By Gail Oberst
For Oregon Beer Growler
During the European wars and famines that marked the mid-1800s and early 1900s, Germans came to Oregon in droves — seeking farmland and rural life that mimicked their once-healthy homes. With them came beer recipes — most of which contained varying amounts of wheat. Witbiers, weissbiers, weizenbocks and hefeweizens were, and are still, a German mainstay.
In 1914, Prohibition in Oregon put a stop to that until the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933. Unfortunately, Prohibition knocked the ale sense out of an entire generation of beer drinkers, a bleakness that continued for almost a half-century beyond the repeal. The craft beer revival here began in the mid-1980s, closely followed by a revival in wheat beers, thanks to Widmer. The brothers found a welcoming trade in their Hefeweizen, a flocculent golden brew that has pleased ancestral palates for centuries. Other breweries followed. Today, wheat beers are as common in Oregon breweries as daffodils in the spring.
Hefeweizen is literally translated as “yeast wheat” beer. Beyond those two ingredients, brewers in Oregon are likely to use the mild flavors of wheat as a stage on which to exhibit too many other delicious additions: Lemons, oranges, grapefruit and other fruits; rye, barley and pilsner malts, roasted grains, honey — the list goes on.
Our tasters gave a thumbs up to seven Oregon wheat beers during our monthly tasting. As it is each month, the Perfect Pints tasting is blind. Here are their choices:
Full Sail: Session Wheat, Hood River 5.7% ABV, 24 IBUs
Brewery Description: This premium, American-style hefeweizen is medium-bodied with aromas of malted wheat and a citrusy hop finish. As with all great hefeweizens, there’s just enough residual yeast to give it a hazy, golden pour.
Consumer Comments: This beer was put together well. This might make a good radler beer. A nice hop aftertaste. Light. I could drink a lot of these. Like having sex in a canoe. Lawnmower beer. I smell fresh grass! Crisp!
Fat Head’s: Grapefruit Goggle Fogger, Portland 5.4% ABV, 12 IBUs
Brewery Description: This hefeweizen has light aromas of wheat, bubblegum, clove and spice. Infused with fresh grapefruit zest.
Consumer Comments: Refreshing, especially on a warm day. Very tasty. Butterscotch! Great for summer! Eat it with fresh or dried fruit. Yummy and light. Bring on those hot days — this is the beer for it.
13 Virtues: Woozy Weizenbock, Portland 8% ABV, 25 IBUs
Brewery Description: This German-style wheat beer is the darkest and strongest in the “hefe” family. Half wheat and half specialty malts are fermented with classic hefeweizen yeast to produce chocolate and banana flavors. A Great American Beer Festival medal winner!
Consumer Comments: Nice caramel color. Malty, but not too heavy. Sweet and different. You wouldn’t guess this is a wheat beer. Nice and crisp — for a darker beer. Not like most darks. A little taste of smoke or roasted grains.
Deschutes: Chainbreaker White IPA, Bend 5.6% ABV, 55 IBUs
Brewery Description: Brewed with wheat and pilsner malts, this white IPA displays beautiful citrus aromas from Cascade and Centennial hops that meld with the esters of Belgian yeast. A thirst-quenching, hopped-up wit that deserves the IPA name.
Consumer Comments: Mild beer with hops. Spicy! Long-lasting hops in a great basic beer. The spice adds great flavor. Peppery! Nice rainbow of flavors, just perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Traditional weissbier. A golden cloud with hops floating on it.
Golden Valley: Third Street Wheat, McMinnville 5.1% ABV, 18 IBUs
Brewery Description: This American-style wheat ale contains more than 50 percent malted wheat in the mash for a fresh wheat aroma. Crystal and Willamette hops contribute floral and citrus notes.
Consumer Comments: Spicy. Nice. Peppery hops. Maybe good with smoked salmon? Bright, light flavor. Mild. I could drink too many of these.
Hop Haus: Fruit Fly Triple Berry Wheat, Gresham 5% ABV, 28 IBUs
Brewery Description: An amber to red-colored, very refreshing, easy-drinking, slightly malty wheat ale with a smooth and mildly sweet berry finish. The triple berry blend of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries is added at the end of the boil, which provides some pectin haze. Willamette hops are added to complement the wheat.
Consumer Comments: Great color and nice body. Summer pickings. Nice and sweet wheat. Very nice blend, perfectly rich. Hop berries! Hoppy sweet — eat it with a bowl of fresh raspberries … if you can wait that long! Tastes good with raisins and spicy sausage.
Hopworks: Nonstop Hef Hop, Portland 3.9% ABV, 20 IBUs
Brewery Description: This new, year-round beer is a low-alcohol, dry-hopped American wheat beer created for drinkers with active lifestyles. The beer has the taste and feel of a Northwest pale ale without the extra weight of high alcohol. Contains Northwest hops and red spring wheat grown on the Hopworks estate on the San Juan Islands, Wash.
Consumer Comments: Nice citrus flavor. Nice and bright, gentle hoppy flavor. Floral? This is growing on me — I think I’ll have another. Easy drinking. Fruity hops. Pretty beer! Refreshing. Take a run, take a hike, sweat a bit, then kick a couple back … heaven.
NEXT FREE TASTING: Oregon Beer Growler’s Fruit Beer Tasting, 2 p.m. Saturday, April 9 at F.H. Steinbart Co., 234 SE 12th Ave., Portland
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.