‘I’m such a huge obsessive enthusiast for American wheat beers,’ said no-one, ever.
After our recent experience with a Japanese wheat beer that brought nothing to the table, we had low expectations for these two specimens from Widmer Brothers and Fordham. We were pleasantly surprised by both, at least in terms of their difference from other wheat beers on the UK market.
The Original American Weizen
Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen (4.9% ABV, £2.19 330ml from Noble Green Wines) has been around long enough to have earned an ‘oral history’, being first brewed in 1984. Its claim to fame is that it invented a new ‘style’, ‘American Wheat’: despite its otherwise German-inspired recipe, it is not fermented with the famous yeast strain that makes Bavarian wheat beer smell like bananas.
Or, to put it another way, it is German wheat beer without the very thing that makes it so distinctive. Curry without all those stupid spices. Opera without all the singing.
We expected something like Erdinger Alkoholfrei, especially given its journey across the Atlantic, and it had the same dirty, dusty look about it. But – phew! – it was actually bright and fruity – a wholesome multi-grain health food of a beer. (The Portman Group can’t tell off bloggers, can they?) In lieu of bananas, we were reminded of pineapple cubes. There was a spot of spiciness, too, that brought to mind Chimay Gold.
One complaint: we’d have liked a bigger bottle, as this is a beer to be drunk by the pint without too much pondering or pontificating.
Too orangey for crows
Fordham Wisteria (4% ABV) was one of a case of samples we were sent by the brewery’s UK distributor last month. Though it is an American wheat beer, it is not an American Wheat, if you see what we mean, being fermented with the ‘authentic’ Bavarian yeast.
It needed more carbonation and sparkle – not something that can be said of most German wheat beers – and its semi-flatness made it look unappealing in the glass, and taste somewhat sickly.
As well as the expected banana, we also thought we detected orange oil, and a spot of rose-water. It had a dry chalkiness, presumably from the suspended yeast that made it cloudy, which helped to counteract some of the toffeeish malt and fruitiness.
That malt might be this beer’s other problem: it is dark orange in colour, exactly like wheat beers we’ve bodged together at home using English pale ale malt rather than the prescribed super-pale pilsner malt. We would probably prefer it if it had been made with a paler base malt, and with more wheat in the mix.
After all those complaints, on the whole, we liked it, and would drink it again.