WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Drink of the month: wheat beer

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Wheat beersFor a change, the drink of the month for March isn't a cocktail but a type of beer: wheat beer, to be precise. It's often thought of as a summer drink, but to my taste it's better in the late summer or early autumn than in the blazing heat, when something crisp and hoppy (like a Pilsner), fruity and girly (like a Radler) or watery and tasteless (like 90% of the beer sold in New Zealand) is more effective as a thirst quencher. A good wheat beer is certainly refreshing, but it should also be complex enough to reward leisurely, contemplative sipping.

On the face of it, there doesn't seem as much point in reviewing beer compared to cocktails, since it doesn't rely upon the skill of a bartender to put it together in front of you. It's true that I don't expect as much trouble getting a decent drink as I did with Mai Tais, for instance, but there are quite a few variables to consider.

For a start, there's the range of beers on offer, and with the term "wheat beer" actually covering a bewildering range of Belgian witbieren and German Weizen, cloudy Hefe and filtered Kristall, there should be a lot of variety to choose from. Presentation is important too, and having the beer served in the right glass, at the right temperature and with a proper head can make all the difference. And as with any drink, the atmosphere and environment is a vital component of one's enjoyment. Ideally, a wheat beer should be enjoyed in the dappled sunlight of a terrace beside the Danube, with a cold glass in one hand and a saltzy brezel in the other. Failing that, we'll just have to make do with what's available, so the wheat beer's natural habitat is the balcony, beer garden and streetside bar.

So, where best to explore the yeasty delights of wheatbeer in all its guises? Any bar with a serious range of beers should be a good bet, with Leuven being the obvious choice, but Bodega and the soon-to-reopen Malthouse also top contenders. One might think that bars with a brewery connection (such as the Brewery Bar at Shed 22 and the Loaded Hog) would do it well, but past experience is not encouraging. There are plenty of other bars around with outside areas and wheat beer on tap (Imbibe, Southern Cross and St Johns spring to mind), so I expect this to be varied and productive month.

26 Comments:

At 4:45 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Sarge said...

Oh lovely! My favourite beer up for review. I am certainly going to enjoy this month!

The only problem with wheat bear is that it's so often not available.

I shall await your reviews with interest!

 
At 6:03 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger stephen said...

You might like to try the German way with clear wheat beer (ie the non-yeasty kind), which is to have a segment of lemon slice in it. A very refreshing addition to your Kristallweizen.

 
At 2:32 AM, March 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have an erdinger at jj murphys out in the sun under the trees. That's pretty ideal!

I have my weissbeir in the englischer garden (or more regularly - on the metro on my way to town). ;)

Ben

 
At 10:52 AM, March 05, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

stephen, I might add that a discerning Bavarian (like myself) would certainly reject your suggestion and enjoy the pure, cloudy goodness of a glass of 'Schneider Weisse' (available at New World) ;)
Prost!

 
At 11:53 AM, March 05, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Stephen: I've had both Kristallweizen & Hefeweizen, and while I like Kristall I like the yeasty complexity in the unfiltered Hefe a bit more. It's a bit like a Chardonnay that's aged on the Lees, and without the hop influence, it's a way to ensure a depth of flavour. I've had lemon before, but usually with Belgian witbiers (e.g. Hoegaarden) rather than German.

Ben: I didn't know JJ's had Erdinger (it's been a while since I was there), so I'll have to try it out. I've had erdinger before at St Johns, and I must say it's rather a pleasant way to spend a sunny day.

Bavarian anon: I'm always amazed at the good selection of beers at NW; better than many bottle shops! And I enjoyed a bottle of Schneider Weisse on Friday night with Fish & Chips: not the best match in the world, but damn tasty.

And I'll also try to make it to Mighty Mighty's Berlin Bonanza this week to see whether they have any Berliner Weisse among their German beer specials.

 
At 7:05 PM, March 05, 2007, Blogger stephen said...

