A couple of beers arrived on my doorstep this week (in a beautiful wooden crate that is now the perfect home for some of our beat-up power tools – but that is another story). The beers are really good – two of the Vintage Ales collection from Chicago’s Goose Island craft brewery (estd 1988), both of them available this spring at the LCBO. Created specifically as versatile food-beers, Sofie and Matilda (Goose Island likes to call its beers by name) are Belgian-style ales with real balance and sophistication rather than the over-hopped bitterness that is currently in fashion down in the States.
Sofie first. It’s a pale golden ale, partly fermented with wild yeasts which give a grassy fruitiness to the brew and then aged in wine barrels with lots of fresh orange peel. In terms of flavour intensity it reminds me most of an aromatic white wine such as a New-World, warm-climate Viognier with a deliciously flavourful middle palate of citrus and vanilla. Goose Island has taken trouble to suggest some precise food matches – oysters or sushi, grilled whitefish, shrimp or lobster, brie or fresh chèvre. I still prefer something sharper or more bitter for the oysters but the other ideas are sound. Then again, there’s more than enough going on in the beer if you taste it all on its own.
Matilda is darker and spicier and less obviously flavoured than Sofie. Different hops are used (Super Styrian, Styrian Golding and Saaz as opposed to Sofie’s Amarillo) but again they provide an unusually subtle seasoning – just enough to balance the rich maltiness and counteract the grain’s natural sweetness. This time the recommended cheese is camembert and if you think the difference between a camembert beer and a brie beer might not be so very great, you are getting the point. The major recommended food match is lobster or crab served with drawn butter rather than off the grill – again, a matter of nuance. Personally, I find the dipping of the pristine, aromatic, steamed or poached flesh of a crab or lobster into clarified butter to be a nauseating treatment – even the stench of the pot of hot liquid butter in a restaurant can make me gag – but I won’t hold that against Matilda. As mentioned before, it’s a very good beer, though Sofie is more to my taste.
If you have time this month, you can also drop into Nota Bene on Queen Street West where chef David Lee has devised some dishes of his own to go with these beers. He is a past master at creating menus to flatter specific wines so I’m sure the trip will be well worth your while.