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Beer Review 0600: Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier

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Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

In late 2013, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.

In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all intensely flavored beers in big, corked and caged bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — new for the 2014 summer season is Two Jokers, and Boulevard are calling it a “Double-Witbier” because of the 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) strength. Brewed to be a revival of the classic Belgian Witbier, the beer is flavored with cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lavender, and grains of paradise. There’s lactic fermentation involved, too, which should lend some tartness.

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The bottle uncorked with a satisfying pop; in the glass, the beer produced an average size, bright white head that was frothy and rocky. The head disappeared quickly, leaving behind a thin coating atop a dark golden-orange beer which had a cloudy body. Although cloudy as a typical wheat beer should be, there weren’t any chunks of particles or sediment (the bottom of the bottle did contain a thin layer of yeast). I’d call it cloudy enough to be opaque; lacing on this beer didn’t happen, perhaps just a spare wisp here or there.

On the nose, the spices play off heavy, with big notes of lavender and coriander. There’s mild peppercorn along with some sweet orange peel; the actual beer aspect lies low in the background, providing scents of grainy wheat. There are some lactic notes from the yeast, and a dry, powdery, doughy aroma. Odd yet interesting; as it warms, it takes on more of a tea-like nose instead of a beer…

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A mild tartness greets the palate, and it quickly sees itself to the door thanks to a copious amount of spice. Lavender and sugary orange peel for the win — it intensifies as the tart fades, and the yeast brings on more of a traditional bubblegum, light clove, and banana ester. While quite strange at first, the drink opens up into less of a head-scratcher with a rush of wheat, and when combined with subtle tones of lemon and the aforementioned bubblegum is quite nice. The finish brings back a hint of the tartness, leaving the mouth dry, a touch powdery, and very lavender. Two Jokers is light-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

I think this is a very polarizing beer that you’ll either dig or mildly appreciate without wanting a second glass. I find myself in the latter category; there’s just too much going on here. Some folks like all the spice and accouterment. Sometimes, I can go for that — but largely, I’m into the more traditional aspects of beer, and I think this Boulevard brew would be quite tasty without all the extras. Also, I’m not sure the lactic tartness plays well here — it’s nice on the finish, but the initial taste of the first sip is a mess. This beer has a lot going on but it gets dull fast.

Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier, 83 points. Price: $8.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.

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Redux Review 0023: Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale

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Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Red & White, a high alcohol wheat beer that spends time aging on wood, is probably my favorite beer from the eccentric brewery. I reviewed it back on May 14, 2012, and awarded it 95 points, which is classic on my rating scale. At that time, I decided to squirrel away a few bottles and return periodically — two years later, we’re making that second trip, and it is the subject of this review.

Brewed only once each year, Red & White uses a Belgian yeast strain, and sees additions of coriander and orange peel. The beer is a blend — 11% of the final beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels, while the other 89% rests on oak barrel staves. You could call this an Imperial Wheat, as it comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). Sam Calagione, Dogfish’s founder, came up with the idea while attending a wine dinner, where he departed wanting to make a beer that had vinous qualities.

My initial review went as follows:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

With two years in the bottle, and without having been disturbed since I laid it to rest in 2012, let’s crack into it.

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Pouring makes for a small, soapy, bright white head that lasts atop a beautifully vivid golden-orange beer. The body is cloudy, as you might expect from a wheat beer; there were no particles or sediment, but there were plenty of yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was pretty good for such a high alcohol beer; there was a respectable sudsy layer at the top of the glass before all the action tapered off.

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this aged beer was the nose, which has taken a sharp decline in complexity. I remember this beer having hoppy notes, funky yeast, and a large spice presence — not today. There’s some general malt sweetness up front mixed with a bit of orange peel. The alcohol is heavy, almost boozy; there’s plenty of the oak barrel, and a slightly wine-like scent going on. Think woodsy, ashy oak and a bready sweetness. As it warms, some coriander starts to mingle. Sweet, plenty of alcohol, but dialed-down when it comes to the scents you’re here for.

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On the taste, it’s more of a return to form — orange peel, coriander, and sweet grain hit up front, with a touch of light caramel sweetness. Eventually, the sweetness starts to win out, and it’s more of a toffee/Tootsie Roll thing going on, which I find typical in some aged beers, especially Barleywines — but this drinks a lot like a Belgian Tripel, not so much in yeast flavor, but in how dry it is. There’s notes of grape skin and oak barrel that come through, and the finish is warm (not boozy!) with dry orange peel and very sweet bready yeast. Red & White is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

This beer has changed a lot, and I’m more inclined to like it fresh. There’s significantly more grape and wine-like flavors here than I remember, which I suppose is what Mr. Calagione was after; however, a fresh bottle is more beer-like and seems to be easier drinking. Perhaps my tastes have changed some. Drink it fresh if you want a beer with some wine qualities; try it aged for wine with beer qualities.

Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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Redux Review 0017: Dogfish Head Positive Contact Wheat Ale

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I first took a look at Dogfish Head’s Positive Contact back in September 2012; I awarded the beer 94 points, and while I typically wouldn’t recommend aging a beer like this for too long, the format it came in (a six-pack of 750 ml. bottles) meant that I still have a few kicking around. So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to open one up with around a year and a half of age and see what’s happened.

Positive Contact is a collaboration between Dogfish and Dan the Automator of the hip-hop group Deltron 3030. Part of the Dogfish music series of beers that have honored other artists such as Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, Pearl Jam, and The Grateful Dead, this drink is a beer/cider hybrid. Brewed with wood-pressed Fuji apples, wheat, cayenne pepper, and cilantro, the beer is 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 26 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The initial release came with a vinyl record of Deltron songs; since then, Dogfish have brewed this beer again, only making it available in single bottles without any accompanying tunes.

My initial review went as follows:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

While the 9% ABV could stand up to some aging, I’m not sure how the apples, cayenne, and cilantro have held up — only one way to find out, and my bottle opener is ready for the task.

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Pouring kicked up a small, soapy, bright white head that quickly faded away. The beer is yellow-golden in color, with some darker orange highlights. Body seemed hazy if not outright cloudy, but there weren’t any significant particles or sediment floating around. There was a ton of yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle, but for this review, I let them remain in the bottle. Lacing was quite sparse, only leaving a thin patch here and there.

On the nose, this beer has almost taken on a Brettanomyces yeast-like character, featuring musty and bready yeast up front; that aroma is only enhanced by the, well, bread and straw backing from the malt. This is a fairly strong-smelling wheat beer that has hints of tart apple, orange peel and oranges, and the typical clove and bubblegum. There’s no alcohol present, and the aroma really reminds me of a day at the beach, which isn’t a bad thing, no sir. There’s nothing here that gives away this beer has been aged; no oxidation — perhaps the apple was less tart the first time, but it doesn’t detract.

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Tasting, and we’ve got a hit of tart apple up front, which quickly gives way to wheat and wheat and lots of wheat. Straw, bready flavors, think Imperial Wheat; this continues to the finish, when the subtleties nicely begin to shine; there’s a good kick of clove and bubblegum, and we’ve also got some sneaky cayenne that serves to provide just the right amount (read: just a smidgen) of heat. The tart apple returns at the end, and this is quite a refreshing drink with hidden alcohol and a very nice, creamy mouthfeel. I’d classify Positive Contact as being medium-bodied; be careful, or you’ll find yourself in trouble. Very easy drinking.

What has the 1.5 years of age done? Well, it definitely subtracted the cilantro, which was a big part of this brew when I sampled it fresh. It has also turned the once sweet and cider-like apples into a lightly tart, dry experience. It’s sort of like two different beers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The best part about the brew is the subtle use of cayenne. I’d say I preferred it fresh, but it’s nothing to sneeze at should you still have a 2012 bottle. But, nudge, nudge…might want to sip on this one soon.

In redux:

Appearance: 12 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 31 of 35 points

Dogfish Head Positive Contact Wheat Ale, 88 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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Beer Review 0519: Mother Earth Windowpane Series Peaches Wheat Ale

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Mother Earth Brewing are located in Kinston, North Carolina. Started by Trent Mooring and Stephen Hill, there’s a family connection here — Trent is married to Stephen’s daughter. Stephen had been a home brewer since the mid-1980’s, and gave Trent a taste of his “Red Eye,” a beer made with tomato juice. “That was it,” said Trent. Love at first taste.

The brewery began production in 2008 in a building repurposed into a brewery. Bottling and kegging kicked off just one year later. Today, they’re still small, but employ fourteen people and are distributed in North Carolina, Georgia, and Washington, DC. Mother Earth are environmentally conscience, using solar panels for power, recycled blue jeans for insulation, and their tap handles are made from bamboo.

The Windowpane series are a group of beers that contain fruit from North Carolina farms; the beers are all barrel aged in either Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or brandy barrels. Windowpane Peaches is the second release of the series, and is aged in oak Chardonnay barrels for three months. The base beer is a Double Wheat Ale. Peaches comes in at 8.2% ABV (alcohol by volume. Each Windowpane release is limited to a run of just 20 barrels, which is 620 gallons. Mother Earth started the Windowpane beers in 2012; they are producing them again in 2013. (OTHER WINDOWPANE SERIES BEERS: Blackberries, 86 points; Raspberries, 90 points; Fig & Raisin, 91 points.)

