Wheat Wine / Beer Style

Part of the “strong ale” category, this ale is not derived from grapes as its name might suggest. Made with at least 50 percent wheat malt, this full-bodied beer features bready and candy flavors, and finishes with a great deal of malty sweetness. These beers may be oak-aged and sometimes have small amounts of darker malts added.

Best drunk from a glass called a snifter. The snifter glass is most commonly associated with digestifs such as bourbon and brandy. However, it can be a great craft beer glass for certain types of ale. The large, round bottom is designed to increase the heat transfer from your hand, thus warming the beer. The top tapers inward trapping aromas. Very strong beers—+8% ABV—are best-suited for this type of glassware

History: The plan was to brew a barley wine. One day during the mid-’80s, Phil Moeller met up with a friend to make a batch of that strong, warming winter ale. But a blunder occurred. Too much wheat went into the mash. Before the beer swirled down a drain, samples were poured. “As all brewers do, they drank their mistakes and found it delicious,” says Glynn Phillips, who owns Sacramento, California’s Rubicon Brewing Company, where Moeller became the first brewmaster in 1987. 

American style wheat wines range from gold to deep amber and are brewed with 50% or more wheat malt. They have full body and high residual malty sweetness. Bitterness is moderate to low. Fruity-ester characters are often high and counterbalanced by complexity of alcohols and high alcohol content. Hop aroma and flavor are at low to medium levels. Very low levels of diacetyl may be acceptable. Bready, wheat and/or caramel aroma and flavor are often part of the character. Phenolic yeast character, sulfur, and/or sweet corn-like dimethylsulfide (DMS) should not be present. Chill haze is allowable.

As wheat wines are quite niche and also variations on American Barley wines we have noted the American Barley Wine style notes below as a reference.

Aroma: Very rich and intense maltiness. Hop character moderate to assertive and often showcases citrusy or resiny American varieties (although other varieties, such as floral, earthy or spicy English varieties or a blend of varieties, may be used). Low to moderately strong fruity esters and alcohol aromatics. Malt character may be sweet, caramelly, bready, or fairly neutral. However, the intensity of aromatics often subsides with age. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Color may range from light amber to medium copper; may rarely be as dark as light brown. Often has ruby highlights. Moderately-low to large off-white to light tan head; may have low head retention. May be cloudy with chill haze at cooler temperatures, but generally clears to good to brilliant clarity as it warms. The color may appear to have great depth, as if viewed through a thick glass lens. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in "legs" when beer is swirled in a glass.

Flavor: Very rich and intense maltiness. Hop character moderate to assertive and often showcases citrusy or resiny American varieties (although other varieties, such as floral, earthy or spicy English varieties or a blend of varieties, may be used). Low to moderately strong fruity esters and alcohol aromatics. Malt character may be sweet, caramelly, bready, or fairly neutral. However, the intensity of aromatics often subsides with age. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). Alcohol warmth should be present, but not be excessively hot. Should not be syrupy and under-attenuated. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.

Overall Impression: Very rich and intense maltiness. Hop character moderate to assertive and often showcases citrusy or resiny American varieties (although other varieties, such as floral, earthy or spicy English varieties or a blend of varieties, may be used). Low to moderately strong fruity esters and alcohol aromatics. Malt character may be sweet, caramelly, bready, or fairly neutral. However, the intensity of aromatics often subsides with age. No diacetyl.

History: Usually the strongest ale offered by a brewery, and in recent years many commercial examples are now vintage-dated. Normally aged significantly prior to release. Often associated with the winter or holiday season.

Comments: The American version of the Barleywine tends to have a greater emphasis on hop bitterness, flavor and aroma than the English Barleywine, and often features American hop varieties. Differs from an Imperial IPA in that the hops are not extreme, the malt is more forward, and the body is richer and more characterful.

Ingredients: Well-modified pale malt should form the backbone of the grist. Some specialty or character malts may be used. Dark malts should be used with great restraint, if at all, as most of the color arises from a lengthy boil. Citrusy American hops are common, although any varieties can be used in quantity. Generally uses an attenuative American yeast.

Commercial Examples: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Rogue Old Crustacean, Anchor Old Foghorn, Victory Old Horizontal, Brooklyn Monster Ale, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Bell's Third Coast Old Ale, Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot, Three Floyds Behemoth, Old Dominion Millennium, Stone Old Guardian, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Left Hand Widdershins

Source: Imbibemagazine.com, http://www.homebrewtalk.com/, BJCP Style Guideline Definition (2004)

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