adventures in craft beer and real food

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tasting notes: Imperial Weizen

After the Capital Brewery discontinued production of Kloster Weizen in 2006, I've admittedly struggled with my hefeweizen addiction.  I went through some rough patches where wailing and gnashing of teeth may or may not have been involved.  I've given serious thought to taking up a twelve step program to deal with my problem, but I couldn't find a support group for hefeweizen addicts.

Which is amazing to me because, as one of my very favorite styles, it embodies much of my attitude toward beer.  Hefeweizen is a beverage that's tied by memory and association to a specific time and place; the mere act of drinking it teleports me to some Bavarian beer garden on a warm summer afternoon.  It is a social beverage.  It's not hard to imagine sitting around a table at that beer garden talking with friends.  It quenches the thirst, and does amazing things with food.  Hefeweizen isn't a beer that's going to get you drunk (unless you drink liters of it), so it leaves you fully ready to deal with the daily grind.  The yeast is largely responsible for the remarkable range of flavors that you can expect in a hefeweizen (everything from banana, clove, bubble gum, and smoke).

Suffice it to say that I'm a hefeweizen junkie.  So when New Glarus came out with an imperial weizen as the latest installment in their "unplugged" series of beers, I fell off the bandwagon and got my fix.

This beer raises a huge head.  Although the picture at the bottom doesn't reflect well on my weizen-pouring aptitude, I swear that the first time I tried to pour the beer into my glass I only got about half of it in before the head started billowing out the top.  This, my second bottle, went to the other extreme and I didn't develop enough of a head.  Still, any beer that pours a 1 1/2 inch head when you're trying your hardest not to develop too much head is pretty substantial.  This beer is impressively carbonated, and I imagine that it would do wonders with all sorts of foods.  It left elegant lacing in my glass as I drank it.

But it was enough of a head to release the impossibly aromatic qualities of this beer.  Honestly, I've never tasted anything like it.  The nose bursts with grapefruit and to a lesser extent lime and some lemon flavors.  The cinnamon and clove aroma is less obvious, but contributes pleasantly to the nose.  There were also some floral highlights in the background that I had trouble identifying.

The flavor profile was similarly explosive.  The first thing you get is a huge hit of grapefruit that I can only assume set up a homestead on my tongue.  As the citrus flavor gradually recedes, the clove flavor becomes more noticeable.  There's also a cinnamon contribution in the flavor profile that I felt only at the very back of my mouth, but seemingly less than in the aroma.  The malt flavor reminded me of croissant, although it isn't nearly as obvious as the pervasive citrus aroma of this beer.  The citrus flavors may be the result of the yeast, but it's so robust and so multidimensional that I suspect that dry hopping with cascade hops was involved.  The problem I have with this explanation is that I've never tasted that much grapefruit from cascade hops before (although it is a characteristic of the cultivar).

With so much going on, it would be easy to miss what wasn't tasting.  Compared to other hefeweizens, there is very little to no banana flavor in this beer.  I chalk that up to either fermentation conditions or the "special strain of Bavarian Weiss yeast" mentioned on the bottle.  Second, at 20 degrees Plato (i.e. approximately 1.080 original gravity!) there was no ethanol flavor.  I readily felt the presence of ethanol, as its unusually warming for a hefeweizen.

Above all else, though, this beer is pleasant.  Unlike so many imperial concoctions, this is a beer that retains a sense of where it comes from, despite being elevated to a whole new level of deliciousness.


Mac said...

Hey Nick, Corey just turned me on to your blog-very interesting stuff. I'm disappointed to hear that klauster weizen (sp?) was discontinued, that explains why I haven't been able to find it. It was one of my top five favorite beers. I'll have to find another banana flavored elixir...

Nicholas said...

Glad you like it! Corey U.?

Dancing Man Wheat from New Glarus is a much more potent than Kloster Weizen, and it's only seasonal, but it's been a good fill-in. Also, it may be hard to find, but I also like Whitewater Weizen from Central Waters.

Anonymous said...

If you like very well made hefe weizens, I strongly would recommend "Trailside Wheat". It's brewed by the Grumpy Troll in Mt Horeb. It was rated best in the midwest by the United States Beer Tasting Championship. For bottled weizens I also like Woody's Wheat from Sand Creek....