This week I tried a beer recommended to me by the proprietor of Mad Greek’s Pizza, which happens to stock a solid selection of single beer bottles for the next time you want to try something new. This fine gentleman recommended I try Goose Island’s Sofie, which is a saison, or Belgian farmhouse ale, and I’m certainly glad I did.
Goose Island is actually one of the oldest breweries of the new wave of craft beer, having opened its doors in 1988. The founder, John Hall, had learned to love the regional beer styles of Europe while traveling there, and he was convinced that the same thing could happen in America. His impeccable timing put him right on the bleeding edge of the microbrewery revolution, and by 1995 he had to open a dedicated production brewery with a bottling line. The original brewpub, located in the Lincoln Park region of Chicago, was joined in 1999 by a second brewpub in Wrigleyville, near the famous Wrigley Field.
The brewery, which led the push for local craft beer, has, however, changed somewhat since opening. Many of its beers, especially those available in Philadelphia, are not brewed at the main Goose Island Brewery; much of the beer was contract brewed after they began distributing nationwide. While contract brewing is not necessarily a bad thing, it does surrender some control of the brewing process. To make matters even more interesting, the Goose Island brand (and production facility) was sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011. I honestly still like their products; I’m just pessimistic about seeing any future innovation from the brand. The interesting part is that the two brewpubs were not part of the sale, so if you want authentic Goose Island beer, you can still get it in Chicago.
The beer poured a straw-gold color, dead clear with a few strings of bubbles constantly streaming up from the bottom of the glass. The head formed as two fingers of coarse, pale yellow foam. The level of the head dropped quickly due to its coarse texture, but a thin skim stayed around, maintained by the constant carbonation release. Overall the appearance actually reminded me of sparkling wine. The aroma was rather light, with a lemon sweet-and-sour note to it. There was also a somewhat yeasty aroma, which I found rather pleasant. The mouthfeel was surprisingly smooth, with a heavy body counteracting the carbonation. The texture actually came off a bit creamy, with the carbonation staying near the back of my mouth. The taste was surprisingly neutral, mostly a malty sweetness with a nice, low lemon-citrus flavor. Overall the beer was quite light.
The brighter citrus notes and higher carbonation will pair well with creamy cheeses like brie, although personally I would like to try this with Gruyere or havarti. This will become an excellent spring beer as the weather gets warmer over the next few months, and I am actually planning on pairing it with salsa when I get a chance; a salsa heavy on lime and onions should go quite nicely with it. This beer should be served in a pint glass at cellar temperature rather than the colder fridge temperatures that American light lagers require.
I enjoyed this beer quite a bit, and it’s definitely worth a shot. If you like lagers but want to try something new, the smooth mouthfeel and delicate taste of this beer might be just what you are looking for. I may be somewhat skeptical about the current ownership of the brand, but this is certainly a solid beer.