Tasting the Goose Island Matilda

Goose Island’s Brewmaster, Greg, claims to miss the old world funk and farmhouse flavors in modern beers. Way back in the day Belgian beers traditionally had a wild sense of flavor and vigor due to less sanitary and less precise brewing methods. The elimination of this has created cleaner, clearer and more refined beers, but some would also argue that it produces beers with less character and flavor. Greg happens to be one of them.

The Matilda is a Belgian Style Pale Ale that has been brewed and fermented with a Belgian Yeast strain, and then after fermentation is done, it is re-fermented completely with brettanomyces (brett), a wild Belgian yeast that is feared by some and adored by others. Brett is a bit of a maniac of a yeast. It produces massive activity in the beer, and creates a dizzying range of flavors everywhere from tart to sweet – common flavors in beer fermented with brett are characterized as funky, farmhouse, lemon rind, rotten apple and more. Sound appetizing? It is definitely a specific taste, but those who like it, love it. Like me!

The brett creates spontaneous flavors in the Matilda that remain in its bottle, this way the beer can continue to mature and age over time building in character and refinement. It is given a usage date of 5 years, but supposedly is wondrous after even more. I’d believe it. This isn’t a big bad Belgian Strong Ale here; it is a classically wild Belgian Pale Ale. It is 7%, has a relatively simple malt bill, uses basic hops, and has a reasonable 32 IBUs. But what you get is character – real Belgian character.

I opened the Matilda on the upper range of cold around 7C (45F) and poured it into a few tulip glasses. I like these Belgian Pale Ales both cool and quenching, and at cellar when they are smooth – so starting it cooler allows me to enjoy the best of all worlds. The pour was very smooth and less lively than I expected from a beer fermented and conditioned with brett. It created a copper orange beer with amber browns, gold, and cream hues that settled gently into an opaque and hazy beer. A sturdy and airy off white, eggshell colored head stood intently 2 inches above the beer.

The nose was clearly exactly what they were looking for – hugely complex with spice and funky dried fruits, gentle pale malts, juicy caramel, hay field, touches of spicy fresh hops, and that distinct farmhouse aroma from the brett. This is not for everyone, but I love it. It comes to play wearing its game face, without a worry of being judged, and shows its colors right away. This is what it should be; its not a funk powerhouse, but it is perfectly rustic.

The flavor of this beer is smooth, soothing, quenching, juicy and dry all at onces. This is the type of complexity and range that I look for in these Belgian-Style Pale Ales. The beer rolls easily onto your tongue with smooth pale malt sweetness and a complex slew of spice and sugary tart malt. Spice is not dominant, it is more just a seasoning in the background, I think contributed mostly from Saaz hops.

In smooth waves, gentle flavors of dried apples, apricots, sweet lemon peel, grass and caramel malt open themselves into your cheeks and fill your mouth. Now as a juicy and mouthwatering flavor has engulfed your palate, the classic dry and funky flavors of brett begin to lay claim to your senses. The dried fruit flavors begin to show a touch of funk, earth and yeast. Spice becomes dryer, and hops begin to show greater bitter character.

The whole beers seems to have transformed into a quenching farmhouse beer – but they key is the balance. It is not overly rough, to funky, or terribly tart. Sweet malts balance the brett with ease. The mouthfeel is gentle with a tight carbonation that is soft on the palate, and there is a near perfect balance of soft malt sweetness, floral fruits, and hop bitterness. The yeast has contributed a masterful range of funky fresh flavors and the beer end up winning the game for you.

This is an excellent beer to both introduce you into the world of funky beers, as well as for the existing beer connoisseur. It is elegantly complex with freshly rustic flavors of the old world. I would enjoy this with anything spicy, seafood, or wash rind cheeses.

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