Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Beer That Capital Could Have Made With Its Wheat (Hacker-Pschorr Sternweisse)

First, a correction. Last Friday I published a rather scathing review of Capital Brewery and derided the choice to use Washington Island wheat to make lawnmower/golf-cart beer instead of more traditional German styles.
Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German lagers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based lager (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional lager (Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.
It was subsequently pointed out to me that these traditional German styles are not actually lagers. Ron Extract, one of the smartest beer people on the planet and Brother and Director of Sales and Distribution for craft beer importers, Shelton Brothers notes:
Weissbier and its close variations are always top-fermenting. The unique banana-clove flavor is not so much from the wheat as it is from a particular strain of top-fermenting yeast, and the production of those esters requires a rather warm primary fermentation, even by ale-brewing standards. Some Weissbiers may undergo cold aging later in the brewing process, but this isn't uncommon in ale brewing and isn't really cause to think of them as a kind of hybrid style. If anything, Weissbiers are among the more extreme examples of ales.

Bockbier, in Germany, normally indicates a lager. Terms like "Weizen Bock" or "Weisse Bock" were initially applied metaphorically, to mean something like "Weissbier's answer to bock". Having said that, there probably were top-fermenting bocks in Germany at one point, since historical records of Bockbier predate the specific use of bottom-fermentation. Also, most Dutch bokbiers are top-fermenting, though the connections of some of these to German bock are somewhat tenuous, at best.
So, please remove "lagers" from the above pull-quote and substitute instead the word "beer."
Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German beers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based beer (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional beer(Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.
Of course, the point isn't that Capital is making ales, not lagers, but rather that it has gotten away from its roots in a not entirely competent manner.

So, today we are tasting a drink-from-the-bottle/golf-cart beer purchased at the West-side Woodman's that Capital could have chosen to make. It comes in a gorgeous presentation in a 500 milliliter bottle with a flip-top and fancy silver label with dark blue and red accents. It's a relatively recent import into the US, sold on the website as a blend between a white and an amber wheat beer. BA only has 10 reviews (for a B+). RateBeer has a few more reviews (64) with a slightly more mediocre rating (64th percentile).

Hacker-Pschorr Sternweisse
Appearance: poured from a nice flip-top 500ml into a 20oz wheat beer glass; huge, huge, huge head on top of a murky, sandy-ish, camel-ish, dun-ish colored unfiltered body
Aroma: banana and clove-ish yeast is primary; eventually the yeast aromas settle (or you get used to them?) and the sweet malts start to come through
Flavor: not nearly as hugely flavored as the aroma would suggest; malts, some biscuity carameliness comes through - primarily from Vienna and Munich malts; the yeast adds an earthiness; very little hops
Body: thin - in fact almost too thin; the flavor dissipates quickly, though not cleanly
Drinkability: very refreshing; a nice summer treat
Summary: One MBRer thought it smelled like used sweaty socks; the flavor is a little thin, but for a summer beer it works well in 90 degrees and humid; In fact, given the thin flavor, this beer might be one of the few that I might actually recommend an orange wedge - which is an interesting development as many of these "new" weisse beers are developed with the specific intent of being supplemented with fruit as is the popular modern custom.

There is some suggestion that perhaps this beer is intended to be consumed straight from the bottle - hence, the flip-top bottle for easy and solid re-closure. But, more interestingly, that makes it even more like something Capital could shoot for, as it is very definitely a quality "drink from the bottle" beer.

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