger and Night Stalker was born. Nothing less than a second Russian Imperial Stout. Nothing less than 4-hops. Nothing less than spectacular. Night Stalker poured a shade cooler than its Kentucky-inspired cousin; deep chocolate brown, with a coffee head that clung to the brew with gusto. Sharp aromas of pine, caramel, and hops on the nose yielded to roasty chocolate, dark fruits, and espresso on the tongue combined with the pleasing pine and spice of Mt. Hood and Simcoe hops. A silky, chewy mouthfeel disguises this 11.2% Goliath of a brew, which yielded to even greater complexity as the libation warmed.
If Anheuser-Busch has gotten anything right, it’s distributing Bourbon County and Night Stalker to a national Aleheads audience. Pick up a bottle of each and give them a pour. Watch as their character changes in the warm air like hues of sunlight across the Parthenon. Drink and be happy. Let Goose Island remind you why you love beer.