We talked about the White IPA “style” a few months ago, and thought new examples of the White IPAs have not been as common as we’d expected, we have seen different takes on wheat beers with hop-forward flavors and luscious hop aromas. We sat down with three very different hoppy wheat beers in a side-by-side comparison to see how different brewers are squeezing more hop flavor into their wheat beers.
Traditionally wheat beers were lightly hopped so the character of the wheat and the unique flavors of the yeast would shine through. Belgian wit biers and German hefeweizen use a minimum of hops, and even the comparatively hoppier American wheat beer style displays less bitterness than even the mildest pale ales. As brewers have looked to amp-up the hop flavor in many traditional styles the wheat beer has been a natural target for their experimentations.
To get a sense of how hops and wheat can work together in a beer we chose beers from three very different breweries that were all using the hops in a different way.
The Line Up
Chainbreaker White IPA
Deschutes is often credited with creating the first commercial White IPA when they collaborated with Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing in 2011, and their new Chainbreaker White IPA is a year-round addition to their production that recalls the excellence of their first White IPA. Chainbreaker uses the wheat malt and spices (coriander and dried orange peel) common to Belgian Wits and increases the beer’s body with pilsner malt while amping-up the hop presence with piney and citrusy hops. Chainbreaker is now available in 12oz. bottle six-packs in Southern California.
Wheat Is the New Hops
Gypsy brewer Mikkeller collaborated with Vermont’s Grassroots brewing to create Wheat is the New Hops. The brewers took a straightforward IPA and lightened it slightly with wheat malt. They kept the pungent hop-flavor and aroma you would expect in an American IPA, but they added another extra kick: the wild yeast brettanomyces. The brett lends a funky barnyard aroma to the beer and adds a distinctive peppery spice to the flavor. A single 12oz bottle was purchased for this tasting, though it is unclear when the beer was brewed and if it is the same batch that we sampled back in June.
From Alaska comes Midnight Sun Brewing’s Hop Dog; a double IPA that is heavy on the wheat and heavy on the hops. At 8%ABV and 100IBUs this is no mild wheat beer with some extra hops, this is a full-fledged double IPA with a medium body, a golden color, and enough hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness to make even jaded hop-heads take notice. A summer release from Midnight Sun, the Hop Dog is available in Southern California through September in 22oz bombers; the beer had a long way to travel, but the hop flavor and aroma seemed pronounced and fresh.
Three Very Different Beers
We set-up a side-by-side tasting with an eye (tongue?) towards how the three very different beers each approached adding lots of hops to a wheat beer base (or lots of wheat to a hoppy beer), and the differences were very evident. We often talk about beer “moments” and what situations and times feel most appropriate for any given beer. It is a highly personal judgement that will differ widely with each beer drinker, but some examples of situations best suited to each of these beers best will help give you an idea of the impression each beer made on us.
The Chainbreaker was the most approachable of the beers, and it’s Belgian Wit Bier roots remained. It was also the by far the lightest and most delicate of the three. The heavy-dose of citrusy hops make this a refreshing beer that is tough to put down. I tend to like traditional wits as refreshers in the afternoon, and the Chainbreaker fills this role wonderfully, but it also has enough backbone and complexity to work in many situations. There are many flavor layers in the beer, and food pairing should stick to simple foods. An afternoon salad, or some goat cheese, or even a turkey sandwich would go great with this beer.
The Mikkeller collaboration beer is the most style-bending of the three. What would be an easy-drinking straight-forward IPA with a lighter wheat body is mutated into a funky, complex, and even challenging beer with the addition of the brettanomyces. The beer has a distinct smoky and barnyard aroma due to the wild yeast. Text books call the aroma and flavor “horse blanket,” but as a city-mouse I cannot comment on the accuracy of this descriptor. I can say that, while not subtle, the funk adds a really enjoyable aspect to the beer. This is one of those beers that beg to be slowly enjoyed while pondering the miracle of fermentation and the mysteries of the universe. I’d pair it with game meat, Thai food, or a delicious bánh mì sandwich (preferably from Mandolin Gill!)
Midnight Sun’s Hop Dog is truly a wheat beer for hop heads. It is a solid double IPA with all of the balance and delicious hop pungency you expect, and the beer has enough wheat character to stand out from the dozens of other double IPAs lining the shelves. It really reminded us of Fruity Pebbles breakfast cereal in the beginning, but that wheaty/grainy flavor was quickly obliterated by a wall of bitter grapefruity hops. This beer would go great in any situation that you want a hop-bomb DIPA, and it would especially shine with some freshly grilled tacos or anything spicy. Midnight Sun also suggests trying it with key lime pie, and that sounds like a dandy idea to us!
Two Great Tastes…
We are really enjoying the different beers that brewers are concocting that mix a wheat-heavy grain-bill with lots and lots of hops. The trend has given brewers another framework to experiment in without the more rigid definitions of an established style, as the breadth of differences in the examples we sampled showed.
There are many more examples of hop-heavy wheat beers if you’re interested in this trend, though for some reason most examples are brewed by Midwest breweries that don’t distribute to California regularly:
- Lagunitas – Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (should be easy to find in SoCal)
- Boulevard Brewing – 80 Acre Hoppy Wheat
- 3Floyds – Gumballhead
- Schlafly – Yakima Wheat