Produced by October for Goose Island Beer Co.
This month, Goose Island Beer Co. celebrates its 30th anniversary. The Chicago brewery is putting on all the bells and whistles, in the form of a massive inter-brewer dodgeball tournament, concert starring Action Bronson and collaboration brew.
The logical next question is, “What sort of beer does a brewery make to celebrate three decades of production?” A hopped-up IPA, an ale flavored by Chicago-style hot dogs or maybe lip-smacking springtime sour perhaps? No, Goose Island is celebrating its future by nodding at its past. Back to before the beginning, when founder John Hall was just a businessman making regular trips to London, drinking in the local pub culture as well as plenty of Fuller’s London Pride, an English-style pale ale produced by one of London’s oldest breweries.
This is the secret ingredient in Goose Island’s 30th Anniversary Ale: English malt and the input from John Keeling, Fuller’s head brewer from 1999 to 2017 . These ingredients were joined by some good old American hops to create and rich yet clean English-style pale ale. “That’s what we are,” Hall says about the traditional, celebratory beer. “We’re celebrating what we are. Not that we haven’t been innovative—we’ve been very innovative in a lot of things—but we believe very much in balanced beer—balance with hops, malt and yeast.”
While the beer might not shock the eyes—perfectly clear and amber in color with a quickly dissipating head—or the tongue—clean and lightly hopped with subtle nutty notes—it represents 30 years of beer history. When Hall opened Goose Island in 1988, he brought craft beer to consumers whose beer-drinking habits were limited to macro lagers and pilsners. It took a brewpub as well as introducing an "MBA," or masters in beer appreciation, program to create a market of educated beer drinkers that could, and would, fuel an American craft beer revolution.
“Why can’t Chicago have a brewery and why can’t it make a lot of beers that are available to people on the continent that are really flavorful beers instead of a light lager?” Hall says.
And that’s just what he did, but the road to varied and nuanced beers was a long one—decades, one might say. According to Hall, Goose Island’s initial lineup consisted of six beers, including an ESB called Honkers Ale. That beer—a milder version of the flavorful London Pride—proved troublesome with Hall’s inexperienced beer-drinkers. “The first year we couldn’t get anybody to drink anything but lagers, because that’s what they were used to,” Hall recalls. Nonetheless, he continued to add new brews to the lineup and, by the end of the year, there were 11. That number increased to 100 within the next three years. Thirty years later, he’s taking it back to where it all began.
“I was more inspired by London than by anything, because of the pub culture. English beers were quite frankly more foreign than German beers,” Hall recalls, adding that the German lagers didn’t excite him because they too closely resembled the lagers he was used to at home, while Belgian beers were too complex for his American palate at the time he came up with the idea of opening Goose Island. “Fuller’s and Young’s were the two breweries in London and I liked hops, so I liked Fuller’s better.”
Hall and Keeling will raise a pint of the 30th Anniversary Ale together on Saturday, May 12th at the Goose Island’s Brewhouse, kicking off over a week of events as well as offering a first taste of the beer that will be available on draft throughout Chicago. For Hall, who stepped down from day-to-day operations a few years ago but remains in an active advisory role, the moment will be one of true accomplishment. “I couldn’t have dreamt this big, really,” he says.