Monday, September 27, 2010

Wellington Brewery's 25th Anniversary Party!

 Wellington Brewery will always hold a special place in my beer-loving heart, as it was their brews that first started my down the microbrew-loving path.  After years of knocking back the usual imported fare in Kingston pubs, soon after arriving in Waterloo I was introduced to Wellington ales and I've never looked back.  Aside from being a standup brewery featuring some fantastic English-style ales and stouts, they also happen to be some great folks.  Always ready with a keg whenever you need it.  Our campus football team is sponsored by Welly - our kits are emblazoned with 'Arkell Best Bitter.'   Even when we lose, we win.   Indeed, Wellington will always be one of my very favorite Ontario craft brewers.

Usually, around this time of year, Wellington hosts an event called the "Welly Boot Chuck", which involves drinking lots of beer and then seeing how far you can huck a size 11 'Wellington' rubber boot.  Simplicity at its finest.   But this year, the event was superseded by the brewery's 25th anniversary celebrations, and I was damned excited to be a part of it.  Very few micro/craft breweries in North America have hit the quarter-century mark - only those few breweries like Wellington who started brewing right out of the gate (i.e., when small-batch homebrewing was legalized in the United States and Canada) can boast such a heritage.  Definitely worth a party.

And what a show it was:


The weather may not have been the greatest (it rarely is in late September), but the atmosphere was fantastic.  Upon our arrival, we walked up to the main gate to receive a souvenir cup and two beer tokens to get us rolling.   A donation to the local food back was all that was required for admission.  A great turnout throughout the day, but fortunately it never became overcrowded.  A great atmosphere.


For those not adequately dressed for the fall weather (i.e., me), there was the Duke Lounge, a cheery place full of folks slogging pints in front of a roaring fireplace, with college football on the tube and a friendly face behind the bar.  Well, not so much friendly - more stern and imperious.  A great lineup of brews: Special Pale Ale, County Dark Ale, Trailhead Lager and Silver Wheat Ale were on regular draught, while the Arkell Best Bitter was featured on cask tap, which was glorious.  For the beer geeks out there, Welly also put out a special cask-conditioned ale for the occasion - Oast House Ale - which utilized local area hops (some of which could be seen growing over the entrance to the Retail Shop.  Malty and with a slightly citrus tang to the hops.  Undercarbonated, even for a cask-tap, but still enjoyable.  Not sure what its future will be.   Two noticeable omissions from the lineup were the higher ABV folks: Iron Duke Strong Ale (6.5%) and their Russian Imperial Stout (8%) - my two favorite brews, but definitely understandable given the circumstances.  Wouldn't want things to get out of hand.

  For those eager to brave the weather was the outdoor bar, which served essentially the same lineup minus the cask taps.  Decent food selection for a big event such as this; in addition to the usual beer drinking fare of pulled-pork sammies and baked beans was a Thai food stand with a fine assortment of goodies.   Souvenir shop for t-shirts, hoodies and a "Try a Welly On" toque, the latter of which I managed to snap up.  Behind the brewhouse was a large music tent featuring some fine local bands, including the Speakeasies, Minotaur and Kidstreet, as well as an act featuring one of the main Welly beer delivery lads.  As a neat little addition, photographs celebrating the history of the brewery were projected onto the music tent ceiling.   Later that night, The Sadies were set to perform, but our bunch was feeling the effects and we decided to shuffle off.  Would have been a good show though.

Throughout the day, the Welly folks led whomever was interested (i.e., me) on a little brewery tour.  The tour was led by one of the brewmasters, so he certainly knew his stuff.  For a brewery with such a small output, the tour wasn't a long one, with all the brewing is more or less completed in one large brewing room, with an adjoining keg storage room for the delivery trucks.  Compare this tour with the 45 minute, multi-room Steam Whistle adventure and one can see the differences between the various craft breweries in terms of output.  About 6 or 7 brewing tuns of varying sizes, and with a growing bottling and canning operation, it looks like Welly is able to get things done despite such a small area.  Indeed, balancing brewing time amongst a (growing) lineup of beers can pose quite a challenge for any craft brewery owner. 


