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Goose Island's Sofie's Choice

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 30, 2009 9:00PM

2009_03_sophie2 002.jpg Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall has been telling anyone who will listen that "sour is the new hoppy." It's unsurprising to find Goose Island at the vanguard of what's becoming a shift in American craft brewing. Breweries like Goose Island, Dogfish Head and Jolly Pumpkin are shifting from boldly hopped ales to experimental fermentation, brewing with fruit, and aging for long periods of time in whisky or wine casks. The template now is not how thick a beer can be, but how tart can you make it. India Pale ales and Extra Strong Bitters are taking a back seat to lambics, saisons, krieks and brett yeasts.

Led by the success of its Matilda ale, Goose Island's Reserve line has also undergone a change to reflect the new philosophy. Gone from the line are Demolition and Bourbon County Stout, replaced by the long-hyped Juliet and a new brew. Sofie is a saison aged in French Oak with organic orange peels. Farmhouse ale fans expecting a lot of tartness will be surprised by the overall subtlety of Sofie, as though the barrel aging softens the sour. It doesn't have the overload of flavors that makes Juliet such a delight to drink. Sofie's strengths are its effervescence and warm citrus flavor. champagne drinkers will love this.

We weren't wowed by Sofie, although it's a good beer. For fans of Matilda and especially Pere Jacques, it would make a logical progression in taste. The response we were hearing from attendees at Friday night's tasting of Goose Island's Reserve and Heritage lines at Drinks Over Dearborn (650 N. Dearborn, 312-337-9463) seemed to confirm that. More were in awe of the Juliet, although owner Kyle McHugh did sell out of Sofie.

There are beers that take a while for us to grow fond of; for years most of the Dogfish Head line was that way for us. It's possible that Sofie is going to wind up the same way.