Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out with the old...

Some American wheat beers do not measure up at all. The very worst of them seem to use the requisite measure of wheat that might be anticipated in the more traditional wheat beers found around Europe, but then neglect to use a suitable strain of yeast. Often a standard ale strain is used that contributes little to the flavour and leaves a beer with an insipid palate, lacking any of the usual wheat beer flavour. Speakeasy's White Lightning springs to mind in this category and Sierra Nevada's wheat beer was guilty of this to a degree, but it wasn't the worst of them by a long stretch. The brewers a Chico must have become a little self conscious about the poorer quality of their wheat beer when compared to the rest of their generally outstanding work because the SN standard wheat was replaced with a Kellerweis.

This one ticks most of the wheat beer boxes when it comes to aroma and flavour. It looks the part too, holding on to rich foam and pouring a hazy gold. Plenty of banana and cloves along with a pronounced phenolic note suggesting that a very flavoursome yeast was put to work. Initially the phenol was so strong it bordered on the sort of intensity I suffered in home brew that went bad. But this passes after a few sips leaving a more authentic Bavarian style wheat beer, a cut above most other American attempts.

I suppose the question has to be asked if American brewers actually want their wheat beers to taste like Bavarian clones. The lack of spicy character in most suggests that this was a deliberate attempt to make a beer style all of their own. This seems to be the case to me because experienced American brewers know exactly why Bavarian wheat beer tastes as it does; the yeast strain is key to it, yet many American brewers deliberately neglected to use these strains resulting in a beer with a very different, and for my money, far less satisfying flavour. Sierra Nevada saw fit to change the profile of their wheat beer. It is a change for the better, but it makes me wonder what was key to their decision. Sales I imagine, but perhaps the previous incarnation is just an unsustainable style of beer.


The Beer Nut said...

Now there's a line of reasoning which, if extended in the right way, could see "Irish Red" replaced by the proper hoppy pale ale it devolved from. Whoop-de-do, and mine's a Malty Bitches!

Thom said...

Let's hope so!

Chris said...

Anchor was the brewery that revived wheat beer in the United States back in 1984. Not sure why they chose to use a regular ale yeast but in doing so they probably set the standard.

Back in the day, my Sunday drink was Anchor's Aweigh... Anchor Wheat topped off with Old Foghorn barley wine.

I always thought that SN Wheat had more character, being much hoppier than other American style wheat beers.

But as a huge Hefe fan, I didn't mourn the introduction of Kellerweis.

Oblivious said...

"Anchor was the brewery that revived wheat beer in the United States back in 1984. Not sure why they chose to use a regular ale yeast but in doing so they probably set the standard"

Chris I would put I down to handling another and very different yeast stain, to their standard US-05 or similar neutral ale yeast

Coors did it with blue moon and Killian’s Irish Red.

Séan Billings said...

Wheat beer is all about yeast strain. There isn't a lot else going on in a weiss.

I really don't see the point of wheat beers made with a standard ale yeast. They have little malt charter, little hop character and little yeast character. I like my beer to taste of something.

Another good American brewed wheat beer is Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen. It's a Bavarian Weiss that happens to have been brewed in America.