Did yesterday's 60-degree, sunny weather put you in mind of something other than a Jubelale? ('Twas actually a bit nippy in the wind, but still.) Right on cue, a number of the spring seasonals are starting to hit the shelves--Deschutes Buzzsaw and BridgePort Beer Town browns and Full Sail's LTD 02. And of course, Widmer's newest "W" series.
Each year they brew up something new and different, and offer it for six months or so. Last year was the remarkable Summit-hopped pale, which I had hoped and expected to see make it into regular rotation. But nope, once they're gone, they're gone.* A cool system: it allows the brewers a chance to regularly whip up something new and interesting, and it's on the shelves long enough for everyone to try it--but it's unique and evanescent. A bit brewpub-by that way.
Two years ago it was one of those big NW reds, last year it was that pale, so naturally this year they go for ... an American-style wheat. I'll give 'em this much--I didn't see that coming. But it's not a hefeweizen, and it does come quite highly recommended by the Great American Beer Fest, which gave it a silver in October.
The style of beer has broad latitude and has not typically yielded many interesting beers. The malt bill is made up of a third to three-quarters wheat, but the palate is typical for a light ale, with a touch of fruity esters and not a whole lot else. Notes taken from wheat, yeast, and hop are all minimal or absent.
So what did Widmer come up with? Color, for one thing. The style usually yields a more golden affair, but with caramelized, red, and dark wheat malts, the Widmers managed to come up with a fruit-juice red and a lovely white head. A striking beer. But the palate is limited to what they have to work with. It's a very nice example of the style. The malt produces a candyish sweetness that's drawn out by fairly subtle hopping toward a crisp finish. It's creamy and mild, and the wheat adds to the effect. But despite the good execution, Crimson Wheat remains an American-style wheat. For most in Beervana, that simply won't do.
Malts: Pale, red, caramel, and dark wheat, caramel, malted rye, Black and chocolate malt
Hops: Bittering, Alchemy; finishing, Sterling
Alcohol by volume: 4.1%
Original Gravity: 12.2° Plato
Bitterness Units: 22
Available: Through July '08
*Or maybe not. Rob Widmer, in an email, tells me, "We’re right with you on Summit hops and will definitely be doing a re-brew [of the W '07] at some point." I'm holding you to that, brothers W.