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New IPA ‘The Illinois’ pays homage to architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Architecture, I think, isn’t one of those subjects you really get into when you’re drinking. Unless you’re an architect, in which case it is actually the only subject you get into when drinking because, you slur, “itsh related to everysthing we do,” and then go on about how much you admire the bar’s “fenestwashun, itsh very romanesch”; which is possibly the worst combination of words to say while drunk, in terms of volume of expelled phlegm.

So when I saw, on the shelf at Total Wine in beautiful Claymont, Delaware, an Imperial IPA called “The Illinois” made by Goose Island Brewing Company, clearly with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired label, I thought, better review this one.

To understand this beer, we need to understand both Goose Island Brewing Company and Frank Lloyd Wright. Goose Island Brewing Company is located in Chicago, as are some of Wright’s most famous works. Goose Island is well known as a pioneer in the craft brewing industry, as Wright is known as a pioneer in the field of architecture. Goose Island produces solid, if not unremarkable beers which appeal to a wide audience, while Wright produced remarkable, if not solid buildings which appeal to a wide audience. Falling Water is falling apart; Broadacre City would have been an environmental disaster and a nightmare for pedestrians; Beth Sholom Synagogue leaks (as do most of his buildings) – but folks travel miles to see them.

Conversely, Goose Island’s beers are good, solid examples of their styles, but usually only find their way into me when I’m traveling miles to see something – they’re the only craft beers United Airlines offers. (Goose Island is owned by AB-Inbev, and as such enjoys excellent distribution and market penetration.) I’m otherwise uninterested.

The Illinois Imperial IPA, then, shouldn’t be interesting to me, but I bought it anyway. Let’s let the brewer do the talking about the beer:

“The Illinois is an homage to the mile-high skyscraper Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the city of Chicago that was never built. Had it been built, it would still be the tallest building in the world today. Inspired by this big idea, Goose Island’s brewers craft a beer with a towering hop character.”

I think this beer shares only one thing in common with The Illinois: When he designed it in 1956 for his book “A Testament,” Wright handwaved away concerns about elevators, saying they’d be extremely fast, because they would be atomic-powered elevators. Likewise, Goose Island has handwaved away concerns about how exactly this beer relates to The Illinois, by saying the hops have “towering character,” whatever that means. I guess the label reminds me of the stained glass.

“Shut up and talk about the beer!” OK. Purchased in a single 12oz bottle from Total Wine in Claymount, Delaware. (Remember kids, transporting alcohol across state lines is illegal and a federal crime.) Poured into a shaker pint glass. Large, strong head, and bright gold in color. Very clear – no haze to be found here. This beer is strong, but only a little boozy – most of the alcohol flavor is effectively masked by the hops. The hops are… unremarkable. Goose Island has successfully made a beer where the flavor from Citra does not dominate – at the cost of removing all the Citra flavor. I doubt it’s even necessary to the whole composition of the beer – Citra hops are just trendy, though Goose Island is certainly late to the party.

Other than that it is a solid, if unoriginal, imperial IPA. I would happily drink this if I wanted an imperial IPA, and it were on tap, and there were not other options to try first. I am not unhappy with this beer – but it is not unique, and certainly not something I would go out of my way for.

Perhaps it is telling that they choose to honor Frank Lloyd Wright, a household name, and not develop a beer named after Louis Sullivan, or Henry Hobson Richardson, or any other pioneer of the Chicago School. Wright is mass-market and so is this “limited release” beer which is widely available 650 miles from the brewery.

If I’m honest, I’d rather see, say, Victory come out with a Louis Kahn beer (presumably an enormous, monolithic Imperial Baltic Porter) or maybe have a local Philly bar promote a Frank Furness special (4oz straight whiskey. Slogan: “Like most of Furness’s work, you’ll get demolished!”) As it is, we’ve got a solid, mass-market beer, named after a popular, mass-market architect. Boring.