Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ProPho: Hefeweizens: The Ultimate Warm-Weather Beer

Too often, summertime beers mean watery, flavorless brews. But there is one style native to southern Germany, which guarantees you don't have to sacrifice flavor for drinkability — Hefeweizens, the ultimate summer beer.

The style is defined by in its name: "Weissbier" is wheat beer in German, and "Hefe" means with yeast. This traditional method of not filtering the yeast produces a beer that is cloudy in appearance and characterized by flavors of banana and cloves. Hefeweizens also typically have minimal bitterness, moderate alcohol, and healthy carbonation. Most commonly these beers are served in an oversized, vase-like Weizen glass and (all too often) with a slice of lemon.

Of course, true Hefeweizens are flavorful enough that they do not need a lemon. This is true of all three of Germany's most popular Hefs. WEIHENSTEPHANER'S HEFEWEISSBIER is the best known. It has an aroma of spicy yeast and fresh grains, and an appearance that is more hazy than cloudy. The taste is bready enough to keep the flavors of banana and clove in their place. Similarly, PAULANER'S HEFE-WEISSBIER NATURTRÜB has a distinctive wheat flavor with noticeably muted hops. FRANZISKANER'S HEFE-WEISSE is the most unique of the three with lemons and cloves rising above the expected flavors of banana and wheat.

The list of quality German Hefeweizens doesn't end there. KÖNIG'S LUDWIG WEISS is dominated by cloves, both in the aroma and taste. With a cloudy golden color and thick lacing, this sure looks great in an oversized Weizen glass! AYINGER'S BRÄU WEISSE, on the other hand, is dominated by a ripe banana flavor, with cloves and tart apples following. JULIUS ECHTER'S HEFE-WEISS is malty enough to feel almost heavy, with very lively carbonation.

But I've been saving my two favorite German Hefeweizen's for last. The extremely lively carbonation of HACKER-PSCHORR'S WEISSE NATÜRTRUB is the first thing you notice, with the second being the bready flavor of the 60% wheat malts. You also get a real juiciness from the banana, lemon, and bubblegum flavors. HOFBRÄU'S MÜNCHNER WEISSE strikes a great balance between flavor and drinkability. Surprisingly clear with a big billowy head, the aroma is fresh and yeasty. Fruit, grain, and a light bitterness adjoin in the flavor with a mouthfeel that is light and gulpable.

In contrast, the conventional wisdom on American Hefeweizen's is that they're rarely true to style. Indeed, with so many subtle flavors working throughout, Hefs are one of the most difficult styles of beer to brew. According to the good people at BeerAdvocate.com, some high-profile beers — HARPOON'S UFO HEFEWEIZEN, WIDMER'S HEFEWEIZEN, and SMUTTYNOSE'S SUMMER WEIZEN to name a few — aren't Hefeweizen's at all, but rather American Pale Wheat Ales. Other offerings from the States may technically be categorized as Hefs, but still have an unorthodox, Americanized take on the style.

That list starts with FLYING DOG'S IN-HEAT WHEAT, a highly-drinkable beer with a strong wheat flavor but decidedly low carbonation. CLIPPER CITY'S OXFORD HEFEWEIZEN calls itself a Bavarian-style unfiltered Hefeweizen, but is noticeably lacking in the big banana flavor you'd expect. BUTTERNUTS' HENNIEWEISSE has a pleasant enough flavor but is lighter in body and more watery than normal. Since it comes in a can, this is especially well-suited for summer-time trips.

Some of my favorite American examples come from the country's larger craft brewers. VICTORY'S SUNRISE WEISSBIER has a fresh nose and pale, effervescent appearance. Banana, wheat, and phenols make this one very tasty beer. Another Pennsylvania-produced Hefeweizen, TROEGS' DREAMWEAVER WHEAT is equally flavorful and sessionable in the true sense of the word with only 4.8% ABV. SIERRA NEVADA'S KELLERWEIS HEFEWEIZEN weighs in at the same percentage and has a taste that hits all the key points: banana, wheat, lemon, spice, and, above all else, cloves. Both flavorful and well put together.

And for what it's worth, three of the best American Hefeweizen's that I've drank were at area brewpubs. So if you are near Portsmouth Brewery or Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing in New Hampshire, or Cambridge Brewing in Boston, stop in for a pint. But wherever you find yourself this summer, this easy drinking and flavorful style is worth a try.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What I've Been Drinking

It's been a while since I posted what I've been drinking so here we go. Here are 10 beers that traveled some distance from their birthplace to my refrigerator.

Abita Save Our Shore, Score: 5

a german pilsner whose proceeds go to charity. now how can you beat that? just a sweet, bland pils though. no regrets.

Founders KBS, Score: 10

one of those rare beers where the first sip makes you go "wow!" a no-doubter perfect 10. beautiful capuccino head. rich complex nose. flavor is mainly coffee with hint of vanilla but there is a lot of other things going on too. simply amazing.