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Emptying the bottle, this beer produces a very sparse, almost non-existent head that was soapy, at least while it lasted. It quickly disappeared, leaving a flat-looking golden-orange beer that had a lightly cloudy body, but was absent of particles and sediment. Lacing was a no-go. Swirling the beer in the glass failed to even really stir up carbonation bubbles.

On the nose, if you’re expecting peaches, you best look somewhere else. Oh, there’s some fruitiness here, but there’s not really anything you can identify, let alone finger as being a peach. It’s tart fruit, edging on the border of sour; there’s plenty of barrel characteristics: white wine, oak, and some vanilla. There’s grain/wheat in the malt category, and for 8.2% ABV, the alcohol is hidden.

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Considering how the three other beers in this series were very good, there has to be a weak link. Here it is. This beer, for lack of a better word, sucks. There’s a mild tartness up front, like watered-down fruit; no pungent peach, nothing other than nondescript unripened hint of fruitiness. The best analogy I can come up with is Juicy Fruit brand chewing gum. Put a stick of that in your mouth and yes, it’s fruity, but can you identify which fruits? I thought so. This beer does have a nice wheat character, and if you dig white wine, you’ll probably be into how the barrels are used here; the tartness from the “fruit” play well into the light edge of the barrel, and there’s a decent sweep of vanilla that comes in and brings on the finish. That’s where the peaches finally show up; they’re very faint and as the beer warmed, tasted more like oranges. But the taste this beer leaves in your mouth after swallowing is like you got hold of an unripened banana and got cottonmouth. Wow. It’s dry and unpleasant. Windowpane Series Peaches is light-bodied, with a medium, very creamy mouthfeel, but it has almost no carbonation.

The disappointment I have in this beer simply cannot be expressed in words. But I’ll try: imagine taking $16 of your hard-earned money and throwing it into gale-force winds. Man, I could have filled my fridge with an awesome twelve-pack. Do not by this beer unless you are a completist and want to finish off this (otherwise tasty) series. I think even the most ardent wine lover would be best to stick to one of the other Windowpane beers, because the use of the barrels is better when combined with actual good flavors.

Mother Earth Windowpane Series Peaches Wheat Ale, 67 points. Price: $15.99 US for one 750 ml corked & caged bottle.

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Beer Review 0440: Boulevard 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer

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Consider it a marriage of two of today’s popular brewing styles — the IPA and the Wheat Ale.

Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

Boulevard have been distributing here in North Carolina for almost a year — I’ve reviewed their Unfiltered Wheat Beer (their most popular offering) and wasn’t too impressed, giving it 78 points. I have also sampled their Single-Wide IPA, which I enjoyed very much, awarding it 91 points. Perhaps 80-Acre will indeed be a nice combination of the two beers. Brewed with both unmalted and malted wheat, the hop bill is impressive, offering Bravo, Zeus, Summit, Cascade, and Nelson Sauvin. Despite all those hops, IBUs (International Bitterness Units) only hit 20, and the ABV (alcohol by volume) is 5.5%.

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Pouring stirred an average size head, frothy in nature and composed of both large and tightly compacted dense bubbles. The head was bright white and looked great atop a yellow-golden sunny beer. The body was hazy, almost cloudy, and with the yeast poured in, a light amount of particles and sediment distributed in the beer. Lacing was excellent, with thick patches of foam left clinging to the glass. A very nice looking drink.

On the nose, we’ve got what smells like a typical wheat beer with just a tad more hops added. The traditional yeast aromas of clove and bubblegum struck me first, along with grainy, straw-like wheat. The hops are in the background, and they are herbal tea-like, with orange and grapefruit being the stars. A peppery spice finishes off the aroma nicely.

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Taking a sip, and there’s lots of grainy wheat, and some weaker notes of clove and bubblegum. A mild kick of orange peel and grapefruit round things out, and these flavors pretty much continue throughout the taste, finishing with a very gentle bitterness but otherwise clean and refreshing. There’s a slight lingering taste of bubblegum and wheat mixed with herbal citrus. Light-bodied, 80-Acre is thin in the mouth, with a gritty texture when swirled.

This is a good mix of the two styles, indeed, just weak in flavor on both ends. If there were ever a beer I’d love to try an Imperial version of, this is it. But the redeeming quality is, despite lacking knockout flavors, this beer is extremely drinkable and very refreshing, with just enough hops to not be a boring summer wheat drink. I’d keep it in my fridge for the hot days.

Boulevard 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer, 86 points. Price: $8.99 US for a six-pack.

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