Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
As a lark last weekend, celebrating dual birthdays and having a lot of company, I decided to do a tasting of every white beer I found at Shaw's and the Cape Elizabeth IGA.
Hoegaarden is crisp, complex and just a little bit sweet, with yeasty overtones. It’s great for summer.
There were six beers in all, and after opening them, we decided one did not fit the category. But the observations were a little interesting.
The beers tasted were Allagash White, Blue Moon, Hoegaarden, Harpoon UFO White, Wingwalker Belgian White Ale and, the one that didn't fit the category, Peak Organic Summer Session Ale.
"Witbier" actually means "wheat beer" -- although, because the yeast traditionally is not filtered out, it usually has a cloudy whiteness to the color along with the traditional golden yellow, and the term is sometimes translated as "white beer."
I bought the Peak Summer Session because the label on the six-pack said, "a traditional summer wheat beer marries a west coast pale ale," and my mind focused on the wheat beer part. And because I take any excuse to buy a beer from Peak Organic.
But it poured clear and, while very good, was not like the other five beers.
We had five tasters for the five beers. The scoring was surprising similar, except at the top.
The Wingwalker was nicely white and had a nice head, but surprisingly little aroma. It had a bit of a citrus taste along with the yeast, and a fairly thin head. The overall flavor was quite good, but it was just a little bit thin -- surprising, because it was 5.5 percent alcohol. It was rated last or next-to-last by all five tasters.
(Wingwalker, by the way, is a beer that locally is sold only by Shaw's, is priced between craft beers and mass-market beers, and is usually good but not great. This one is typical of the brand.)
Blue Moon was a lot sweeter than I expected, and was by far the sweetest of the five beers. It was fairly lightly carbonated, contained 5.4 percent alcohol, and had just a bit of citrus and wheat flavors. Blue Moon is made by MillerCoors, and is very popular. I just could not get past the sweetness.
The Harpoon was absolutely middle-of-the-pack with everyone. It was unfiltered, but did not seem to have as much yeast cloudiness as the others. And at 4.8 percent alcohol, it is the lowest in alcohol content of the five. It has a slight orange flavor, but not a lot of it.
Harpoon describes this as a Hefeweizen, meaning it is meant to replicate the southern German version of a wheat beer rather than a Belgian witbier, but I don't think it makes much difference. This is a beer I can drink with absolute ease, but not necessarily one I would seek out.
The two top beers were Hoegaarden, with three people favoring it, and Allagash White, with two votes. I was part of the minority favoring the Allagash, but I like them both a lot.
Hoegaarden is daughter-in-law Marah's current favorite beer, and at 4.9 percent alcohol, it is crisp, complex and slightly sweet, and dominated by the yeast. I try to have this on hand when she visits, so I drink quite a bit of it, and it is a great summer beer. It has a fruitiness, although there is not fruit in the beer.
The Allagash White is another beer I drink quite a lot. It has a creamy texture, which is something I like, and is right in the middle between sweet and sour, with just a bit of bitterness as you swallow the beer. Although this is a year-round beer, like the Hoegaarden, it is a beer I drink more often in the summer.
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