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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Blind-Tasted Hefeweizens ― Guess Which One We Liked Best?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 2:48 PM

click to enlarge The origins of the six hefeweizens ranged from Munich to Napa. - B. YAEGER
  • B. Yaeger
  • The origins of the six hefeweizens ranged from Munich to Napa.
For this month's blind beer-tasting, we're separating the wheat from the chaff. There are seven primary styles of wheat beer ― weißbier ― but for starters, let's look at the popular hefeweizens. From the German hefe ("yeast") and weizen ("wheat"), this Bavarian style dating back to the 15th century hints at cloves and banana. Anchor's Summer Beer (introduced in 1984) was the initial modern craft beer to contain over 50 percent malted wheat, but Pyramid (then Hart Brewing) was the first to put wheat front and center with Wheaten Ale in 1985. If you're looking for Bud Light Golden Wheat in this lineup ― don't. With its coriander and citrus peels, it's akin to a Belgian-style white ale or witbier than a hefe.

Despite the way pints are served in bars, no lemon wedges were harmed for this tasting panel.

click to enlarge The lineup revealed. - B. YAEGER
  • B. Yaeger
  • The lineup revealed.
Besides this blogger, panelists included Bryan Hermannsson, who hosted at minor league Clara St. Brewing in SOMA, Hedonist Beer Jive blogger Jay Hinman, and aspiring publican Gabrielle Chan. We sampled the beers ― all widely available for $2-$3.49 per bottle ― in this order:

1. Napa Smith Wheat (Napa, Calif.)

2. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen (Chico, Calif.)

3. Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier (Munich, Germany)

4. Pyramid Haywire Hefeweizen (Seattle -- but really Burlington, Vt.)

5. Spoetzl Shiner Hefeweizen (Shiner, Tex.)

6. Weinhenstephaner Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier (Frieburg Freising, Germany)

Each beer was scored on a 1-to-10 scale and given a sum total. Continuing the trend in these blind tastings, the yardstick, Weinhenstephaner Weihenstephaner, rapidly approaching its millennial anniversary, reigned supreme with a total score of 28. Hinman awarded it his personal gold star for its "strong banana and bread-y flavor."

A single point behind but the top choice for this blogger, Sierra Nevada's relatively new Kellerweis elicited the refrain "true" or "authentic" hefeweizen aroma, taste, and feel. It is marked by both slightly spicy esters and a tinge of bubblegum aftertaste.

On the flipside, the other locally brewed contestant, Napa Smith Wheat, sullied the field and sponged up everyone's lowest scores for a total of 16 points. For a typically pungent, flavorful style, this filtered one warranted observations such as "lacking," "light, almost pilsner-y," "simple," and "small aroma."

click to enlarge The tasting panel (from left): Bryan Hermannsson, Gabrielle Chan, Jay Hinman, the author. - B. YAEGER
  • B. Yaeger
  • The tasting panel (from left): Bryan Hermannsson, Gabrielle Chan, Jay Hinman, the author.
Haywire Hefeweizen scored a respectable 23, and Hinman, who claims it's his go-to wheat beer, corroborated that by commenting, "I want more." Chan gave it faint praise for being "balanced."

Shiner proved to be the wit in hefe's clothing by labeling itself a hefeweizen but discreetly adding orange and lemon peels and honey. Whereas Hermannsson commended its "sharp carbonation and wonderful aftertaste," this blogger felt it was so lemony fresh it resembled floor polish: 22 points.

The other old-school, Old World hefe in the batch belonged to Franziskaner, which totaled 19. The foamiest of the bunch, it got knocked for being at turns soapy, lemony, and sugary.

Tune in next month when a new panel will blindly taste pale ales. Previous blind tastings focused on pilsners and stouts.

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Brian Yaeger

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