Chicagoist's "Beer of the Week": Goose Island "312" Urban Wheat Ale
By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 2, 2007 4:00PM
Maybe you're reading the headline for this week's selection and thinking, "Chuck isn't even trying this week." Sure, for some of you "312" shouldn't even rate "BotW" consideration, especially when compared to other selections from the alchemists on Fulton. This week, we'll even dispense with the usual dry tasting notes that accompany this column. Instead, we're getting up on our soapbox and making a case for "312." We've often talked about how some breweries have "gateway" beers. These are the simple, balanced brews that give casual, low-maintenance drinkers some idea of a brewery's selections and their philosophy behind brewing. Before "312" came along, Goose Island already had a gateway beer in their flagship Honkers Ale, a traditional English bitter. But the hoppiness of Honkers Ale can sometimes be a turnoff for those same casual beer drinkers. "312" gives those drinkers a gateway beer not only to those other selections, but to the other gateway beer. It has a nice bite to it, but isn't too bitter.
This leads to our second argument in favor of "312." It's a versatile beer. It can serve as an ideal alternative to lagers, hefe-weizens, kolsch beers, and even light beers. Because it's brewed with an ale yeast, "312" doesn't have the weight of a weiss or a kolsch. It has a light citrus and spice flavor that complements the Cascade hops used in the brewing, which makes this taste more like a pilsner than a wheat ale. Folks who want some heft to their beer without succumbing to the slums of Bud Light and Miller Lite can latch onto a pint of "312" without feeling pangs of guilt.
Our final argument in favor of "312" is that it stands as a case of "if at first you don't succeed, try again." Once upon a time we were fans of Goose Island Pils. We were probably in the minority here. One of the reasons "312" succeeded where their pilsner did not was that Goose Island slowly built up the anticipation and buzz for the beer with a long, draft-only rollout. This was in stark contrast to the mass rollout of Goose Island Pils. When it was introduced four years ago this month, "312" was only available in a handful of locations across the city, marked only by that now-ubiquitous phone receiver tap handle. By the time Goose Island was ready to do the full launch of "312" they generated enough of a buzz, and enough folks had sampled the beer, to ensure its success. The naming the beer after the city's original area code also lends to it a certain sense of civic pride that the brewery is more than willing to play off. The result is that today "312" sales often match, and in some establishments exceed, those of Honkers Ale. Full Disclosure: HotHouse was one of the first music venues in the city to offer "312" on draft. To this day, it's still the club's best-selling draft beer. But if we didn't like the taste of "312" back then when we tasted it out with Greg Hall, we wouldn't have stocked it.
Now that we've made our case, we want to hear from you. Do you agree with our argument? Or disagree? Either way, we've already committed to naming Goose Island "312" Urban Wheat Ale Chicagoist's "Beer of the Week."