America’s craft beer revolution has spawned more than just economic growth and changes in social patterns. It has also introduced creativity and innovation into a culinary field that had remained mostly unchanged for centuries. That modernization is most easily measured in the increased number of beer styles available. From Sierra Nevada’s definition of the American Pale Ale in 1980 to the new Milkshake IPAs we’re seeing from small batch brewers in 2018, the landscape is ever evolving.
One of the more recent styles pioneered by American brewers is the Wheat Wine Ale. A part of the larger “Strong Ale” and “Wheat Ale” subsets, Wheat Wines are known for a higher-than-average alcohol by volume (8-14 percent), a lighter color, and a more moderate bitterness than the frequently compared Barley Wine sect.
The malt base is typically 40-60 percent wheat as opposed to grains or adjuncts. The wheat’s impact is found not only in the lighter color, but also the soft, medium mouthfeel. The milder wheat base allows for barrel-aging and added spices to shine through. The individual recipes can yield varying flavor and aroma profiles from sweet and resinous to dry and floral.
Smuttynose Wheat Wine is perhaps the best known American Wheat Wine. Despite Smuttynose Brewing’s recent financial woes (an auction is scheduled for March 9), its 24-year-long career has allowed them to experiment — and, in many eyes, define — the Wheat Wine style. The beer ages well, mellowing into a sweet, warming sipper. But for those who like a more aggressive, herbal hop, drinking it fresh will provide that kick.
Boulevard Brewing Co.’s Harvest Dance Wheat Wine, a part of the Smokestack Series, features Hallertau and Citra hops. The beer is aged on both French and American oak. The finished product manages to combine elements of tropical, fresh citrus with a smoother, refined white wine.
White Oak from The Bruery is currently the highest-rated Wheat Wine bythe drinkers at Beer Advocate. White Oak is a blend of 50 percent bourbon barrel-aged Wheat Wine and 50 percent of The Bruery’s Mischief, a Golden Strong Ale. The sweet alcohol and woody aromas prime the palate for a burst of vanilla and caramel flavors. It’s quite boozy at over 12 percent ABV, but the beer’s expert balance disguises the heat and supports it against flavors reminiscent of mild fruits and toffee.
Wheat Wines pair excellently with cheese, shellfish, and grilled meat. The beer is best enjoyed in a snifter, and if you like experimenting with aging, a wheat wine can even be cellared for long periods under the proper conditions.