FOR A BREWERY initially inspired by British pub traditions, Goose Island doesn’t make an especially good bitter. Not for lack of practice, though. Indeed, their Honker’s Ale has long been a signature beer–even serving as a basis for their celebratory 25th Anniversary Ale–and is one of only two year-round entrants in their Classic lineup. Session-friendly at 4.2% ABV, it’s medium-amber in color, delicately hopped, and with a caramel malt core somewhat lightened by the addition of wheat. The wheat also contributes to a phenomenal head: copiously foamy, creamy light tan, and easy to revive into a dense draft-like cap with just a few swirls. Carbonation sits a bit on the lower side, appropriate to the style, and clarity is pristine.
Unfortunately, Honker’s looks prove to be better than the beer itself, which opens with a mild biscuit and slightly floral aroma, pleasant but unremarkable. Its flavors are correspondingly modest on the whole, but they seem more strident for a lack of continuity. We can distinctly taste the water of the body, a somewhat clumpy caramel malt middle, and a punctuating bang of Styrian hops that sticks a little in the back of the throat, belying the moderate IBU of 30. A small pour might be charmingly traditional refreshment, but after half a glass Honker’s has little more to offer.
Served: 12 oz bottled July 13, 2013