Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale: Perfect summer swill
Summertime. In these parts, we trudge through 10 months of blustery desolation just to be able to bask in a few weeks of oven-like heat. Instead of sheltering from the unrelenting wind and snow, we can finally burst outside to melt under the unrelenting sun. If you're unlike me, this is the time of year you'll be invited to summer cook-outs. If you're very unlike me, you may even invite people to your own. In any case, along with all this outdoor socializing, this is the time of year grass must be mowed, cars washed, houses painted. All of these odious activities are obviously going to require a lot of beer. Something lighter, perhaps, and more utilitarian. The needle often flickers to the quantity, rather than the quality, side of things for this sticky period. 312 Urban Wheat Ale from Goose Island can keep that needle from slipping too far to the WaterbeerLite side of the balance.
But, only barely. Be warned, this is a beer that will easily appeal to the insipid masses. It still gives a slight nod to those of a more discerning taste, but there's not enough here to get the snobs excited. They will happily drink it as well, though, noses hardly scrunched. So, if you lug this to a cook-out, be sure to bring enough for everybody. It'll also show that you put a little more thought into the choice than the fool that brought the usual swill on sale at the corner gas station. The 312 won't end up as the unwanted bottles floating in the cooler water at the end of the night.
I like Goose Island beers mainly because they don't try to get above themselves. They stay true to a style without all the forced fluff and bother you find in many craft brews. Apparently, their definition of an urban wheat ale is about the same as a pilsner with a little haze mixed in. But, even though this beer is unfiltered, there are no great chunks of yeast to put off the squeamish. This light, straw colored beer is topped with a fluffy head that dissipates quickly to some lacing. The hops add just a touch of spice to the aroma, but it goes largely unnoticed. The flavor is soft, smooth, creamy, and mostly unremarkable. Even though it finishes with the hint of a nondescript fruit twang, it lacks the natural yeasty fruitiness that the higher caliber wheat beers have, not to mention those odd fruit flavors the pretenders like to cram in. There's enough crispness to help beat back the heat of the day, and it ends with almost no aftertaste. Seems more like a humble, thirst quenching lager than an ale.
In short, it's about what you want in a bare-bones, summer beer. 312 is versatile enough to go with whatever char the backyard chef scrapes off the grill. The 4.2% alcohol will keep you relatively sober, and the light body isn't filling. It's about as easy to drink as water. Perfect for chugging away during the long, hot events. The price is more reasonable than the better beers you might personally prefer, so you won't mind sharing these as much with the unrefined tastes of friends who are going to be nicking whatever beer you bring anyway. Might as well supply something affordable. If they happen to leave you any, they're also perfect to gulp down after the yard work is finished.
There certainly are better beers. In truth, 312 is just a hair tastier than the run of the mill American dross. Sometimes, that's enough. This is a beer that serves a purpose that seems to come up more often than is probably good for us in the summer months. Those times when we're going to be drinking longer than we normally might. Or, when we just want to quickly down something refreshing after working in the hot sun. Just because we don't intend to linger over every sip doesn't mean we need to succumb entirely to the bland domestics. Save the quality beer for the times you can enjoy them, and for the people who will appreciate them. Offer the cheap, popular rubbish to the annoying neighbors and various other uninvited guests that drop in unannounced — they deserve no less. Chug away at the Goose Island 312 for all those summery times in between.