The horizon is wide

Tapping into craft-beer adventure at the Winchester Goose

Your clubhouse for new beer.

Your clubhouse for new beer.

Photo by Melanie MacTavish

Winchester Goose
800 Broadway
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

There’s irony in sitting at the Winchester Goose. Hanging on the carefully decorated craft-beer bar’s worn brick walls, and reflected in the polished wood grain of the bar itself, is a glowing collection of old-school signs advertising beers they’d never, ever keep on tap—Schlitz, Hamm’s and Rainier.

The lighted signs capture the vintage spirit of the Goose. They also seem to acknowledge that before the craft-beer revolution, those weak, mass-produced, inexpensive American lagers were pretty much the only options in this country.

But we’re moving beyond that now. These days, the revolution has manifested locally and expanded to include more than the Sierra Nevada Brewery alone, thanks in large part to the rise of excellent Chico beer bars: Burgers and Brew, The Handle Bar and, of course, the Goose. Since opening in 2013 at the corner of Eighth Street and Broadway (in the building that housed the one-time Chico Brewery, which is pictured on the label of Sierra Nevada’s Old Chico Crystal Wheat), the Winchester Goose has offered Chicoans the opportunity to explore the mind-boggling variety of flavor profiles that brewers, real craftspeople, are producing across the country.

And they do it right. The Goose orders beer mostly in five-gallon cylinders, allowing them to rotate their 22 tap handles regularly, often throughout the day. The chalkboard hanging over the bar lends a sense of excitement, as the very knowledgeable and somewhat old-timey-looking barkeeps (who all share a, shall we say, vintage fashion taste and affinity for facial hair) will erase what’s tapped out and post what’s come on.

I’m no beer geek and have neither the ability nor desire to grow unique facial hair, but that doesn’t matter. I love the Goose for its expertise, its commitment to the craft and that it brings new tastes to Chico. I can count on looking up at the chalkboard and seeing beers and breweries I don’t recognize, and that draws me in on a regular basis.

I guess I’d be called a hop-head. My preferred beer styles are bitter, smack-me-in-the-face hop explosions—IPAs usually—that taste like liquid pine cones. So, on my most recent visit, I decided to punish my palate by trying the Denogginizer from San Leandro’s Drake’s Brewing Company ($6 for a 13 ounce glass), an imperial IPA perhaps so titled because of the rather stiff alcohol content, 9.75 percent ABV. It was dank, pungent and so overloaded with hops it was borderline offensive. I was pleased.

Next, I ordered the HiFi+LoFi Mixtape ($5 for 9 ounces) from San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co., which was added to the board as my friends and I drank our first round. Upon later investtigation, I learned that the concoction is a stock ale barrel-aged for more than three months and mixed with a fresh version of the same beer to “create a perfect harmony spanning end to end on the taste spectrum,” according to Stone’s website.

At the time, I was able to tell my friends only that it was damn tasty. So I passed it around, and they did the same with their selections, which included the Panty Peeler ($7 for 9 ounces), a Belgian-style tripel from Midnight Sun Brewing co. in Anchorage, Alaska, that proved a bit funky for my preferences (though my cohort was in Belgian-yeast heaven); Ninkasi Brewing Company’s deliciously herbal and complex Dawn of the Red India red ale ($6 for 16 ounces); and Ballast Point Brewing Company’s Sea Monster imperial stout ($5 for 9 ounces), a beer that demands you either have chest hair or procure some immediately.

Throughout this sampling, we also munched on a couple of cheese and cured-meat planks—the Stiletto ($13) and the Slow Aged ($15)—a salty/fatty pairing that works with most styles of beers. I’ll have to save a food review for another day, but I will say that the Goose offers a full menu of tapas, vinaigrettes (salads), hot presses (sandwiches), planks (platters) and sweets. It also features rich and delicious-looking daily specials, including Winchester Goose Steamers (steam-cooked burgers) and, on Tuesdays, the popular Harvest Mac and Cheese.

It all adds up to an atmosphere distinctly outside what’s offered by the college-oriented bar scene. It’s a place to spend a little more to enjoy something new. A place without TVs on every wall or pitcher specials. A place with character.