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: Summer Brews from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage, and Sudwerk

Alviso Mills Hefeweizen

It’s hot. Some days with the sun a-blazin’, I don’t even want to look at an IPA, and instead reach for the lighter summery beer styles. These styles get no respect. They’re technically harder to brew than IPA’s, Imperial Stouts and other styles that get beer geeks raving, yet the best of them barely earn a ho-hum among the self appointed beer cognoscenti. I’ve been seeking out more of the lighter, summery thirst quenching brews these days and here are three I particularly liked.

First up, Alviso Mills Hefeweizen which San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing just released June 23rd. I find American brewers either hit or miss with this quintessential German style. Some capture all that wonderful yeasty estery goodness in their Hefe, others produce a rather so-so wheat beer. Santa Clara Valley Brewing gets it right.  Fruity esters dominate the flavor profile, with maybe a little banana and very slight clove-like aromatics, and it finishes with a satisfying wheat tang. Well done.

Hermitage Pilsner

Just down the road from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage Brewing is pouring a mighty fine dry hoped Pilsner in their tap room. While Hermitage is best known for their ales, it’s nice to see them getting notice in the cold fermented act. Their Pilsner is crisp, with some spicy floral bitterness and a decent malt heft. Simple and clean like a Pilsner should be. Hermitage Brewmaster Peter Licht spends a minute to describe the new Pilsner release in this video.

We now turn to California Dry Hopped Lager from Davis, CA lager specialists, Sudwerk. The guy at the Sudwerk stand at any Bay Area beer festival I’ve been too is always the loneliest guy in the room. Unfortunately, not a lot of people check out lagers at a beer festival, and so basically the poor Sudwerk guy is there with no nothing to do and no one to talk to. I’ve even seen tipsy beer hipsters laugh at the Sudwerk stand. Not cool. Those wishing to expand their beer horizons to possibilities of lagers will be rewarded here. There’s a light of nice herbal aromas as it pours. This brew has a sturdy malt base, with a snappy grassy and herbal hop finish.  A real “stick to your ribs” kind of lager. So Sudwerk, just ignore the douchebag beer hipsters and keep the lager faith.

Sudwerk California Dry Hop Lager
on my new gas grill