The Session #137: Where I try to figure out what happened to German Wheat Beers in Northern California

For this month’s Beer Blogging Session, Roger Mueller of Roger’s Beers…and Other Drinks asks us to write about German Wheat Beers in some way or another.  (Don’t know what the Beer Blogging Session is?  Then check out this.) I have to confess not knowing a lot about German Wheat Beers. The last time I was in Germany was in Munich in 2005, where I was travelling on business to the Laser Munich Trade Show, as the Germans are every bit as talented at building lasers as they are brewing beer. That was a couple years before I had any real appreciation for beer, German or otherwise.

I rarely drink German imports, but spent the last couple weeks sampling a limited selection of a few German Hefeweizens found in my local grocery store as “research” for this post. I found it interesting how each different brewery had their own small, but significant riff on the style. Other than that, I really don’t think I can say a lot about authentic German Wheat Beers. While ignorance on a subject is hardly a reason for a blogger not to write about it, I’m going to go in a slightly direction. Since plenty of Northern California brewers release Wheat Beers which they claim are brewed in the German-style, I can drink those Northern California variants and write about them.

SCVB HefeHefeweizens are hard to find around here, and sometimes are a bit underwhelming.  One I like is Alviso Mills Hefeweizen from San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). On the can, SCVB states it’s brewed in the Bavarian-style. It’s got a tingly carbonation, a dry but substantial malt heft, a little wheat tang, and noticeable banana and clove esters to round out the flavor, hitting the usual Hefeweizen notes. Nice beer.

Of course, if I’m going to talk about German Wheat beers brewed in Northern California, Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen has to be in the conversation.  Gordon Biersch Brewmaster Dan Gordon studied brewing at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan, Germany, so you have to figure he knows a thing or two about German Wheat Beer. As for Gordon’s Hefeweizen, it’s got a light pillow-like mouthfeel with a noticeable tartness from the wheat. It’s medium dry and I found the spicy clove character dominant over the banana. One of those beers that is pretty refreshing if that’s all you’re looking for, but interesting enough if you want to pay closer attention.

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Dan Gordon, the Gordon of Gordon Biersch

Briney Melon GoseLet’s move to the Gose style. When Northern California brewers discovered this style a few years ago, each had their delightful play on the yin-yang balance of salt and sourness, with each brewery offering up their interpretation of the style.  But after maybe six months of that, brewers around here grew impatient and couldn’t resist the temptation to “innovate”, breaking out the guava paste or the blood orange concentrate and dumping that in the brew.  The Goses in Northern California no longer became interesting studies of balance, but tired fruit-infused Wheat Beers. A notable exception, in my opinion, is Briny Melon Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing.  I like the deep, pucking sourness matched with a light funk, a little saltiness and coriander spice, with the melon adding depth and bringing everything together.

Finally, there’s North Coast Tart Cherry Berliner Wiesse. It’s more sweet than sour, with a fizzy carbonation and the cherries just take over everything. Frankly, it tastes like a sophisticated alcopop. I get that the Berline Wiesse is usually served with sweet syrup in its homeland and this is an attempt at replicating that. Maybe this beer is true to the way a Berliner Wiesse is served in its homeland. I just don’t think it worked particularly well.NC BW

After sampling these and many other German-style Wheat Beers in Northern California, I’m struck with how poorly the German styles have translated here compared to English-styles (Stouts, Pale Ales, and of course, IPAs). Northern California brewers also seem much more comfortable looking to Belgium for inspiration. German brewing, with it’s focus on tradition and strict technique, just doesn’t seem to fit with the more freewheeling Northern California culture. It’s our loss.

 

 

Rambling Reviews 5.17.2016 : Boulevard’s Tell Tale Tart, Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon Gose, and Coronado Brewing’s Berry the Hatchet

It’s the time again to ramble on about some new beers encountered on my travels, this time with a bit of fruit theme,

Let’s start with Tell Tale Tart, from Boulevard Brewing. What a wonderfully balanced composition of simplicity this is. There’s a little musty funk, a little sweetness, some fruity esters and some sourness that create an excellent warm afternoon sipping beer. I applaud Boulevard for resisting the temptation to dump boysenberries, tamarind or some other fruit or spice addition that just doesn’t belong there. It’s nearly perfect as it is.

And then there is Anderson Valley’s Briney Melon Gose. As you might expect, there’s noticeable melon flavors, barely detectable saltiness and almost no sour tang. Well, it’s balanced. When the Gose style came on the scene a couple years ago as, a wonderful breath of fresh salty-sour air. Anderson Valley’s Gose, and I mean just Gose without any fruit added, was one of the best. But it seems like the Gose has now become just a general purpose fruit beer. I was a bit on the fence about Anderson Valley’s Blood Orange Gose and really under whelmed by Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez Gose.  Briney Melon Gose works as fruit beer and I enjoyed drinking it.  But I’m missing that yin-yang salty/sour balance that made the Gose style so enticing. Now, breweries are just dumping fruit and spices into their Gose and upsetting that balance. German brewers buried in Leipzig have every right to be spinning in their graves.

Finally, we come to Berry the Hatchet from Coronado Brewing, which sent me a sample of this beer to try. They take a light touch with the fruit and wisely brew this with little sweetness, lest this become syrupy tasting. There’s a nice complexity to the berry flavors if you concentrate hard on them, and they end with a satisfying tartness. I suspect beer geeks will be a little underwhelmed, but the other 99% of the population will be just fine with this summer thirst quencher which at 4.6% abv, is rather sessionable.