Beer Review 0509: Bell’s Wheat Love Wheatwine
Sometimes you must dust off a old recipe and make an old beer new again. That’s what Bell’s is doing this year with Wheat Love, a Wheatwine-style beer that was last produced in 2005 as part of the Bell’s Wheat Project.
Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, Michigan) was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 — originally, Bell’s was a homebrew supply shop. But the itch to create beer was there (with all that homebrew equipment, who could blame them) and the actual brewery portion of the company fired up with the initial batches brewed in 15-gallon soup pots.
The first beer was sold in September 1985; originally self distributed by Mr. Bell and his (then) nine employees, the company grew to produce 500 barrels in 1989; and in 1993, the brewery became the first in Michigan to open an onsite pub.
Today, Bell’s has a capacity of more than 500,000 barrels, and the company has two different production facilities. In 2005, the brewery experimented with four different wheat beers — stick with me, because this gets kind of complicated — each beer was made with 55% wheat and 45% barley malt. All four varied in the types of wheat that composed the 55%, and each beer used different yeast strains. The beers, appropriately named ‘Wheat 2,’ ‘Wheat 4,’ ‘Wheat 6,’ and ‘Wheat 8’ used the following combination: Wheat 2 used two different wheats and two types of yeast; Wheat 4 used four different wheats and four types of yeast, and so forth. The hops and barley malt remained consistent. ‘Wheat 8’ went on to become 2013’s Wheat Love, and is what we have for review today. The beer comes in at 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) and uses the following types of wheat: White, Dark, Victory, Toasted sprouts, Torrefied, Red, Caramel, and Chocolate. The yeasts at play are: Bell’s house strain, WLP410 Belgian Wit II, WLP550 Belgian, WLP570 Golden, WLP500 Trappist, WLP530 Abbey, WLP4000 Belgian Wit I, and WLP565 Saison.
Sorry if you’re bored by all the technical stuff, but I figured some out there would find it pretty interesting. I know I did — typically, beers that have a ton of stuff going on like you see here tend not to be very good, so let’s see where Wheat Love falls.
Pouring produced a very nice looking beer, topped with an average size, bright white, creamy and frothy head that lasts. Color of the beer is golden-yellow, with an extremely cloudy body; the yeast floating around in the beer provides the lighter golden color, swirling with highlights. Although very clouded, there are no particles or sediment, and lacing is excellent; the head regenerates to a finger-width when swirled in the glass. Very nice.
The nose smells exactly like a Hefeweizen, sans clove and bubblegum elements often found in those beers. There’s a ton of grainy wheat, straw and bready notes here, along with a heaving helping of yeast. I can really pick out the Abbey and Saison strains at work here, along with the Belgian Wit. It’s earthy, doughy, and has touches of pepper and funk. The hops add a nice orange peel and mandarin that is both up-front and restrained, bending with the more subtle yeast notes.
On the palate, this is a sweet beer but not overly so — initial notes are of orange peel and funky yeast. It opens up to more of a bready flavor, with high carbonation. The orange peel stays consistent and actually turns into more of a fleshy, juicy orange as the beer unfolds. It never really loses the sweetness; instead, on the finish, it becomes dry and issues up a ton of chewy wheat. The sweetness turns into more of a sugary bread crust, with an edge of funk. Wheat Love is medium-bodied, with a thin, very foamy yet creamy mouthfeel. The 8% alcohol will sneak up on your if you allow it to significantly warm.
I was pleasantly surprised by this beer — I halfway expected it to be a mixed-up mess, but I should have known to have more faith in Bell’s. And to not go in with any expectations. Consider this brew like an Imperial Hefeweizen moreso than a Wheatwine; perhaps Bell’s missed this timing on this one, as it would be a great big beer for summertime. Tasty flavors that are subtly complex.
Bell’s Wheat Love Wheatwine, 93 points. Price: $2.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.