Good food, good beer, good music all contributed towards an excellent afternoon.  No bootchucking, unfortunately, but the celebratory atmosphere more than made up for the lack of drunk folks throwing rubber boots. 

Cheers to the folks at Wellington for 25 great years!  

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit..."


Well it's official: as of 12:00 EST on Saturday the 18th, Oktoberfest in Bavaria has begun!  The real Oktoberfest starts earlier than it does here.  Fortunately, only a little over two weeks till the festival hits KW - I can see my Oktoberfesting hat on the shelf eager to go!

Have yourself a Bayrischerbier to celebrate: Lowenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, whatever you can  find!

Zicke zacke zicke zacke HOI HOI HOI!!

Cannery Brewing: Blackberry Porter

Beer: Blackberry Porter
Brewery: Cannery Brewing (Penticton, BC)
Type: Porter (flavored)
ABV: 6.5%

Just got back from my most successful LCBO trip in months.  About five new brews, including this tempting jem from the West Coast.  Finally, another (good) BC beer makes it out to Ontario.  By gar, it's been awhile; the last one of any consequence was Whistler Premium lager, released in time for the Olympics.  Except it was boring and skunky.

Couldn't have asked for a better find in this blackberry brew.  Now, I loves me some porters - but throw some fruit in there (especially raspberry or blackberry) and you'll have me bashing down your door to get some. And by bashing down your door, I mean driving to the LCBO and buying one.  The English language can be so restrictive sometimes...

Extra big bottle for increased drinkability.  As I've mentioned before, I love when breweries release their brews in such tall bottles. One pint is rarely enough to gauge the beer sufficiently; bigger bottles mean greater opportunity to compare the brew at different temperatures and air exposure.

Poured into a tapered ale glass.  An inky black brew, with only the faintest hint of amber around the edges. Good inch of foamy mocha lacing, producing some great lacing patterns.   Only gets better as I added more from the bottle after it warmed up a little.  Looks great.

The nose is most certainly blackberries, but with some notes of caramel, malt and coffee, which keeps the fruit character from getting away with things.    Unfortunately, the bottle lists the ingredient as being "blackberry flavour", which is not a good sign, but according to the brewery website, the beer boasts "all natural pure blackberry."  Indeed, I certainly hope that considering their fruit production-heavy location, these are real blackberries.  Fortunately, the flavour seems real, not artificial, although it smells more like a blackberry syrup or blackberry jam than of fresh blackberries.  Not sure how the tartness of fresh blackberries would have done with the porter base, so I'll give the brewer the benefit of the doubt.
Surprisingly complex taste here.

Although the blackberry-grape flavor has a strong, bold showing (again, sweet rather than tart), pale malts and dark chocolate are permitted to enter into the fore. Hops are leafy and juicy, leaving a tart, somewhat dry finish.  Pretty damned good, I'd say: not overly sweet; fruit flavour is present but not dominant; porter qualities are allowed a strong voice.  Why can't more breweries balance fruit this well?   Great stuff.

Mouthfeel and carbonation are a bit on the low side, even for a porter. Could have been a bit heartier, but for a sipper, it's quite enjoyable.  Still creamy from the lingering head.

Fruit porters are a tough style to nail, but Cannery has done well here. Blackberries are of course the star, but enough of a porter character is allowed to enter to provide adequate balance. Quite enjoyable, worth the pickup. A big bottle would probably be enough - would be a good dessert beer to share with guests, I'd reckon.
No idea how long this beer will be available as part of the LCBO's fall release.  It's a great season for fruit beer and hearty ale pickups, so make sure to grab a bottle of this while you can.  At about $5 for the tall bottle, it's not cheap, but it's certainly reasonable for what you get.  And, considering how rarely good BC brews make it out here, it's definitely worth trying.   (Grade: B+)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

East Coast Representin': A Nova Scotia Beer Haul!

New beer time!  Big thanks to Jill and David for this wonderful haul!