Full Sail Bump in the Night, Score: 6
not as dark as you would think with nice piney aroma. taste is mostly bitter with note of smokey charcoal that didn't quite jive.

Kasteel Donker, Score: 8
a quad so sweet you had no choice but to sip it. smooth though, and well put together. while my friends didn't like it, i found it fairly enjoyable.

Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse, Score: 7

one of my favorite styles but unfortunately it can rarely be found in a bottle. here the lemon zest and tartness dominates. little raw for my taste though. still worth trying.

Schlafly Biere De Garde, Score: 8
a brewer from st. louis, missouri that i have been looking for. even better, this is a style that i rarely get to try. light, fruity, yeasty, with some wine-like qualities, and a splash of alcohol at the end. pretty good, i thought.

Stone Cali-Belgique, Score: 7

not the bombastic, over-the-top, take-no-prisoner ipa i was expecting. but not bad either.

Tallgrass IPA, Score: 6

an ipa from kansas in a tall boy. i found this down in pennsylvania, so it may be a little while longer before it gets to us. little watery, but good.

Widmer Pitch Black IPA, Score: 7

a spring seasonal. a little thin and delicate for a black ipa, but still enjoyable.

Williamsburg Alewerks Coffeehouse Stout, Score: 7
using "coffeehouse" in the title is misleading, this is a milk stout... and a simple one at that. still enjoyable though.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ProPho: Suds worth the splurge

By JOSH SMITH | April 27, 2011

The proliferation of the age of craft beer means that there is now a beer for every occasion, including very special ones. While it will cost you, these four splurge beers are worth every penny.

NEBRASKA BREWING'S HOP GOD RESERVE SERIES is a beer that has been creating quite a buzz in the craft beer community. This little brewer has succeeded by selling limited quantities across the country at exclusive prices (a 750 ml bottle retails for $23). Having been aged for six months in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels, this IPA has a decidedly Belgian bend to it. Hop God colored my oversized wine glass a glowing orange and coated it with sticky lacing. Aroma is spicy and offers up a smorgasbord of fruity hops: citrus, grapefruit, pineapple, and peach all cross the nose.

Flavor is hoppy, but six months in the barrel plus time on the shelf definitely allowed the hops mellow. Instead, it is the wine barrels that really shine, imparting notes of tart white grapes and oak throughout. I wouldn't have guessed anywhere near the 10.0% ABV on this one. Mouthfeel is both textured and smooth, dry and acidic. A fascinatingly complex beer — Double IPA meets white wine.

SIERRA NEVADA'S FRITZ & KEN'S ALE is an Imperial Stout that was collaboratively brewed with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing for Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Series. Jet black pour and bold smell of coffee and burnt malt impress senses first. Malts in flavor are thankfully more roasted than charred and accompanied by notes of espresso, molasses, and chocolate. There is also a bitter current running throughout with predominantly piney hops. For a full-bodied beer, it has a nice silky mouthfeel and is very easy to drink. While it's no pushover at 9.2% ABV, this is the rare imperial stout that resists going over the top.

CISCO'S MONOMOY KRIEK comes from this Nantucket brewer's Woods Series. All of these Wild Ales are aged on wood, with the Kriek sitting for two years before being aged for ten more months on sour cherries. While alcohol is only 6.7% ABV, most of these Flanders-style Red Ales are sipping beers so I broke out the flute glass. Pours a dark, hazy red while a heavy dose of cherries in the aroma hints at what is awaiting you.

Extremely tart cherries and an unmistakable oakiness dominate the flavor. This is a pretty straight-forward beer with sourness strong enough to border on puckering. Drinkability is surprisingly good as I had no trouble drinking the lion's share of this 22-ounce bottle. I've seen these bottles go for as much as $25, so it almost felt like a bargain for $19 at Nikki's Liquors. I hesitated to endorse this beer since this is an acquired taste that some will hate. However, if you appreciate sour beers, this is one of America's finest.

ALLAGASH'S ODYSSEY is a barrel-aged Belgian-style Dark Wheat Ale that isn't even one of the brewer's most expensive beers at around $17. Odyssey has a deep brown color and sweet, awesomely complex aroma. The body is almost heavy, but still silky smooth. Flavors are so intricately enmeshed that it's hard to know what you're tasting at first. A pleasant sourness registers on the palate but leaves room for sweetness and bitterness too. Figs and plums, vanilla and cloves, oak and bourbon all make an appearance. And at a whopping 10.3% ABV, the alcohol is exceptionally well-hidden. In other words, this beer is perfect from the very first sip forward. It's one of the 10 best beers I've ever tasted.

That this lineup is filled with specialty series releases, barrel aging, and has a Belgian accent should be no surprise. Inevitably it's the most unique and complex styles that demand top dollar in the craft beer marketplace. But let's keep it in perspective here: these beers range from $12 to $25, still short of the average cost of a decent bottle of wine. So treat yourself the next time you see one of these splurge-worthy beers in the liquor store.