Every Friday in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden talks/reviews all things craft beer, American and elsewhere.
Continuing on last week’s mild ale theme, I bring you: Goose Island Tempered Storm, a rare dark English mild ale served on cask that’s only available at Goose Island’s brewpubs.
What’s the story?
Ah, Goose Island. One of the original craft beer pioneers, Goose Island was at the forefront of introducing non mass-produced beer to its hometown of Chicago and to the country. Since opening the doors to its relatively small brewpub at 1800 N. Clybourn under the direction of ex-packing-industry executive John Hall in 1988, Goose Island has made a name for itself on the strength of staples like 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honkers Ale, Goose Island IPA, and Goose Island IPA. Most recently, you might have noticed their increasingly ubiquitous Belgian “Vintage Ales” — Sofie, Matilda, Pepe Nero, Pere Jacques, etc. — which have benefitted from some seriously aggressive marketing and some medal recognition in more than a few international beer tournaments.
Goose Island had always sort of played third fiddle to Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada when it came to craft beer sales and distribution, but that’s begun to change since a majority share of Fulton Street Brewery LLC (Goose Island’s legal name) was bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB-InBev currently owns 58% of the company, and the remaining 42% is owned by Craft Brew Alliance LLC (a large part of which is in turn owned by AB-InBev). Point is — AB-InBev runs the show, and soon they’re going to buy up the remaining 42%. Does this mean that Goose Island is no longer technically a craft brewer? Yes. Does it mean that its beers taste any different, that its brewmaster does things differently, or that they’re going to start slapping the Goose Island label on Bud Light, taking your five bucks, high-fiving, and calling it a day? Of course not. Nowadays, Goose Island’s brews are widely distributed across all 50 U.S. states and the UK, and has even begun to penetrate into Sweden, Norway, and Puerto Rico. So you have to ask yourself, are international mega-corporations like AB-InBev necessarily a bad thing for beer? If they can get a locally-brewed Chicago craft beer all the way to Norway, I have to conclude: no.
I detailed mild ale and the English pale mild ale last week, so head back there for a full explanation. Tempered Storm is basically the same thing, only it’s a pale dark ale, which means it’s toastier and maltier than its pale counterpart. Low-gravity and mildly-hopped, Tempered Storm is actually much closer to the original English pale ale style than last week’s Three Floyds Pride and Joy.
Where can I drink it?
As I mentioned at the top, Tempered Storm is only available at Goose Island’s two Chicago brewpub locations on Clybourn in Lincoln Park and on Clark in Wrigleyville, and there only at select times. Why, you ask, would I pick such an obscure offering from a brewer as ubiquitous as Goose Island? Because I wanted to, and because I wanted you to suffer. And to get off your ass and over to the Goose Island brewpub instead of John Barleycorn or whatever other Hange-Uppe/Beaumont’s warmup bar you usually frequent.
I visited the Goose Island on Clybourn, and let me tell you — they’ve got something going. The Clybourn site is the original brewpub that opened in 1988, and of the two, and it surpasses the Wrigleyville location not only in age but in quality of food and of clientele (if that sounds elitist, you’ve clearly never been to Wrigleyville). The first thing you’ll notice as you walk through the door is the unmistakable bready, yeasty, boozy smell of beer cookin’ (whether it’s natural or pumped through the ventilation I neither know nor care), and the second is the almost implausibly cozy atmosphere, which is all dark wood, soft lighting, and old-timey beer paraphernalia. The third thing you’ll notice is the beer menu, which included many beers only available on-site as well as the usual Goose Island staples, and the fourth is the food menu, which ups the ante on standard pub/comfort food in a big way (try the PEI mussels). The last thing you’ll notice is how friendly and knowledgeable the staff are (thanks, awesome waitress whose name I can’t remember!), and this last item is arguably the most important. The staff know the menu like the back of their hand and aren’t afraid to offer suggestions and samples. That’s five reasons to stop by, and I’m confident that you’ll find a few more if you make the trip yourself. The only setback is price (about $6 per beer), but it sure beats paying $8 for a shot of Fireball.
What does it taste like?
You know when misinformed college girls say, “Ugh, I just don’t like beer — it tastes like soggy bread water…” Well, I usually take issue with this for two reasons:
1) Most beer tastes nothing like soggy bread water; and
2) Soggy bread water would actually be an improvement on most of the beer I drank in college.
Goose Island’s Tempered Storm, on the other hand, actually does taste somewhat like bread water, though I’ll leave “soggy” out of it.
The beer looks amazing. It’s cask-conditioned and poured from the same cask in which it (secondarily) fermented, which means it’s unfiltered, warmer, and non-forced carbonated (if you want a refresher on cask ales, head on back to my Abbot Ale review). Why should you care? Well, these beers’ unfiltered, cloudy appearance and their often creamy head make cask ales a sight to behold. Tempered Storm, like many other cask ales, seems to “glow from within” and radiates that liquid-gold aura.
Usually, the warmer temperature at which cask ales are served allows for more aromas to push through and creates a more noticeable nose. Unfortunately, the nose on Tempered Storm is probably the faintest I’ve ever encountered. Just a bit of toasty malt, and really no detectable hops. By the end, I actually thought it started to smell a bit like tap water.
I had hoped for a bit more in the taste, but didn’t find anything else. The buttery,biscuit-y malt was obviously more noticeable than in the nose, but this was really all that was there. The hops must have been there, but I didn’t notice them. Usually, this is just the way I like it, but in Tempered Storm’s case, the malt was so light and so basic that I couldn’t help but want something else to fill in the missing space. Instead, the extra space seemed to be filled with water.
Because of the natural carbonation, cask ales are smooth in a way that nitro-carbonated beers like Guinness attempt to imitate, and while these nitro-carbonated beers are great, they don’t quite succeed in imitating the cask mouthfeel. Tempered Storm is mostly right on target here; the creamy, non-fizzy mouthfuls of beer just beg to gulped down one after another, and it’s really hard not to drink cask beers like Tempered Storm way too quickly (the fact that the natural carbonation also is much less filling in your belly doesn’t help the situation). My only complaint here was that the body was so thin and watery; again, towards the end I literally imagined that I had stuffed some bread in my mouth and then tried to wash it down with some tap water. I wondered if this just came with the territory — Tempered Storm weighs in at a featherweight 3% ABV (the lightest on the Goose Island menu) — but then I remembered that there are some comparably light beers out there that aren’t so bland. Yazoo’s Dos Perros, for example, is a great example of a lightweight, thin-bodied beer that also packs a lot of taste, and an example of how traditionally frowned-upon adjunct ingredients such as flaked maze can help sweeten otherwise bland beers in a pleasant way.
Should I try it?
I’m usually a sucker for “milder” maltier beers and even more of a sucker for cask beer, so it’s hard for me to brush this beer off. Truth be told, though, I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would. Admittedly, this was my first experience with English mild ale, and it’s quite possible I just don’t much care for the style. Either way, the thinness and wateriness were really the defining features, and even the pleasant maltiness seemed to get drowned out.
If cask or mild ales are really your bag, or if you’re looking for a beer that you can quaff five of before getting drunk, go ahead and try it, but otherwise, I’d try another of Goose Island’s many excellent taps.