Despite what the commercials will tell you, Alexander Keith's is (thankfully) not the only brewery out East.   There are a few other lovable scamps trying to eke out their piece of the Bluenoser beer pie, and if this little lineup proved anything to me, it's that these smaller breweries are doing a fine job.   Both breweries featured today, Propeller and Garrison, are found in Halifax, thus giving me two more reasons to plan a trip out that way!

We'll start things off with Propeller:

Beer: Propeller London Style Porter
Brewery: Propeller Brewery (Halifax)
Type: English porter
ABV: 5%

A tall, 650ml bottle, poured into a nonic ale glass.  I'm a huge fan of the bigger bottles, not just because there's more beer inside (hooray!), but also because it allows you to pour the beer several times into the glass, giving you a greater range of temperatures to compare from.  As long as the alcohol content isn't too high, having more beer means more time to savour the flavour, as it were.  Also, there's more beer inside!

Deep, chestnut brown, with a hint of red around the edges.  When first taken from the fridge, it didn't leave much head, but later pourings produced more retention and lots of patchy lacing.  Another example of a brew that needs a bit of warming up to optimize deliciousness.

Nose is typical porter: roasted malts, toast, dark chocolate, dark coffee, caramel.  A touch of toasty marshmallow immediately after pouring. 

A fine porter, rich and hearty, but thin enough to not sit heavy in the belly.  A great roasted malt profile, with notes of bitter coffee, dark chocolate, caramel and dark fruit (raisin or blackcurrant).  Leaves you with a slightly bitter finish.

A bit thin (porters tend to be as such), but with a creamy feel and tight, spritzy carbonation.

A standup porter, among the better of the style I've encountered.  Not as hearty as Fuller's London Porter, but still rich enough to deliver a satisfying flavor.  There's nothing unique about Propeller's London Porter, nor does there need to be.  (Grade: A-)

Beer: Propeller IPA
Brewery: Propeller Brewery (Halifax)
Type: English IPA
ABV: 6.5%

Poured into a nonic glass. Terrific foamy head, with exceptional lacing streaks all along the glass. Only loses marks on the colour - kind of a washed out, light copper, pretty light on the IPA spectrum.   It looks pretty ruby-red in the picture, but trust me: it's more of a light copper.  

Nose is citrus and pine, with a touch of biscuits and malt.
Citrus and earthy hops start things off, but a malty sweetness evens things out well with notes of caramel, biscuits and peach. Finishes with a tart, peppery hop bitterness that lingers well. Quite tasty, I'm thoroughly enjoying this brew.

Thin, but featuring some great carbonation. Slightly creamy from the still-present head.

A Canadian IPA done right! An enjoyable brew that is a great summer thirst-quencher. Hoppy, but not to the point of insanity, which means I could have a few of these in an evening and not get hopped-out.  A stand-up brew!  (Grade: A)

Now for the Garrison's!  I was hoping to try their famous Martello Stout, but it seems the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp isn't much better than ours.   Next time I'm out there, I'll make a brewery pit stop!

Beer: Garrison Nut Brown Ale 
Brewery: Garrison Brewing (Halifax)
Type: brown ale
ABV: 5%

Poured into a tall ale glass.  Dark chestnut brown with a touch of red when held to the light. Thin, foamy off-white head, dissolved fairly quickly. Ring survived throughout the pint.

Nose is coffee, chocolate, hazelnut, caramel, marshmallow. Smells great!

Taste is that of a solid brown ale, but unfortunately it doesn't deliver on the same level as the nose. All the flavors were there, but were a bit muted, especially towards the finish. A bit of a bolder effort would have made for a quality brew; as it is, the taste is merely satisfactory.  Still, on a crisp fall day, it ain't bad, and I can certainly knock back a bunch of these no problem.  
Slightly watery, decent carbonation. About right for the style to avoid being classed as a porter.

A tasty ale, nothing truly spectacular, but easy to drink and certainly better than others I've encountered in Ontario.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Garrison Raspberry Wheat Ale
Brewery: Garrison Brewing Co. (Halifax)
Type: flavored wheat ale
ABV: 5%         
Fruit-flavoured wheat ales are a tricky business.  You either go big on the fruit and risk overdoing it, thus turning your product into something of a 'cooler', or you go too light and sabotage the rest of the beer.  The fruit flavor also has to be just right, lest it seem fake - Bud Light Lime fake.    I have to admit, they aren't really my thing - I'd never turn one down, of course, but usually I'm not looking for big fruit flavor when I want a beer. 

