A Beer List I Can Believe In

Alex Fossi, October 09, 2013

Bar.  Nice bar, too. Appropriately dim lighting above weathered dark wood, with a slight raised lip on the edge, so there won't be any chance of me sliding a full beer into my own lap. That's occasionally been an issue in the past.

Beard, in most ways above average. It's attached to a bartender whose expertise I instinctively trust. A good beard has that effect. Just unkempt enough that I'm sure personal grooming wasn't priority number one this morning, but hey, that particular boat is pretty crowded. 

Beer list.  No leather-covered pamphlet here -- just a laminated piece of paper, but I'm no stickler. Best beer I've ever had at a bar was ordered off of a half-sheet of paper that had been conveniently pre-soaked with what I can only speculate was tequila and beet juice. Tequila and something red, at least.  

Menu, though that's an afterthought, if it's even worthy of any thought at all. I have to wonder if giving everyone who sits at a bar a menu increases food sales at all. It's not like I forgot to be hungry and will be reminded by seeing the names of food items.  

The jukebox kicks in, which for unkown reasons causes the lights to flicker. This is both alarming and reassuring. Alarming, because I expect better from modern electrical systems and possess vague, 60 Minutes-induced fears of electrical fires. Reassuring, for the same reason the unkempt beard was reassuring. I don't expect a bar to assign a great deal of importance to fully functioning electrical networks and well-groomed facial hair.  

I'm here alone today, but I swear it's for a good reason. We don't get TBS at home. It's okay, though.  If the only way for me to watch the Red Sox' playoff games is to go to a bar, then to a bar I'll have to go, yes? I'll save my tears for sadder occasions.

I mentioned a beer list. This is a good, steady one. It's a list that breeds confidence. The beers I recognize are good enough that I have faith that the ones I don't recognize probably aren't half bad. I like that, because I've always enjoyed throwing darts at a beer list, choosing unknown options based on name alone. The most mundane form of nostalgia? Sure. Nonetheless, I still experience a little frisson when I wait for a beer that could be anything.

The beard returns, just as I decide what to order. There are few bartender talents I value more than the ability to show up at the right time. Too early, and I have to either rush to pick something or ask him to come back, which always feels like I'm imposing a terrible hardship. His job is to serve the beer, mine to order the beer, and I'm not holding up my end.

On the other hand, if he shows up too late, I have to spend precious moments trying to catch his eye, craning my neck and generally feeling impatient. I hate feeling impatient.  

It's entirely possible that I overthink the whole bartender/bar customer relationship, but such is the nature of being alone at a bar. You have plenty of time to overthink each minor social interaction.

I order and receive a Goose Island Matilda. This beer is one of those odd ones that I know but don't know.  I've frequently seen it around, probably sampled it from a friend's glass at some point, but never ordered it myself. I mistakenly believe it to be an IPA as I order it. 

Just as my beer arrives, Sean Rodriguez homers off Jon Lester to put the Red Sox down 1-0 in the 2nd inning. This somehat dims my enjoyment of the moment.  

My happiness is further tested when I discover that, as I mentioned, Matilda is definitely not an IPA -- it's in fact a Belgian Pale Ale. I'm often not a fan of Belgians because they tend to be more sweet and malty than I prefer, without much of a strong hop character. I think my dislike of the style is related to the fact that I despise bananas, and Belgians always seem to have a banana aroma that puts me off.

I'm pretty skeptical of the Matilda at first. I was expecting a hoppy, bitter IPA and didn't get at all what I expected. It's a really interesting beer, though, and resists my efforts to dislike it. While it does have the sweet banana aroma that is one of my least favorite things, it's also a brett beer, and the wild yeast gives it a great spicy, earthy funk that more than makes up for the banana. By the third inning, I'm already starting to come around to it a bit. At the start of the fourth, I'm debating ordering a second one. As the Red Sox launch a five-run rally in the bottom of the fourth thanks to some highly dubious outfield play by one Wil My-errrrrrrs, I start into my second Matilda. Sometimes faith in beer lists (and sports teams) pays off.  

Goose Island Matilda

Appearance: Served in a tulip, Matilda is a bright, hazy orange beer, with about two fingers of head and strong lacing. I'm not sure if this is relevant to appearance, but for some reason the name "Matilda" just doesn't draw me in. I think that's why I've never tried it before.  4.0

Smell: Sweet, fruity, banana-y, basically all the aromas I'm not usually a fan of with Belgians. Luckily, this one is more complex -- after the initial sweetness, you get some spicy peppery aroma, which I always like.  On top of that, there's a great earthy funkiness, which suggests it has brett yeast. Didn't realize that ahead of time, but it's a pleasant surprise.  3.6

Taste: Not really sure what to make of this. There's some spicy, coriander-like flavor similar to a saison, banana malt sweetness like a belgian, some citrusy hop notes like an IPA, and of course the funky earthiness from the brett yeast. Overall, I'll take it. Given that aging brett beers can produce some very unpredictable results, I'd be curious to try this after a few months in the cellar.  3.9

Mouthfeel: Moderately heavy, but also pretty strong on the carbonation, so it isn't syrupy. Has a dry, winey finish -- there's a bit of a sour character to this, though it comes through more in the texture than the flavor.  4.0

Overall: An unusual, enjoyable beer. Brett beers are pretty hit or miss; there's a reason brett beers are sometimes called "wild", because the yeast strain just isn't as predictable as others. It works here--Matilda's not something I'll be buying all the time, but a very interesting one to sample.  3.8

You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexanderFossi.