Bristol is good at German-style wheat beer, it turns out – we’ve had three this year that might be beer-of-the-year contenders.
It makes sense, we suppose. When we think of the defining Bristol style, what pops into our heads is slightly hazy, soft-edged, fruity, barely-bitter pale ale.
From there to Weizen is only a short hop.
The first one that grabbed our attention earlier this year was Bristol Beer Factory’s Lost in Munich. You might regard it as a step between the two styles, in fact, being an open homage to Schneider’s Hopfenweisse – Weizen with IPA hopping.
BBF’s version, available in 440ml cans, actually pours stubbornly clear, or at least only faintly hazy. It has vanilla in the aroma and, of course, a bunch of banana. At 5%, it’s not as strong as the Schneider original – or, indeed, as most standard German wheat beers.
We liked it so much we bought a box of 12 to drink at home. Perhaps others don’t share our enthusiasm, though, because it was discounted to £25.60 – about £2 per tin. At present, they don’t have any in stock.
A bigger surprise, perhaps, was Left Handed Giant’s take. We say it’s a surprise because we don’t always click with LHG beers, which often sound and look better than they taste.
LHG Hefeweizen is another 5%-er and, we gather, is regularly available at their colossal, rather impressive brewpub-taproom at Finzel’s Reach, on the site of the old Courage brewery.
We found it on draught at The Swan With Two Necks and Ray (the bigger wheat beer fan of the two of us anyway) loved it so much he stuck on it for the entire session.
Our notes say ‘pretty convincing… less banana, more strawberry’. The point is, though, that it isn’t a ‘twist’ on the style; it doesn’t have fruit, or unusual hops, or breakfast cereal. It’s a straight-up, honest beer.
The same might be said for Good Chemistry’s punningly-named Weiss City, also with an ABV of 5% (was there a memo?), and on draught at their taproom the last couple of times we’ve been.
To underline the point we made at the start of this post, here’s how it looks alongside their session IPA, Kokomo Weekday, which is at the back:
We’re not sure we’d know it wasn’t an authentic German product if we were served it blind, in appropriate glassware.
That is a problem, of course: all the examples above were served in standard UK pint glasses, with little room for the customary meringue-whip head.
Perhaps at some point we’ll re-run the wheat beer taste-off we did a few years ago from which we concluded…
German wheat beer is more subtle than we had realised — an end-of-level-boss technical challenge for brewers. Too much of those characteristic aromas and flavours and it tips over into caricature, or just becomes sickly. Despite looking dirty, it actually needs to be really clean to work: acidity knocks it right off course, and there’s no room for funk or earthiness. The carbonation has to be exactly calibrated, too, or the beer simply flops: bubbles are body.
It feels as if perhaps things have moved along since then. But until we drink these Bristol beers alongside, say, Franziskaner (bang at the centre of the style in our minds) then it’s hard to say for sure.