Poured into a nonic glass. Light copper/amber, with a fairly decent frothy head. Some lacing for a while, but this dies off.
Nose is raspberry, lemon, cream. Not bad, doesn't smell artificial, which is a big plus.

The raspberries in Garrison's effort are on the light end of the scale, not the tart juicy variety I was hoping for, but certainly flavorful enough.  After a moment, they give way to a lemon, yeasty finish.   Medium-bodied and slick, with decent carbonation.

Not bad at all, a tasty raspberry ale that does what it sets out to do.  Would be a fine addition to a summer patio lineup.  Although there's nothing special here to set it apart from the Ontario equivalents of KLB Raspberry Wheat or Grand River's Raspberry Pils, it's still worth a go.   (Grade: B-)


A good little mini-haul! I'm particularly impressed with the good things Propeller is doing; nice to see to see Canadian breweries nailing the classic recipes.   Keep your eyes open: every so often Propeller Bitter will make appearances in the LCBO - it's a fine brew if you like English-style ales, and well worth a pick up.  Rumor also has it that Garrison might finally be unleashed in Ontario sometime this winter - I will be making nightly sacrifices to Baal to ensure this comes to pass.   

Next time you're out East, remember that there is more to the Halifax beer scene than the Alexander Keith's tour, amusing and cheesy though it may be.   If you get a chance, give Garrison and Propeller a try  for some classic British-style brews!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Local Drinkin': A Sojourn to Grand River Brewing!

In terms of local craft brewing scenes, KW is actually a pretty good place to be.   Within about 100km, there are at least a dozen breweries to visit - a fine number compared to other regions in Canada.  Starting from my digs in Waterloo, if I were so inclined I could swing by the good folks at Wellington, F&M, Creemore, Mill St., Amsterdam, Brick, Duggan's, Great Lakes, Nickel Brook, Steam Whistle, Camerons, and even Magnotta in Vaughan, which is better known for its wines yet still produces some fine craft brews.  Slightly further out in the field, but still within driving distance are Flying Monkeys (Barrie), Church Key and Niagara's Best.  A great slate to choose from.

Visiting craft breweries such as these can be a peck of fun.  Not only is there the high chance of getting proper liquored on a brewery tour (thank you Wellington!), there's also the fact that breweries only tend to submit their best-sellers to the LCBO and local pubs; stopping by their retail store gives you the chance to sample and bring home some of their lesser-known brews.  For example, for the longest time the only place I could ever pick up Wellington's Iron Duke and their Russian Imperial Stout were on-site; fortunately, in recent months they've expanded their output so I don't have to drive out to Guelph every time.  As a final point, as is often the case the stuff available for sale at the brewery is about as fresh as it gets; without the time spent in the truck and on the store shelf, you're getting the brew as close to the brewmaster's intentions as possible, which is a great thing.  I've been to Wellington Brewery out in Guelph several times for their annual Boot Chuck, done the Steam Whistle tour on a few occasions, but other than that, I'm a bit ashamed to say I haven't been to many of these fine breweries.  Well, no longer!  I'm making it my mission to make brewery stopovers whenever I can, pick up a few new bottles, chat up the brewer if possible and pass on what I've found to you, the loyal reader! 

