Tallgrass is a small brewery in Manhattan, Kansas that has been setting beer in Kansas City for a few years now. They've got a half dozen beers in cans now and they're starting to do some pretty interesting things. One of their least interesting beers, an unfiltered wheat, was retired a little while back by the brewery after citing "shelf instability." Halcyon is the reincarnation of Tallgrass' original, horrible, unfiltered wheat. After about a year off the market, why did Tallgrass decide to even make another Wheat Beer? Boulevard pretty much has the market cornered with their Wheat, so if you're going to introduce a new unfiltered wheat, you've got to do something different in order to get people to pay attention to you. So, is Halcyon worth picking up instead of Boulevard Wheat or is it just another iteration of the original Tallgrass Wheat?
Boulevard's Unfiltered Wheat is a staple. Nearly everywhere you go in Kansas City has this beer on tap, or at least in bottles (glass and/or aluminum). This beer accounts for about three quarters of all beer produced and sold by Boulevard, it's huge... it's also mainstream. I don't mean that as a knock, I mean that more in the sense that it's Boulevard's Fat Tire, it's their Boston Lager or Shiner Bock. It's mass produced and nearly ubiquitous, but it's still a good beer. When I go to a ball game or bowling alley I'm never disappointed when Boulevard Wheat is on tap. On the other hand, it's usually my last choice when I'm out at a bar looking for a great beer.
I've had this bottle of Curim Gold Celtic Wheat for about two months. It's a souvenir from a weekend trip across state lines. While we were out of town I stopped by a new beer store to see what exotic offerings they might have. The selection wasn't all that different to be honest, but I did find a few beers worth bringing home. This Celtic Wheat is something I hadn't seen in our local market so I thought I'd give it a try. At 4.3% ABV I didn't have high expectations of this Irish imported Wheat beer.
I've got a friend who is really in to Big Sky Brewing's Trout Slayer. He's not the biggest aficionado of craft beer and we don't always see eye to eye, but I still wanted to see what all the excitement was about. I finally picked up a bottle of Trout Slayer as part of a build your own six pack deal and I've decide to put it through the paces. I was surprised to learn that this is a Wheat beer, for some reason I'd always thought it was an Amber... Sure enough, this beer is a Wheat beer, though it tastes a bit hoppier and thinner than some of my favorite Wheat beers.
Pyramid is a brewery that has always confused me. Their packaging says Mutli-National Conglomerate while their beers say Innovative Craft Brewer. I've had enough of their beers to say that I've got a good understanding of their brewing philosophy but I can't commit to whether or not this is a brewery I can really get behind. I love their Apricot Weizen, it's a delicious beer, but I can't bring myself to drink an Audacious Apricot Ale or Haywire Hefeweizen. There comes a point when marketing is a bit too much for me and I just tune it out. Now, rather than turn this review into a diatribe about Pyramid's rebranding, I'm going to review one of Pyramid's beers that I picked up a few of months back - before they rebranded and everything became EXTREME!
Left Hand's Haystack Wheat is an undeniably delicious beer. When I first saw/heard of the Haystack Wheat I sort of wrote it off as being a plain American style Wheat beer even though it's marketed as a Hefeweizen. The term Hefeweizen is attached to many beers which really don't have a whole lot in common with this traditional German style. My expectations of the Haystack Wheat were pretty low, I was honestly expecting a standard Wheat beer... nothing fancy. I don't think it really helps that Left Hand left the name "Hefeweizen" off the bottle. In many ways, this is my biggest complaint with this beer. The label has Left Hand's signature faux-Native American angular design with a picture of haystacks and goats on it. Printed toward the bottom of the label is "Haystack Wheat" followed by "Bottle Conditioned Wheat Beer" and that's pretty much it.
I don't make a habit out of following Anheuser-Busch's press releases so Bud Light Golden Wheat was a bit of a surprise to me. My first thoughts were, "Oh, they're trying to cash in on the popularity of craft wheat beers by releasing one of their own." Then I got to thinking... craft beer drinkers aren't going to pass over their regionally brewed wheat in favor of the Bud Light version of a wheat beer unless it's absolutely stellar. Well, spoiler alert: it's not stellar, not even close. This beer is essentially just a Bud Light that was brewed with a pinch of orange rind and, allegedly, coriander. The body is cloudy but not quite as opaque as the wheats you've had before. It certainly looks a lot closer to a wheat than a Bud Light... but looks can certainly be deceiving. The flavor is about the same as I remember a regular Bud Light tasting only it hasn't had ALL of its flavor filtered out. There is a faint hint of citrus up front when you take a sip but it quickly dissipates and you're left with a bland, slightly bitter and wholly riced light beer.
I've seen a few of the Warbird beers on the store shelves for a while now and I've never been all that interested in trying one. Finally I decided I'd pick up a bottle of the Thunderbolt Wheat, figuring that a wheat beer is something just about every American micro brewery gets right. So I decided to play it say, and I'm pretty glad I did because if they missed the mark on a wheat I'd hate to taste their more adventurous beers. This pint of Thunderbolt Wheat got off to a good start. The beer pours a nice yellow color that settles to be a cloudy orange with a decent aroma. Everything seemed to be going well, until I took my first sip at least... You see, this beer isn't like any wheat I've ever had, and by that I mean it doesn't taste like a wheat beer. This beer is bland in flavor but still a bit spicy. It finishes a little bitter, something I've never really tasted in a wheat before. There just isn't much more to say about this beer. I simply didn't care for the flavors they put into this beer. Perhaps it was just a bad bottle I got... but it didn't leave a good impression on me.
I have a special place in my heart for Hefeweizens. There is just something about the combination of flavors that I find absolutely delicious. Wheat beers in general and usually pretty great but they like the flavor of a nice sour Hefeweizen. In my opinion, Brauerei Weihenstephan makes one of the best Hefeweizens out there. Even better than that they make a filtered version, the Kristall Weiss, which has the same great flavor but a super crisp and bubbly texture. I like the Kristall Weiss so much I decide to try the Weissbier Dunkel to see how else Weihenstephaner is trying to improve on the Hefeweizen. I must say that the Dunkel wasn't as much of a departure from the base Hefeweizen as I was expecting, and I'm glad. The Dunkel is darker, as the name would imply, but still retains the same basic flavor profile. This beer is a little sour, a little spicy and very reminiscent of a Hefeweizen.
While some breweries have released raspberry, blueberry or peach wheat beers, Breckenridge went in a different direction and brewed their wheat with agave nectar. Agave, a plant that is best known for its use in Tequila, isn't a flavor that is as recognizable as raspberry, blueberry or peach. This is certainly a welcome change, rather than using the wheat beer base as just a delivery mechanism for your fruit flavor the Agave Wheat still tastes like a traditional wheat beer, it just happens to have a little more flavor to it thanks to the agave. I really only have one complaint with the Agave Wheat, and it's that this beer is still just a wheat beer. The taste and body are solid, there isn't anything wrong with this beer but there isn't anything spectacular about it either.