If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Summer Wheat

Post Updated: The meet-the-brewer event at the Guild is next Wednesday, the 25th, not yesterday.
I didn't know if we'd ever see the sun return to Oregon, but the summer beers were a sure bet. (It looks like they may have encouraged old man sunshine to peek in on the Beaver State, too.) In what I regard as a very positive development, it seems that wheat is becoming a more prominent player in breweries' summer repertoire. Two breweries have wits out, Upright and Redhook, and Coalition just released a fantastic American wheat.

Let's start with the wits. The style is surely one of the most surprising success stories in American brewing. A fully extinct style until it was resurrected by Pierre Celis in the 1960s, it seemed doomed to never be embraced in the US--too odd, too upsetting to our expectations of what "beer" should taste like. Anyway, that was my theory until Blue Moon, acquired by Coors, went on to become one of the country's best-selling craft (or if you prefer, craft-esque) beers.

As its brewed in the US, wit is a fairly variable style. In the hands of Allagash, it is an aristocratic, austere beer--quite dry and tilted toward sharper rind-like notes. With Blue Moon, you get an essentially pleasant beer, but watery, tepid, and sweet. In the hands of both Upright and Redhook, the wheat is prominent--a good decision, in my view. But Redhook has created a breadier version with more body; Upright's is lighter and crisper. Redhook uses ginger--a good call--but I find the coriander a bit heavy, which tilts it slightly to the sweet side. This is becoming a national trend in American wits--coriander-heavy and sweet--probably thanks to Blue Moon. Upright's, by contrast, has a much dialed-down spicing regime. The wheat adds a softness that flows into a tangy, mildly tart finish.

My favorite new wheat of the season comes from Coalition, Wheat the People. It's one of those rare beers that achieves the perfect harmony of its understated parts. The wheat is soft and gentle but round enough to give the beer substance. The Northern Brewer hops, which barely register on the IBU scale, are quite a nice contrast here--they bear the spicy, herbal evidence of their English parentage. It's a great session beer, and as we found out, a great food partner, too. Paired with the triple-sweet pastrami sandwich (with caramelized onions, bacon, and sweet sauce), an amazing alchemy happened. The wheat stiffened a bit and became a crisp complement to the sweeter elements in the sandwich. Coalition is in the process of putting in their side patio, and I can't think of a better way to spend a couple sunny hours than sitting in the summer warmth with a pint or three of Wheat the People.

Finally, I meant to mention that Matt Van Wyk was going to be debuting this year's vintage of Oakshire Line Dry Rye--another summer refresher--at the Guild. It was last night. Whoops. In any case, you should go to the Guild, which may be Portland's most sun-washed pub, and have a pint of the Rye there. No Matt, but he'd approve anyway. It's next Wednesday, from 6-8pm. I do stick to my contention that the Guild is one of the most sun-washed in the city, though. (This is why I leave event announcements to Angelo, who can actually track them. Oy.

3 comments:

Jim said...

Also worth checking out this season are wheat pale ales, which are pretty popular in the midwest. They don't have the same wheaty character as the wits, but are arguably more quaffable on a hot day. My two favorites are Bells Oberon and 3 Floyds Gumballhead.

Jessica Rice said...

I am a big fan of Redhook! I am visiting Portland for a day and I plan on visiting Upright, Hopworks, Rouge and Deschutes because I have never been to their breweries. Anything else I should visit in Portland?

Jack R. said...

Corvallis' Flat Tail - Kölsch Ale is meeting with wide spread approval at my local. A very nice summer beer.

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