Goose Island Sofie Showdown

Goose Island Beer Company’s Sofie is, in my experience, one of the most loved niche beers in the midwest.  I’ve seen it flow freely at Chicago weddings, fly off the shelves at Twin Cities stores, and even make a dedicated beer drinker out of a hardcore wine snob.  Sofie, like many Goose Island beers, sports a proposition on the label that encourages the owner to allow the beer to develop in the bottle for up to 5 years.  I’m rarely able to let things hang around for that long, so it was a stroke of luck to find a couple of different vintages of Sofie during a recent Chicago trip.  The earlier edition, bottled on December 12, 2009, came from the often gem-filled shelves of Sal’s Beverage World in Rolling Meadows, and the recently bottled (August 3, 2011) 2011 iteration was found at the venerable West Lakeview Liquors in the Northcenter neighborhood.

I started with the 2011 version, hoping to get a better base upon which to discover the variations in the older beer.  Poured into a tulip glass, the beer is gloriously carbonated, with a vibrant white head and clear countenance that presents shades of gold and apple green.  In reading the beer’s malt profile, one can clearly taste the influence of both Pilsner and Wheat, right in line with the crisp flavor and fruity tartness that bring champagne to mind.  There’s a dry fruitiness imparted by the wine barrel aging as well.  I’ve always found the fresh version of Sofie to be a complex but widely accepted brew – crisp and powerful yet lush and perfectly balanced, as ready for a toast as any champagne.

The late 2009 edition poured a much cloudier, pale gold with deeper hues than the fresh version, though the head was practically identical.  The smell seemed markedly fruitier and the taste and mouthfeel were more akin to a traditional Belgian Ale than the dry, champagne-like experience of the 2011 vintage.  The dominant flavor is deeply fruity and less tart, and the overall experience is smoother and much more robust.  The carbonation is tamed ever so slightly and the finish is much longer, making for a truly exquisite sip.  I was amazed at the difference just two years made in the entire profile of Sofie.  Count me among the converted when it comes to bottle-conditioned ales and the possibilities offered by a little patience on part of brewer and drinker.

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