Viva El Hefe!
I tried getting all fired up about something to turn
out a rant this month. You know, Bud at the
World Cup, the CostCo three-tier case, Young’s Brewery closing
(Really, it is, which sucks and the Brits are just stupid),
the whole sad Rolling Rock thing…but to be honest, it’s just too
stinking hot right now. We got hit with 94 degrees Monday, and
it’s still hotter than it oughta be. It’s just not right to be
running the AC in May. I blame Al Gore.
The heat made me think of something else,
though, something that made me smile – and get up from my desk and
head to the refrigerator. I got out a big bottle of hefeweizen. I
rolled it on my desk, got the opener out of the drawer (I use a vintage
LEDCO opener…just because it works really well), and popped it
open. The foam rolled out immediately, but I was ready with a
tall, curvy weissbier glass. Mmmmm…a huge head of white,
creamy foam over roiling, cloudy, yellow-gold beer. I felt cooler
immediately, and it only got better when I took a big sip. Ahhhh…That
tastes like summer.
"A sunny afternoon just needs a big glass of
wheat beer," Sly Fox brewer Brian
O’Reilly once said to me, and he’s right. I had plenty of
wheat beer in Bavaria last December, including that of wheat beer
specialist G. Schneider, and it’s good, especially with some nice
juicy weisswurst and mustard. But it is, at best, only good in
the winter (except for Schneider’s Aventinus weizendoppelbock, which
was kick-ass in the cold weather). Wheat beer is made for outdoor
summer drinking, kicking back on the deck or patio or lakeside with a
tall glass of foam-capped glory. Sorry if that screws up
anyone’s marketing plans.
I didn’t always like wheat beer. The
clove threw me off. I kept trying it, because so many people I knew and
respected liked it. Then I got some Spaten and things clicked.
Yum! Now I drink all of the German-style hefes, from light banana
spritzers to heavy clove ballbusters, and love them all.
Maybe that’s not where the future is. I
interviewed a Heineken USA brand manager recently about their new
Heineken Premium Light. "The day of acquired tastes are
over," he said. "People want things that are easier to
consume, and they want them now." Lazy little creeps. ‘The
day of acquired tastes are over,’ forsooth. I’ve never heard a
better argument for breaking every damned TV in the nation (though
‘24’ is a pretty good counter-argument).
People want things that taste good, that’s all. In
evidence of that, I present New Year’s Eve, back in 1996, when I took
a 1/4 barrel of Victory Sunrise Weiss to my god-child’s 1st
birthday celebration in Binghamton, NY. We tapped up amid fearful Coors
Light drinkers – "Is that a microbrew? I don’t like that
dark beer!" – and poured the first pitcher, light, foamy, and
They got a taste of it, and were shocked.
Good flavor! Not heavy! Downright spritzy and delicious! "Hey,
where can I get this?" said one guy, who owned a couple bowling
alleys in town. "I could sell this at the bar." I’d
like to say he did…but Victory didn’t distribute in Binghamton at
the time, and the opportunity was lost. But we did kill the keg in
pretty short order, and they liked it from the get-go. Is weissbier
"easier to consume"? Dunno, but it sure got consumed…and
it wasn’t even summer!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other big
summer wheatie: witbier. That’s the
Belgian (or Belgian-style) stuff made with raw wheat that comes out
cloudy and brisk with the crisp notes of added orange peel and spices.
Everyone knows Hoegaarden, and Blue Moon, and Victory’s Whirlwind
(well, around here, they know it), and Celis White is finally
back. I also got a recent sample of Legacy’s new Midnight Wit, and
it was delish: creamy, cool, and refreshing, tasting like another.
But while witbier is great for grilled chicken
and salad (especially on it: wit makes
a great marinade base for chicken and pork, or a salad dressing base), I
have to admit that weissbier, hefeweizen, whatever you
want to call it, is my true summer love. I’d almost rather
drink a big glass of weizen than a good crisp pilsner…actually,
most times when I’m out on the deck, I would rather drink weizen.
Thanks to Stoudt’s 12 oz. bottles of Weizen, I can, and I plan to.
What about the "other" wheat beers? For
those of you who wanted a rant, take this one: "American"
hefeweizen is a plague on craft brewing. I read in a press release
recently (I won’t say from what brewery; I like ‘em, and don’t
want to smack them for what someone else did) that fake
"hefeweizen" (that’s my ‘fake,’ you bet) is now
the 5th largest category of craft beer. Why, for the love of God,
why? I have yet to taste one of these beers that tasted of anything,
except for the lost, lamented Wild Goose Spring Wheat, which
actually had some balls to it and was excellent on cask.
American hefeweizen, ye gods. Look,
if you put the name in German, I expect the beer to be auf
Deutsch too, and this bilge definitely is not. I love
the Widmer Brothers, truly, I do, but a curse on their heads for
this. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t hate this beer style anywhere
near as much if it were called something like American Wheat Ale. Hey,
cool, it is what it is, no more or less innocuous than Bud or some
brewpub light ale. But this is like naming a three-legged chihuahua
Spike; calling it don’t make it.
If you’re going to order a hefeweizen, make
it one like Summit’s, or an Erdinger (now there’s a wheat
beer with some balls), an Ayinger, a nice fresh Penn (speaking of
whom…a very happy and respectful 20th anniversary wish to Tom
and Mary Beth Pastorius: congratulations on two decades of excellent
and uncompromising beer!). Acquire the taste – I know you can do
it! – and find out just how great summer drinking can be.
(Do you like the bigger font better? Is it easier
to read? Or does it make you feel like you're reading the large-print
edition of Reader's Digest?)