What happens when a carefully crafted beer is infected during fermentation? In the case of Matilda, Goose Island brewers were inspired and Chicago craft beer drinkers were intrigued. Thus, Dominique was born.
The award-winning Matilda has been a Chicago staple for years. Goose Island’s Belgian-style pale ale had always contained layers of hearty fruits and bright citrus flavors balanced with a mild bitterness and muted sweetness. It finishes with a slight-but-welcome sour tang. Greg Hall, Goose Island’s Brewmaster, released a letter to the public stating that there are “some Matilda bottles with potential sourness… (we) have issued a withdrawal from the market for the affected batches.” These batches “didn’t meet the quality standards,” Hall explains, because of lactobacillus. This uninvited guest severely transformed Matilda’s fermentation.
The Matilda goes through two fermentations: first, with classic Belgian yeasts and then re-fermented with wild yeasts essential for the pale ale to reach the elaborate but earthy Belgian flavor it is known for, especially the slightly sour finish. Brettanomyces is the wild yeast used in Matilda. Serendipitously, another wild yeast, lactobacillus, infected one particular batch, thus dramatically altering its flavor. Goose Island brewers, fascinated by the soured product, created a beer based on this lactobacillus result.
The experiment produced Dominique; Belgian-style sour wild ale aged in bourbon barrels. Dominique and Matilda both share the hearty fruit flavors and the sweetness of Belgian-style ale. Dominique, however, is distinguished by its restrained sourness from start to finish that is complemented by crisp and powerful citrus.
Goose Island is thrilled with the public’s response. “That’s the really exciting thing with craft beer—people want what is new and exciting,” says Hall. “It shows how far the beer drinkers have come and that it is an exciting time to be a brewer.”
Goose Island will continue crafting beers with wild yeasts, but the earliest you’ll see Dominique again is next winter. Hall explains that because it is barrel-aged and uses wild yeasts, this type of brewing process is “not ready on a schedule; it’s ready once everything does its work.” (Tiana Olewnick)