The beer-style that dare not speak its name

By BeertownNZ Thu, 03 Mar 2016 National

When North End Brewing brought out its Hoppy Wheat, sales were disappointing.

“People who like hops don’t like wheat beer, and people who want a wheat beer don’t want hops,” brewer Kieran Haslett-Moore told me. So he changed its name to Super Alpha, and now it’s a popular part of North End’s core range. People are funny!

It’s not just New Zealanders though. Check out the loud-and-proud statement on Modern Times Fortunate Island: “Does the word ‘wheat’ on a can of craft beer make you assume it’s some insipid macro-beer analogue? A tepid, entry-level beer that’s ‘nice’ at best? Well, those would be incorrect assumptions in this case. Wildly, shamefully incorrect. Fortunate Islands is bursting with citrusy, tropical hop aromatics because we dry-hop the bejejus out of it with Citra & Amarillo hops. It tastes like wizards.”

I don’t know when exactly wheat beers developed such a negative reaction. Perhaps it was the bubble-gum/banana bombs of the 1990s, but in craft-beer-years that was decades ago. Now there’s a lot of creativity happening at the intersection of Hops and Wheat, hidden behind labels like White, Pacific, Blonde.

From one direction comes the White Pale Ale styles. Take a traditional Belgian Wit recipe – wheat, Belgian yeast, possibly some coriander and orange – then pour in the New World hops.

It’s a simple enough innovation and it can work well, combining refreshing carbonation with spicy yeast and hop flavours. New Zealand examples are easy to find: Bach Brewing Witsunday Blonde IPA 5.6%; Moa Southern Alps White IPA 6.4%; Panhead Whitewall WPA 4.3%.

Approach the Wheat/Hops intersection from the other direction, and styles become more varied. In this group you get a variety of Pacific Ales, combining New World hops with a combination of wheat and pilsner malts to produce refreshing, sessionable beers that don’t scare the lager drinkers.

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale 4.4% (Byron Bay, NSW) is the pioneer of the Pacific Ale style. It’s Galaxy hops are distinctly Australian, and the moderate alcohol and strong carbonation make it an attractive alternative to a mainstream Aussie lager. I first tasted it on a thundery Brisbane afternoon, and it works.

North End Brewing Super Alpha 5% now describes itself as Pacific Pale Ale. It’s New Zealand hops (Pacific Jade, NZ Cascade, Motueka and Super Alpha) give distinct NZ pale ale tones combining with a hint of coriander.

Modern Times Beer Fortunate Islands 5% (San Diego, Cal.) describes itself as “Hoppy, Tropical, Wheaty” and “shares the characteristics of a hoppy IPA and an easy drinking wheat beer”. The Citra and Amarillo hops give it that distinctly US-hop tropical fruit aroma and make it a good Northern Pacific variation on the style.

Sawmill Brewing Co. Crystal Wheat 4.5% takes a different approach, starting as a Pacifica-hopped lager built on 50/50 pilsner and wheat malts. Filtered clear and with a big white head, it gets a point for stating “Wheat” in big letters on the label.

Modern Times Fortunate Islands was provided by Hashigo Zake Cult Beer Store. Cheers!

By BeertownNZ Thu, 03 Mar 2016 National