Waltzing Goose Island’s Matilda… And Sofie too.

The Brewery: Goose Island

Goose Island has been a fixture of the Chicago, Illinois craft beer scene since 1988, when its founder John Hall opened his first brewpub in the city.

Hall’s mandate was to produce a variety of beer styles largely unheard of in the Midwest, where macro-brewed beer was the norm, and consumers had little craft beer options. Hall’s mission, to challenge and change the taste buds of Chicagoans – and Midwesterners to boot – proved successful, and the brewery expanded.

Fast forward a quarter of a century, and the brewery continues to produce an innovative line-up of beers, thanks to the company’s extensive sour and barrel-aged programs, and in spite of having controversially sold out to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

While many argue Goose Island is no longer a craft brewery, most of the online literature (the product of a successfully executed PR push) claims it’s business as usual at Goose Island.

As Goose Island’s former brewmaster and the founder’s son, Greg Hall, puts it, “It’s not like they’re trying to make India Pale Ale and Bud Light comes out.”

The Beer: 2013 Matilda, Belgian Style Pale Ale, 765 ml, 7% ABV and 2013 Sofie Belgium Style Farmhouse Ale, 765 ml, 6.5% ABV

Matilda is mildly funky on the nose, a product of brettanomyces yeast. The aroma, however, changes as the amber-hued beer warms in the glass and takes on traces of apricot. Both funk and stone fruit are apparent in the beer’s taste.

Matilda: Funky on the nose, with notes of stone fruit.

Matilda: Funky on the nose, with notes of stone fruit.

Sofie, on the other hand, is aged in wine barrels with orange peel. This lends to its aroma of orange blossoms, and flavours of peppery yeast and orange zest. Sofie pours a hazy, light gold and is spritzy with a balanced acidity.

Sofie: Aged in wine barrels with orange peels.

Sofie: Aged in wine barrels with orange peels.

Matilda and Sofie are refreshingly dry – approachable to the average beer drinker, but complex to appeal to the more selective beer enthusiast.  Both beers contain active yeast, and can be aged for up to five years.

The Branding: “Brewed for food”

Matilda and Sofie could easily be mistaken for fine wines. If the elegant, gold-etched labels don’t fool you, the weighty champagne bottles that contain the beer very well could.

But unlike pricey fine wines, the Goose Island brands can be found at the LCBO at just under $10 per (765 ml) bottle. Thanks to AB InBev marketing execs and their friends at Labatt, Matilda and Sofie can also be found in the province’s finest restaurants at a dearer price.

Trendsetting: Matilda and Sofie are available at the LCBO, as well as some of Ontario's finest restaurants.

Trendsetting: Matilda and Sofie are available at the LCBO, as well as some of Ontario’s finest restaurants.

Goose Island launched its “brewed for food” campaign among influential media and beer bloggers at Toronto fine-dining restaurant Nota Bene. The event featured Matilda and Sofie paired alongside an elaborate tasting menu by Chef David Lee.

While pairing beer with food isn’t a novel idea, pairing beer with haute cuisine bucks the trend – at least in Ontario, where people are more likely to drink Sancerre, not Sofie, with their foie gras.

As the Globe and Mail’s Beppi Crosariol aptly puts it, the “marketing subtext” is clear: “Move over, premier cru Burgundy, Big Beer wants a seat at the white-linen table.”

Of course, we’re not supposed to know we’re drinking questionable craft, or Big Beer, with our foie. The Goose Island website makes zero mention of its parent company. Nor do the ads taken out in Toronto Life that feature Chef Lee endorsing the Goose Island products.

Even so, you have to hand it to Goose Island. Once again, the company is challenging common perceptions about beer and, ultimately, influencing consumer behaviour to boost the Goose Island brand.

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