Ballard on Beer: Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis 

Wheat Beers of Late Summer: Part One

The hottest month of summer in Charleston calls for the most refreshing beers.

In his brilliant book Michael Jackson's Beer Companion, the late British journalist and beer champion Michael Jackson described the traditional wheat beers of southern Germany (a.k.a. "Weizenbier," "Weisse," or "Weißbiere") as "the most summery of beers." From the rural Bavarian breweries of Erding and Kelheim to the metropolitan breweries of downtown Munich, the tastiest and most popular wheat beers were cloudy with yeast (usually from a secondary fermentation in the bottle), pale in color, sparkling with zingy carbonation, and accented with peculiarly fruity and yeasty aromas and clove spiciness.

While many breweries outside of Germany, particularly in North America, have tried to emulate or enhance the distinctive flavor, aroma, and appearance of the big Bavarian wheats — from Paulaner, Schneider, Weihenstaphan, Franziskaner, Hacker-Pschorr, etc. — many are simply variations of the style.

Most commercial American wheat beers use standard ale yeasts that don't create the complex esters, fruity aromas, and zany spice notes of the Bavarian stuff. Some barely use much wheat malt at all and come off as slightly dry or tart extra-pale ales. Many of the biggest craft breweries micros in the country have dabbled into the fairly modern subcategory of "American-style wheat," and a good few have produced tantalizing variations.

One of the best-tasting wheat beers of the summer that I've tried so far is one of the most Bavarian-like on the shelves in local stores this month. Sierra Nevada's new yellow-labeled, bottle-conditioned Kellerweis Weizen — one of several newly-added "year-round" beers in its lineup — is flavorful, rich, refreshing, and full of yeast. "Kellerbier" is actually an old German term for hoppy, unfiltered lagers of various shades and strengths. (I had one in Bamberg, Franconia, once from the tap that was cloudy, bitter, and low in carbonation ... it tasted young and green, but very fresh).

The Chico, California-based brewing company describes the ale as "one of the only American Hefeweizens made using the traditional Bavarian style of open fermentation." That's old-school, man.

Slighty dark for the style with an orange/tan hew, Kellerweis (4.8 percent alcohol by volume) must be poured into a tall glass to for full enjoyment and appreciation. A slow pour with a swirl of the last few ounces to rouse the yeast sediment is required. The aroma is a sweet grain smell mixed with notes of ripe banana, green apple, and pepper. The flavor is more mellow with deeper wheat-malt flavor. Medium-bodied, standard-strength, with a slightly dry finish, Kellerweis is easy to drink and quite refreshing. Even the most dedicated Deutsch purists would enjoy this stuff. They're available in six-packs in local shops for between seven and eight bucks. Prosit!



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