If any beer has to be dubbed Goose Island’s “flagship” brew, Honker’s Ale takes the cake in my opinion. Perhaps it’s not quite as widely respected as their India Pale Ale…but then again, just about every American craft brewery makes an IPA of some sort; not many are resting their laurels on a classic English bitter.

I’ve always admired Goose Island for their commitment to traditional English ale styles. And what they’ve created in Honker’s Ale is the definition of an instant classic. I poured yet another glass this afternoon alongside my lunch of grilled cheese, and it’s never tasted better. I’m not sure how long it took them to perfect the balance in this beer, but it really is, well…perfect. Caramel, roasted, and even some wheat malt coexist beautifully alongside Styrian Golding hops, and at any given point during a sip they’re all right there on your tongue. Nutty and earthy would be apt descriptions. Certainly the hop presence is enough to warrant it being called a “bitter”, and the smooth woodiness of Golding is upfront in the smell and taste. But 30 IBUs is hardly going to tie your tongue in knots. This beer isn’t about punching you in the face with flavor, it’s about pure satisfaction, glass after glass after glass. Having a beautiful reddish-gold color, mild carbonation, frothy head, and low ABV helps; but it’s the incredible smoothness and balance of flavors that really have to be tasted to believe. My glass has been empty for about 5 minutes, and already I’m regretting not having a couple more bottles waiting in the fridge. It seriously never gets old.

Apparently, English ales are a singular experience when casked and served in the traditional “real ale” style. I’m unsure whether Goose Island does this with any of their beers, but I plan on going to the brewpub sometime in the near future to find out. I can’t imagine Honker’s tasting any better than it already does…but I’m open to the possibility. Nevertheless, this is a go-to beer in pretty much any situation.

ABV: 4.2%

Grade: A