The Quiet Revolution

Last Friday, I joined some of the Widmer gents to try a flight of their latest specialty beer--a collaboration with Cigar City called Gentlemen's Club.  It's a high-concept beer that takes inspiration from the Old Fashioned cocktail.  Cigar City contributed Florida oranges, the Widmer Brothers threw in some Oregon cherries, and the base beer--an old ale--was aged on three woods.  The three versions are available together or separately, and by all accounts are selling well.  The old ale is rich and creamy but only has hints at the fruit contained within.  In bourbon barrels it picks up a lot more of the sweetness, while in rye it gets more spice and heat (the recipe for the beer in that batch was slightly different and used about 4% rye in the grist).  Oak spirals provide a resiny sharpness.  Brewer Ben Dobler had the good idea to do a bit of in-glass blending, and I found that version to be the most balanced of all.

In the modern world of American brewing, experiments like this count as revolutionary to anyone who can remember back to the last century.  Leaving aside the world of 1980, the world of 1999 barely had barrel-aged beers, never-mind cross-continental collaborations using local fruits and different types of wood.

But what really caught my eye was a different Widmer Brothers beer that happened to be pouring--Brotha From Anotha Motha.  As you all well know, Widmer grew to be one of the largest craft breweries because of the wild success of their Hefeweizen.  You also know that Widmer Hef is essentially an American pale ale (with tons of wheat).  Naming it Hefeweizen confused this beer with the wheat ales of Bavaria, those characterized by clovey phenols and banana-y esters, not Cascade hops.  It has meant that, for the sake of brand clarity, the brothers have studiously avoided the other hefe.  Until Brotha.* 

Bavarian weizens are not always brewed well--even in Bavaria.  Coaxing the yeasts to produce a pleasant blend of weird chemicals is hard.  Many breweries use the Weihenstephan weizen yeast--as Widmer did--and it has a tendency to throw a lot of isoamyl acetate, the banana/juicy fruit ester.  Many the banana smoothie has that yeast made.

Brotha, by contrast, is a superb beer.  The spice and esters are on the subdued side--I shall resist the urge to talk open fermentation and fermenter shape--but wholly complementary.  It's more pepper than clove, and the banana is limned with citrus.  Perhaps the best part is the full flavor of wheat, fresh and wholesome as in a fresh-baked loaf of bread.  It's the perfect summer beer, and one I would love to see come online as a regular.  I know that's a branding nightmare, but consider this one vote put it out to broader market anyway.

*Apparently Brotha actually debuted two years ago, but I missed it completely.
Jeff Alworth3 Comments