New Glarus' latest release in the Unplugged Series is upon us. Virtually every past release in this series has been fantastic, and there is little to reason to believe that this will be any different. Having said that, it falls prey to one of my biggest irritations: "imperial" versions of beer styles that are known for their subtlety. Of course, as you might expect, this phenomemon is unique to American breweries. Never content to leave well-enough alone, everything has to be bigger, and bolder, and more upfront. Subtlety is not exactly our forte. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that we want to kick up the grain bill on the pilsner, double the hops on an already bitter beer, and throw in the spice rack on the wit. Where will the madness end? Not at the weizen, it appears.
Before I get the comments that say "Bah, you sourpuss, we Americans are experimenting, playing with convention, taunting and flouting the traditions that the continentalists hold so dear. In the supreme tradition of the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, Manifest Destiny, the Industrial Revolution, WWII, the Lunar Landings, and the Fall of Communism, we are sticking up our middle fingers to those on the other side of the pond and saying 'we go where you don't have the balls to go'!" I understand that. Heck, I can get behind that. But what I think is silly is retaining the naming conventions and simply pre-pending "Imperial" to the front of it. In the first place, an "imperial" hefeweizen is not a hefeweizen; the additional alcohol, hops and flavor would destroy the whole, refreshing point. In the second place, it's just childish and uncreative. Show some gumption and come up with a new style; or, if it's a one-off development, be creative and use a non-style based name.
In any event, with my rant out of the way, let's get on to the tasting. By the way, you can read Nick's awesome review of the Imperial Weizen at his blog, Pint and Fork (he takes much better pictures than we ever do).
New Glarus Imperial Weizen
Appearance: A huge and rapid head prevents pouring the entirety of this beer at once, even into an oversized weiss glass; the white head is as wide as the palm of my hand incredibly dense; a cloudy yellow golden body with lots of rapid carbonation
Aroma: huge aroma of citrus and spice: grapefruit, oranges, lemons, cloves, banana; each smell brings one of these aromas to the forefront
Flavor: bitterness starts and finishes this beer; in between is a smooth strong banana and clove flavor; Nick mentions cinnamon, but I'm having trouble finding that, instead I sense a rounded flavor of grapefruit, clove and orange in the long finish
Body: smooth and surprisingly full (though definitely not full-bodied), the carbonation contributes to the head, but really does not seem to have any effect on the palate.
Drinkability: of course, the "big" nature of this beer erases some of the refreshing-ness typical of the style; however, it is very pleasant and I would welcome more of these -
Summary: it's a shame that this is a limited edition released in the winter, because one of these on a warm late-spring evening might be very nice - but, as the label notes, this beer won't age very well and will dull with time; it is definitely best consumed immediately, so saving this for later is not a very good option.