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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Fresh Buzz

Vintage Buzz

2006 Buzz

May '06: Just Like Wine

Apr. '06: Mixed Messages

Mar. '06: We Print the Truth

Feb. '06: The Fairer Sex

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes


June, 2006

Viva El Hefe!

I tried getting all fired up about something to turn out a rant this month. You know, Bud at the World Cup, the CostCo three-tier case, Young’s Brewery closing (Really, it is, which sucks and the Brits are just stupid), the whole sad Rolling Rock thing…but to be honest, it’s just too stinking hot right now. We got hit with 94 degrees Monday, and it’s still hotter than it oughta be. It’s just not right to be running the AC in May. I blame Al Gore.

The heat made me think of something else, though, something that made me smile – and get up from my desk and head to the refrigerator. I got out a big bottle of hefeweizen. I rolled it on my desk, got the opener out of the drawer (I use a vintage LEDCO opener…just because it works really well), and popped it open. The foam rolled out immediately, but I was ready with a tall, curvy weissbier glass. Mmmmm…a huge head of white, creamy foam over roiling, cloudy, yellow-gold beer. I felt cooler immediately, and it only got better when I took a big sip. Ahhhh…That tastes like summer.

"A sunny afternoon just needs a big glass of wheat beer," Sly Fox brewer Brian O’Reilly once said to me, and he’s right. I had plenty of wheat beer in Bavaria last December, including that of wheat beer specialist G. Schneider, and it’s good, especially with some nice juicy weisswurst and mustard. But it is, at best, only good in the winter (except for Schneider’s Aventinus weizendoppelbock, which was kick-ass in the cold weather). Wheat beer is made for outdoor summer drinking, kicking back on the deck or patio or lakeside with a tall glass of foam-capped glory. Sorry if that screws up anyone’s marketing plans.

I didn’t always like wheat beer. The clove threw me off. I kept trying it, because so many people I knew and respected liked it. Then I got some Spaten and things clicked. Yum! Now I drink all of the German-style hefes, from light banana spritzers to heavy clove ballbusters, and love them all.

Maybe that’s not where the future is. I interviewed a Heineken USA brand manager recently about their new Heineken Premium Light. "The day of acquired tastes are over," he said. "People want things that are easier to consume, and they want them now." Lazy little creeps. ‘The day of acquired tastes are over,’ forsooth. I’ve never heard a better argument for breaking every damned TV in the nation (though ‘24’ is a pretty good counter-argument).

People want things that taste good, that’s all. In evidence of that, I present New Year’s Eve, back in 1996, when I took a 1/4 barrel of Victory Sunrise Weiss to my god-child’s 1st birthday celebration in Binghamton, NY. We tapped up amid fearful Coors Light drinkers – "Is that a microbrew? I don’t like that dark beer!" – and poured the first pitcher, light, foamy, and fragrant.

They got a taste of it, and were shocked. Good flavor! Not heavy! Downright spritzy and delicious! "Hey, where can I get this?" said one guy, who owned a couple bowling alleys in town. "I could sell this at the bar." I’d like to say he did…but Victory didn’t distribute in Binghamton at the time, and the opportunity was lost. But we did kill the keg in pretty short order, and they liked it from the get-go. Is weissbier "easier to consume"? Dunno, but it sure got consumed…and it wasn’t even summer!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other big summer wheatie: witbier. That’s the Belgian (or Belgian-style) stuff made with raw wheat that comes out cloudy and brisk with the crisp notes of added orange peel and spices. Everyone knows Hoegaarden, and Blue Moon, and Victory’s Whirlwind (well, around here, they know it), and Celis White is finally back. I also got a recent sample of Legacy’s new Midnight Wit, and it was delish: creamy, cool, and refreshing, tasting like another.

But while witbier is great for grilled chicken and salad (especially on it: wit makes a great marinade base for chicken and pork, or a salad dressing base), I have to admit that weissbier, hefeweizen, whatever you want to call it, is my true summer love. I’d almost rather drink a big glass of weizen than a good crisp pilsner…actually, most times when I’m out on the deck, I would rather drink weizen. Thanks to Stoudt’s 12 oz. bottles of Weizen, I can, and I plan to. Often.

What about the "other" wheat beers? For those of you who wanted a rant, take this one: "American" hefeweizen is a plague on craft brewing. I read in a press release recently (I won’t say from what brewery; I like ‘em, and don’t want to smack them for what someone else did) that fake "hefeweizen" (that’s my ‘fake,’ you bet) is now the 5th largest category of craft beer. Why, for the love of God, why? I have yet to taste one of these beers that tasted of anything, except for the lost, lamented Wild Goose Spring Wheat, which actually had some balls to it and was excellent on cask.

American hefeweizen, ye gods. Look, if you put the name in German, I expect the beer to be auf Deutsch too, and this bilge definitely is not. I love the Widmer Brothers, truly, I do, but a curse on their heads for this. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t hate this beer style anywhere near as much if it were called something like American Wheat Ale. Hey, cool, it is what it is, no more or less innocuous than Bud or some brewpub light ale. But this is like naming a three-legged chihuahua Spike; calling it don’t make it.

If you’re going to order a hefeweizen, make it one like Summit’s, or an Erdinger (now there’s a wheat beer with some balls), an Ayinger, a nice fresh Penn (speaking of whom…a very happy and respectful 20th anniversary wish to Tom and Mary Beth Pastorius: congratulations on two decades of excellent and uncompromising beer!). Acquire the taste – I know you can do it! – and find out just how great summer drinking can be.

(Do you like the bigger font better? Is it easier to read? Or does it make you feel like you're reading the large-print edition of Reader's Digest?)

Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: July 03, 2006