The year 2010 doesn't only mark the 10th anniversary of the destruction of our civilization at the hands of the Y2K bug, it also rings in the 200th anniversary of the greatest celebration of beer on the planet: Oktoberfest!
About a week ago today, millions of Germans and foreigners alike began getting ceremoniously sloppy for the start of the 16-to-18-day festival—and you thought Ivies was a marathon—so I decided what better way to bring Oktoberfest to Bowdoin than to round up some drinking buddies and sample some of Germany's finest.
As the epicenter of Oktoberfest is located just outside of Munich, in the southern part of Germany known as Bavaria, it seemed fitting to try the local fare of that area, Hefeweizen.
A member of a more inclusive group of wheat beers, which all replace malted barley with wheat and contain particular yeast strains, Hefeweizen differs from other wheat beers (weissbiers) in that the yeasts are not filtered in the final product. This process gives the brew a distinctive taste and cloudy appearance.
Many aficionados will even tell you to swirl the last bit around before pouring in order to capture all that precious yeast clinging to the glass. Be warned, however; pouring too fast with such a high-yeast beer can cause the head of the beer to rise like Lazarus and cover the pourer in a whitewater-wheat-beer cascade—not that I would know.
After managing to get the pouring technique down (read: beer shower), my group of Hefeweizen compatriots and I were able to truly enjoy the various beers assembled, which included not only authentic Bavarian imports, but also some American takes on the classic German wheat beer.
Eventually, the various brews began to separate themselves and favorites were established. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a clear difference between the native German beers and their American offspring.
Because of the most badass law of all time —The German Beer Purity Law of 1516 (not to be confused with the Jonas Brothers Purity Law of 2008)—only certain ingredients are to be used in Bavarian beers, and this results in a very characteristic blend low in hops with a defining clove flavor.
With all of the American beers sampled, however, this clove element was greatly downplayed in favor of a more familiar flavor—citrus. Harpoon's Hefeweizen, UFO (UnFiltered Offering), had a particularly strong orange element, but even Sierra Nevada's more authentic Kellerweis and Sebago's Hefeweizen didn't quite capture the flavor of the Bavarian offerings.
Perhaps American beer companies are wary that this clove taste will be too foreign for the stateside palette, but most of my all-too-willing beer tasters found the flavor to be subtle and pleasant, particularly with the refreshing smoothness of Hefeweizen. In fact, the consensus favorite, Spaten's Franziskaner, had probably the strongest clove taste, but coupled this with sweet notes of fruit, while Erdinger's crowd-pleasing Hefeweizen used more earthy flavors.
The dark horse performance, however, came from Budweiser's own Golden Wheat offering. Despite what Bud may have you think, I suspect more went into making this beer than wheat-on-beer beach sex, and the results aren't bad.
Even though there was still the overpowering citrus flavor, the "drinkability" was pretty good, with no noticeable difference between it and even Sierra Nevada's Hefeweizen product. One individual referred to this so-called Golden Wheat as a "classy beer-pong beer." It was probably the best analysis made all night.