Our beer correspondent Stu has a provocative take on wheat beers ...
For as long as I can remember I’ve been pushing the beer boundaries with beer. When all my friends were drinking Export Gold, I was drinking DB Bitter (that is not a joke). When they got around to Monteith’s Celtic and Mac’s Real Ale I had already been through those beers, and past Mac’s Extra, to my first real show-stopping/jaw-dropping beer – Emerson’s Bookbinder. I had finally found something that was worth sticking around for. I still drink this beer regularly, and a good pint of it now is as exciting as a good pint of it was ten years ago.
About this time, other friends who had never really liked beer much at all were talking to me about wheat beers that were cropping up in some of the more cutting edge bars, cafes and restaurants around Wellington. In particular, they mentioned Hoegaarden and two now defunct New Zealand wheat beers - Limburg’s Witbier and Weissbier. These beers were full of flavour combinations that you wouldn’t expect in beer – orange and coriander or banana and cloves. They were sweet, but used spicy characteristics and tartness to cut through that and make them more drinkable. They were fizzy but they were full mind blowing flavours that the carbonation carried – not just caramel sweetness.
From my own perspective Limburg seemed to be the dawn of a modern craft beer scene in New Zealand. They grew the market and started to drag in people who weren’t normally drinking beer, rather than just adding another stepping stone to the progressive journey beer drinking awareness. Fast forward a decade or so and New Zealand still produces some excellent wheat beers.
In the Belgian-style (or “wit”) category Mac’s Great White recently went head-to-head against the world famous Hoegaarden in a Mac’s-hosted taste-off amongst SOBA members. Hoegaarden snuck in on the day but my personal preference was for the Great White, which was mealier, earthier and fresher when compared to the very perfumy “overly-perfect” character of Hoegaarden. Moa Blanc is a nice version of the same style, while Three Boys Wheat started off as an excellent “kiwi” interpretation – using lemon zest instead of orange – but has been up and down in recent times.
In the German-style (“Weissbier” or “Weizen”) we have Tuatara Hefe, Emerson’s Weissbier, Croucher Hefe, Invercargill WASP (a rarer ‘krystal’ or clear style of the weizen). These beers show off the banana and clove characteristics to varying degrees. All are delicious on their day, with Tuatara, Emerson’s and the Invercargill beer all having won numerous medals. Franziskaner and Schofferhofer are the imports you are most likely to see on local shelves.
American-style wheat beers – the ‘premium lager’ of wheat beers, and the one you stick the lemon in – are, thankfully, quite rare in New Zealand. Unfortunately so are Dunkel Weizen and Weizen Bock. Look out for these latter two, especially if you like darker and/or stronger ales. Schneider Aventinus is in the Weizen Bock style, is excellent, and is regularly available in supermarkets all over the country. It was recently the straw, or wheat, that broke my camel’s back.
Wheat beers are refreshingly superb in summer and spring (we’re not that far away), especially when they are fresh and full of their crisp wheat flavours and enticing fruit and spice notes. As they age, and the vitality diminishes, they begin to take on sweeter ‘flabby’ characteristics and lose the perfumery of aromas. Look for the freshest possible bottles you can find.
Contrary to some people’s opinion (and my attention seeking title) wheat beers are no more for women than pinot gris is. I guess the stereotype has come about because they are less bitter than most other beer styles but, like other stereotypes, this is a generalisation well worth breaking. Enjoy all beer in all its diverse forms.
Slainte mhath, Stu
ps. A proactive answer to all those “where can I get these beers?” thoughts… check out www.beerstore.co.nz. And to join up with like-minded drinkers, check out the Society for Beer Advocates, also known as SOBA.