First on the agenda is one of my very favorite breweries, Grand River Brewing of Cambridge.  I love them because aside from the fact that pretty much every beer of theirs I've reviewed has earned at least a 'B' score in BA (a rare feat), they possess, at least in my mind, the closest representation of a true 'craft' brewery in Ontario.  Their marketing is minimalist.  Their brewery site is low-key, out of the way and very small; only in the last year have their beers made an appearance in local LCBO stores.  And yet despite all this they've earned the following of a small, yet dedicated fanbase (including yours truly) who appreciate owner Bob Hanenberg's and brewmaster Rob Creighton's passion for quality craft ales and lagers.   Grand River has a great appreciation and respect for the region they call home.  Many of their brews are named in honor of places and events in the Tri-City area: Town Hall lager bottles feature a motif of Cambridge's old city hall, while Mill Race Mild pays tribute to the city's major local park, home to the annual Mill Race Folk Festival.  On top of all this, they also happen to be some very nice folks.  I've had the pleasure of chatting with Bob n'  Rob on many occasions, and after only a few moments you can tell that these two are passionate about beer.   I talked to Rob about their recent LCBO experience, his new brewing projects and about beer in general, and I could tell this was a guy who knew his stuff.   Everything about this brewery suggests that the folks there are in it for the beer.

Grand River specializes in producing beers that are a bit lower in alcohol in most, but are certainly not considered 'light'.   There has been a growing movement in the craft beer community in support of these so-called 'session beers' - beers a bit under the standard 5% range that are enjoyable to drink in greater quantities (sessions).  The idea is that with session beers you can drink of them, but feel the effects less and without sacrificing flavor and density, so you can savor brew throughout the evening.   The kind of beer you can have at lunch without throwing off the rest of your work day.  The concept is growing in popularity as folks like me find the experience of feeling drunk (and then hungover) to be proportionately less-enjoyable as we get older.  I loves me beer, but I don't have to be drunk to enjoy it.  A mild beerphoria is all I need. With the exception of their recent offering Russian Gun Imperial Stout, all of Grand River's regular slate of beer offerings are under this 5% range, and yet none of them suffer for it.

On a late August morning, I decided to make the drive down to the brewery to check things out.  It's a great little drive if you plan it right, taking the country roads past New Hamburg and approaching the city of Cambridge from the west end.  The brewery is located in the southern end of Galt district, in a long and squat red-brick well-windowed building that used to house the Galt Knife Factory.  Fairly unimpressive, but then again, few North American breweries are; brewers need a place to brew, and older factories provide a cheap alternative that are more easily modified to suit brewing needs.  A simple little retail store, a few hats, shirts and other swag available, with two main beer racks, one fridge full of single bottles, and a growler rack.  Growlers are a fun, eco-friendly craft beer bottling method, commonly utilized by new, growing breweries without a great deal of capital to put towards single-serving bottles and labels.  Growlers are quite large, holding the equivalent of 5-6 pints of beer, and are a good way for new brewers to start distributing to new customers.  After buying the beer and making a deposit, you take the growler home, enjoy said beer, then return it so it can be washed and re-used.  Repeat as needed.
I would have picked up a growler, but both brews available were ones I can get on tap at the Grad House, so I stuck with the bottle option.   Behind (to the left of) the small retail store is the brewing room, which is large and full of antique equipment from the old factory, keeping in step with GRB's connection to local heritage.  I chatted a bit with the clerk and made my way to the bottle fridge.

On this trip I managed to pick up two new brews unavailable in the LCBO, and one of my old favorites.  A good little haul. 

Beer: Plowman's Anniversary Ale (2010)
Type: IPA
ABV: 6.5%

In honour of the brewery's 3rd anniversary, this is a revisit of one of their flagship brews, Plowman's Ale.  Similar to the Plowman's recipe, but with a greater malt and hop presence, pushing the ABV up from the standard Plowman's 4.7%.  A special seasonal.

Now, remember what I said earlier about freshness?  Like many breweries, GRB date-stamps their bottles to give folks an idea of how old the beer is and whether it might be past its prime.  No risk of that here: this pint was bottled that morning.  You just can't get any fresher than that!

Poured into a tapered ale glass. A brilliant colour - predominantly ruby-russet, brown in the dark, cherry-red when held to the light. Good frothy head, leaves a slight ring after a few minutes, with patches of lacing scattered throughout the glass. Looks great.

Nose is quite malty, with notes of caramel and toffee. Bread, biscuits, citrus hop tang.  Smells similar to an eastern American IPA.

