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Friday, May 24, 2013

Goose Island Brewing's Sofie

  • Style: Saison/Belgian style Farmhouse Ale
  • ABV: 6.5%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Color: Hazy, straw yellow with hints of pure gold
  • Head: White 2 1/2 finger head with delicate lacing
  • Aroma: Citrus (lemon, grapefruit and a bit of orange zest), some funk, slight pepper note and champagne yeast.  It smells delicious.
  • Mouthfeel: Light with abundant carbonation
  • Finish: Medium with a dry finish
  • Food friendly: Like most well done Saisons, it pairs well with a great variety of foods.  Try it with lighter summer pasta dishes or as a compliment to a spicy Thai meal.  Serve with a nice variety of cheeses: earthy (Che'rvre), nutty (Gruy√®re) or Pungent (Brie)

Every year for Mother's Day I make my mom Mother's Day Margaritas.  Because nothing really says "I love you, Mom" like tequila and limes.   Usually between the unreliability of the mid price blender and my own incompetence, I make a huge, sticky mess by the time the first round is served.  This past Mother's Day, my mom either had had enough of my hording ice for days as if I was saving up for that cold day in hell everyone keeps promising or else just wanted a bit of a change.  She surprised (read shocked the hell out of me) by requesting that we have some of those "fancy beers" I like instead..  No digging our heavy blender out of storage and spending half an afternoon trying to figure out where we stowed the top last year. (It's probably in with the Tupperware tops.  It's always in with the Tupperware tops.  And I never, ever remember to look in with the Tupperware tops.)  No wondering how many of my margarita glasses will break outside this year (family record?  Three in one dark and  fateful afternoon.)  No cleaning red splotches of ice off the ceiling (long story, but lets just say that it had to do with Tupperware tops.)  A few fancy bottles of beer coming up!

                                                                                                                    There are easier ways of getting a bomber of Sofie home from the store

I decided to go the Belguim style route, because nothing says "Ik hou van he, moeder" like Belgium ales! One of my brothers offered to bring a bottle of North Coast's Brother Thelonious.  Mom loved this beer when we served it earlier in the year, so good call on his part (we don't refer to him as the "golden boy" for nothing.)  The youngest brother and I wanted to crack open one of our homebrew Saisons to see where we were in the conditioning process (needs time.  We'll check again on Father's Day.)   And I already had a bottle of what my family lovingly (and rather simplistically) refers to as "Monk Beer", but is better known to most craft enthusiasts as St. Bernardus Abt 12.  We are not a pretentious sort of crew.  For the final bottle, I grabbed a bomber of Goose Island's Sofie.  It's a farmhouse ale, which is at it's basic, just a Belgium pale ale.  At one point in time, just after dinosaurs roamed the Earth but before the Kardashians did, most farms in the French speaking area of Belgium brewed their own house ale.  Saisons were brewed during the winter months to be consumed during the warmer Summertime.   Because having an unconscious farm hand suffering from heat stroke did absolutely no one any good.  Those beers were lower in ABV back then usually around 3%-3.5% (compared to today's norm of 5%-8%.)     Sofie follows this style, coming in at 6.5% ABV and an IBU of only 20.  It's aged in wine barrels and reminds me of sparkling wine for all intensive purposes.  Dry, slightly citrusy, carbonated and just delicious with a wide variety of foods. 



My Goose Island Brewing;s Sofie  poured a hazy, lemony yellow color.  When the light hit it just right, the hue reminded me of brushed gold.  A white, two and a half finger head formed and settled to a billowy layer for a good portion of the drink, finally ending with a shallow film of bubbles across the beer's surface for the last third of the glass.  Spotty, very delicate lacing crept up the sides of my glass (they don't refer to it as Belgium lacing for nothing.)  I could easily smell the citrus on the nose.  The main note was that of lemon, but I also detected some grapefruit and orange zest as well.  A scan of  Goose Island's website revealed that the Saison was aged with orange zest, but I found the orange note was underplayed on the nose.  Amarillo hops were used in the recipe and it most likely attributed greater to the overall citrus element than the 20% portion of the ale which was aged with the zest.  I could also detect a white pepper note (also easily attributed to the hop choice), a tiny bit of earthy funk and a light champagne yeast quality.  Honestly, while there was a delicacy to the aroma, this one was one of the most delicious smelling Saisons that I've come across in a long time.  A Saison is not the sort of style that you want to clobber you over the head.  A nice nudge on the shoulder is a welcome change in the bigger is better world of American craft beer.  The taste was right on the money too.  The layers of assorted citrus mirrored the nose. I still got more of a lemon quality than the much lauded orange zest note, but all three citrus flavors were still present.  The spice of the white pepper and the ever so minimal earthiness of the funk complimented the other extremely well.  The beer had a light mouthfeel with plenty of carbonation.  Again, think sparkling wine carbonation levels.  A moderate and dry finish rounded out the beer nicely.  The spice note at the end helped to make this Saison extremely drinkable.


One of the things that I love about a well made Saison is it's versatility with food.  Just as a well made sparkling wine (like a Spanish Cava) will compliment most lighter fare, a crisp Saison will elevate without overpowering most dishes.  Goose Island's Sofie is the perfect bottle to keep in your beer cellar (you do have a beer cellar, right?  Here's a photo of mine.  When I'm sleeping at least.)  Serve it with a simple dish, such as orecchiette with pistachio pesto for a light summer meal.  Or try it with a heartier meal, such as hickory planked grilled pork tenderloin and dijion potatoes.  And if you're looking for something different to bring your local BYOB Thai restaurant, Sofie is definitely your girl.  In fact, take your mom out for a night on the town.  She probably deserves it. God knows mine does.