Tastes indeed like maltier, hoppier version of Plowman's, one of my favorite Ontario brews.  A big malt entry and a good use of hops here, both earthy and citrus notes. Very slight banana flavor. The caramel and toffee poke their heads in every so often, smoothing things out. Very tasty and balanced.  Certainly tastes like the kind of beer I'd want with a Plowman's lunch.

Slightly thick for a pale ale, but light, crisp carbonation helps make Anniversary a fine drinker.

Good spin on the original Plowmans. Heavy in flavor, but not so much in the body, making this one easy to quaff.  I argue that this could compete with many an American IPA.  Great stuff. (Grade B+)

Beer: Galt Knife Old Style "Pre-Prohibition Style Lager"
Type: American Pale Lager
ABV: 4.4%

We used to have Galt Knife on tap at the UW Grad House several years ago, and I must admit, my tastes hadn't evolved to the point where I could enjoy it.  It was just too hoppy and bitter for me.

Amazing how much my tastes have changed in three short years, as this has now become one of my favorite Ontario microbrews.  Heck, even across the Canadian beer spectrum, this one holds its own well.  Thankfully available in the LCBO.  Bottled three days prior.

Poured into a lager glass. A nice amber lager, medium-golden when held to the light, with lots of visible carbonation. Terrific lacing, an incredibly sturdy head that survived the entire pint.  A splendid looking brew.

Smell was very subtle: bread, biscuits, a bit of fruit (apple), and of course the hops, which were spicy and bitter, rather than the Cascade citrus hops often seen in American lagers and ales.  A touch of yeast character to the nose as well. 

A lovely bitter lager, very full-flavoured and satisfying. Nice juicy, fruity hops with a solid malt base (a characteristic of old American lagers, hence the name). The finish is long and bitter, with notes of caramel, lemon and pepper. 

Carbonation was slightly lower than I'd expected; if it were a touch higher it'd be perfect.  Creamy and smooth, not entirely unlike a cream ale.  Goes down very easily.

A great standard lager, up there with Creemore in my books in terms of drinkability.  (Grade A-)

Beer: Raspberry Pils
Type: Fruit beer/pilsner
ABV: 4.5%

Sorry folks, forgot to get a picture of this one. Only picked up one bottle, which I shared with a buddy at a recent BBQ.  Bottle label features a rooster on a farm fence.  Cute.

Poured into a pilsner glass. Slightly opaque golden with a slight orange-pink tinge, leaving a thin, but stable frothy head.

Nose is yeast, light hops, and a slight fruit character I wouldn't have called raspberries if I hadn't known the name. Smells like neither a pilsner nor a fruit beer, but something in the middle.

Hrrm. Not sure about this. Tastes a great deal like their Hanenberg Pils, of which I'm quite fond, but with a bit of a strange fruit character in the back, which again I wouldn't necessarily call raspberry. The hops and fruit almost cancel each other out, to the detriment of both - the fruit is muted by the hops, so it doesn't taste like how I feel a fruit beer should, but the fruit also softens the hops, reducing its 'pils' standing. What I get is a very bready, yeasty brew, with only a slight fruit flavor lurking in the background.

Betwixt and between, neither a pils nor a fruit beer. Didn't really do it for me. Might have worked better with a wheat ale base to allow the fruit to make more of a statement. Or at the very least a more potent raspberry flavor.

Bit of a disappointment. It certainly is quite drinkable, and I wouldn't turn it down, but it's not really worth seeking out either.  Fruit beers are, in my opinion, the most difficult beers to ace; you either go heavy with the fruit, which can taste overly sweet and unbeer-like, or you don't go strong enough and it dilutes the flavor of the beer unnecessarily.   GRB does a better job with their Bumbleberry Wheat Ale, which has a terrific harvest fruit pie taste and mild wheat backing.  Pick it up if you get a chance.   (Grade: B-)


Other terrific brews to check out are their hoppy Curmudgeon IPA, the standard Plowmans Ale, and Mill Race Mild, a brown session ale in the old English style.  GRB has some fun seasonals, including their annual Highballer Pumpkin Ale which should be available in a month or so.

If you're excited about local beer, be sure to give Grand River a try; if you can make it down to the brewery, you'll get a bit more variety than at the LCBO.  A fantastic, growing Ontario craft brewery.  Well worth a check out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Weiss City

With the last days of summer coming to an end, Canadians from coast to coast are valiantly trying to enjoy the hot weather and sunshine before hockey season winter begins.   Drink 'em on the patio while you can, because except for the few obnoxious stalwarts who insist "it's not that cold; it's nice out", we'll soon be shuffling our lot indoors for several months.  A terrible thought.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope.  As the seasons change, so to will my drinking schedule.  Rotating beer types is not only a good idea weather-wise (stouts and bocks taste lousy outside in the summer heat, while pilsners do a terrible job of warming you up from winter's chill), it also allows one to look forward to new styles and seasonal favorites. 

Before the Great Pumpkin Beer season begins, I think this blog is due for a salute to that most glorious of summer brews - the wheat beer.  Whether it be a hefeweizen, a flavoured wheat ale or kristalweizen, wheat beers are just the ticket for beating the heat.  When it comes down to it, nothing tastes better when you're outside in the dog days of summer than a cold bucket of Hoegaarden, or a tall glass of Hacker-Pschorr.   Thankfully, wheat beers are becoming a mainstay of North American craft brewers (even some of the big boys are taking a stab at the style), so it's usually not too difficult to find a quality locally-brewed edition.  Ontario boasts some fine hefeweizens, some of which can even rival the flavor and quality of German and Belgian imported fare, like Mill Street's Belgian Wit, Magnotta's Wunder Weisse, Muskoka's Hefeweizen, and Denison's Weissbier, which I'll come to in a minute. 

A word on terminology: You'll sometimes see wheat beers described as: hefeweissbier, dunkelweissbier, weißbier, weizen, or witbier.  They are all similar in that they are all wheat beers, but there are differences between them; knowing these differences can tell you a great deal about what the beer inside is and where they come from.  As far as ingredients are concerned, weizen is German for 'wheat', so any wheat beer brewed in Germany could technically be called a weizen.  Weiss or weiß means 'white', which means that a brew so-named will be cloudy golden-white in appearance.  Not all weizenbiers are white.  Kristalweizens are wheat ales that are filtered or aged to give them a transparent, golden colour - saying Kristalweiss is therefore contradictory.   Clear wheat ales are less common than the hazy, weiss version, however.  This is because wheat does a lousy job of self-filtering, so the brewer would have to add an extra step in the brewing process to clear things up.  

Now for location.  Weizenbier and Weissbier are German brews, and usually conform to the ubiquitous German Purity Law, meaning that the beer contains barley, wheat, water, hops and yeast - nothing else.  Weissbier comes in two major varieties, hefe ("yeast", generally lighter in colour) and dunkel  ("dark").   Witbiers ("white beer") are Belgian and usually contain extra ingredients like orange peel and coriander to add to the flavor profiles.   Hoegaarden is the prime example of this.

Of course, not all brewers conform to this handy guide, but as far as most wheat ales we'd encounter in North America, this is pretty much how wheat beers play out.   Good so far?

Anyone who's had a wheat beer before will know that they taste very different from most other barley-based beers.  This is because wheat, when it is broken down and consumed by yeast, releases unique flavors in the form of chemical esters; precision brewing techniques will elicit different flavors depending on what kind of beer you're trying to make.  Hefeweissbier, for example, will often taste very light and citrussy, with notes of lemon, orange peel, coriander, citrus and other spices.  Sometimes, one will even detect bubble gum.  Such fresh flavors make for great summer drinking, and (as I can attest) can go down really quickly.   Thus I offer to you, a salute to the hefeweissbier!

Here's a mini-roundup of some of the finer wheat brews to be had (all in the hefe style)

Beer: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Type: Hefeweissbier
Brewery: Weiehenstephaner (Germany)
ABV: 5.4%

Weihenstephaner has a strong claim to be the world's oldest brewer, having been granted an official licence to brew in 1040 CE.   This isn't to say the brewery has been brewing the same beer with the same recipes; it just means a brewery has been operating with a continual history at the site for nearly 1000 years.   William the Conqueror hadn't even arrived on the English shores when these guys started brewing.  Amazing.   Their hefeweissbier is their flagship brew, and one of the world's finest examples of the style.  Let's have a look!

Appearance is that of a typical hefe: golden and opaque, with a light head encircling the glass.  Sticky lacing, fine retention of the head.

Nose is of wheat, honey, banana and fresh spices.   Banana and malts are predominant here; cloves are present, but only mildly so.

The taste is exceptionally smooth and remarkably easy to drink.  Banana, clove and just a little bit of bitterness to the finish, all very rounded.   Lemon peel provides a fine crisp tartness, making Weihenstephaner a wonderful thirst-quencher. Mouthfeel is slightly, thin, creamy, with tart carbonation.

A classic hefeweisse, with a lovely crisp finish. Great as a sessional at any time of year, but truly tastes best on a summer patio.

Beer: Schneider Weisse
Type: Hefeweisse
Brewery: G. Schneider und Sohn (Germany)
ABV: 5.4%

For those who've followed the blog for a while, you'll know much of my love for Schneider's brews.  This one is a classic, a fine go-to for those looking for a solid hefe. 

Pours surprisingly dark for one that claims to be a hefe.  Even though 'hefe' doesn't necessarily refer to colour, if a wheat ale is this dark, one can safely call it a dunkel.  No matter.  Opaque leather-brown, with about an inch and a half of foamy head. Didn't last very long; it was only a thin ring after about 4 minutes.

The nose, however, more than makes up for this. Surprisingly complex for a hefe; aside from the banana peel and cloves, I also get apple, brown sugar and a few other spices. Very nice.

The taste is very rich for a hefe, quite flavorful.  Surprisingly malty, with the cloves coming through in spades. The banana flavour is almost like a banana chip - slightly roasted, probably melding with the malts - which is quite satisfying. I still think this one tastes and looks more like a dunkel than a hefe, but here we are.

Mouthfeel is a bit on the thin side; not nearly as creamy as Weihenstephan due to the rapidly dissolving head.

All in all, another fine entry from G Schneider (absolutely loved their eisbock). I'd probably rate this one a little lower than Hacker or Weihen, but it's still an impressive, flavorful weisse. Won't go down quite as smooth as the lighter hefe's on a sunny day though.

Now for the Canuck!
Beer: Denison's Weissbier
Brewery: Denisons Brewing Co. (Toronto)
Type: hefeweissbier
ABV: 5.4%
Often cited as Canada's primo hefeweiss, Denisons unfortunately suffers from distribution issues.  By this I mean I can't easily get it, despite living less than an hour from the brewery.  Everyone has a reason to dislike T.O. - mine is their preferred status for getting the better brews in the LCBO.   I picked up a 6er of this at the Jarvis St. LCBO because tt's been ages since I've had it - it used to be on tap in KW but no longer...

Poured into a hefe glass. A slightly opaque golden brew, leaves about a half inch head that receded all too soon. A few flecks of yeast sediment make their way to the bottom of the glass.
Nose is typical hefe: banana, cloves, citrus, wheat.

Tastes like a hefe should; all the proper pieces are in the puzzle box. A slight apple taste and a mild graininess distinguishes Denisons from other major hefes. Cloves take second fiddle to the banana esters. Other than that, it's pretty damned good.  Finishes slightly dry and lemony.

Tart, aggressive carbonation at first, but a more appealing equilibrium is hit after a moment. Medium bodied.
If this were available more outside of T.O., I'd drink this all the time. Good local hefe. Went down incredibly smooth, no strangeness or funky flavors to be found.  Just a good, solid hefe. Would love to have this on tap again.

Other fine examples of the hefe style are Hacker-Pschorr, Konig Ludwig, Franziskaner and Ayinger, but only Hacker is readily available in the LCBO, so we're kinda boned there.  All the more reason to make a trip to Germany and explore all their wonderful hefeweiss options.   Still, lots of good options North America-wise to get some variety.  Pretty much every major craft brewery in the US and Canada  has at least one wheat ale; some have several.
Summer is quickly disappearing - celebrate the sun with a pint of hefeweisse, why don't ya?