No lemon? Ah well, that's what the heathens in Freiburg i.B. taught me. And I'm pretty sure that's what Berliners do with Weissbier, which is a different animal to either Hefeweizen or Kristallweizen - more like the Belgian witbier to my thinking.

But really, can we trust anyone who puts lemon in coke?

Personally, like Tom and Herr/Frau Anonymous, I favour the Hefeweizen, in a proper tall glass. The Belgian offering is too civilised, though very acceptable in the hottest weather. Weissbier is basically soft drink...

It would be nice to have some sort of Mitteleuropa bar/cafe, with German and Czech beer, a good white wine selection, pretzels and sausage, some decent schnapps, newspapers and board games. I see that being a roaring success, especially in winter.

 
At 2:32 AM, March 06, 2007, Blogger rach said...

Macs were doing some partial wheat beers last time I was back in NZ for xmas - Wicked Blonde? Could get it at the Macs brewery in Nelson anyway ;)

 
At 8:48 AM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Stephen: a big yes to the Mitteleuropa cafe! It's actually not too much of a stretch to say that there's a precedent for it in Wellington, given the contribution of German and Austrian immigrants such as Harry Seresin and Ernst Plischke to our emerging intellectual and cafe culture in the middle of last century. Hmm, I can feel a post coming on...

Rach: Wicked Blonde is one of the Macs range, but their wheat beer is called "Great White". I'm not sure whether it's just "Verboden Vice" in another guise (now that the Wellington Brewery bar that concocted it has been re-branded Macs), but it doesn't seem as impressive to me. There are some very good wheat beers made in NZ - I'm partial to White Rock, and the ones by Limburg in Hawkes Bay.

 
At 9:01 AM, March 06, 2007, Anonymous gemma said...

Stephen and Tom: Yes, yes yes! That sounds like exactly what we need!

 
At 11:23 AM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Seamonkey Madness said...

Tom & others,

Yes, I have been on and on at various people about how a German bierhall (or as has been suggested a middle-Europe) restaurant would go down wonderfully in Wellington - even more so while the students were around. Add into that a giant Czech BBQ/grill and you'd be onto a winner!

Wheat beers? Hoorah!!
Favourites include:
▪ White Rock
▪ Tuatara Hefe
▪ Hoegaarden (none of this lemon slice crap either!)

No so favourites:
▪ Hog Wheat - errrrgh!
▪ Emersons Weisbier (not bad, but it could be better)

Also, I don't know if its just me, but Erdinger here doesn't taste quite as nice as it did in London.
Another superb wheat beer that AFAIK isn't available in Wellington/NZ at all is Kronenbourg Blanc. I would think that might be the cost that keeps it out, as it was a pretty penny back in the UK.
Mores the pity...

 
At 1:24 PM, March 06, 2007, Anonymous sibylle said...

More yes. I'm there.

As a Swabian expat I can confirm the practice of adding a slice of lemon to your wheat beer; might be south *west* German thing only.

I also second the correct glasses. When I last visited my family they were horrified to hear that I didn't own proper Weizen glasses and almost insisted I take a few back to NZ (that didn't happen but I since acquired a couple of Erdinger glasses when JJ's had a special of beer & glass a while ago). And Tom, don't underestimate the skill required for pouring wheat bear - you have to tilt the glass and pour at the right speed to get the right amount of foam and yeast. Quite an art, really (google it!)

Thanks for the tip on Schneider Weisse, my absolute favourite. The only place I knew where to get this in Wellington was the Malthouse (when's that supposed to reopen anyway?)

 
At 1:49 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

@ Rach and Tom: They don't seem to make the Wicked Blonde anymore. It was my beer of choice for a very long time. It had a good spice to it which doesn't make it taste much like a Wheat Beer. I think that Great White is the Macs version but it's slightly too banana-y for me to drink too much of.

@ all: A little story

I (barely) remember going to the Blues, Brews and BBQs beerfest in Tauranga a couple of years back. there was a small brewery that had a Wheat Beer so bought one. The guy behind the counter said "it's a German beer with a touch of New Zealand in it"

"What does that mean?" I replied

"Um, well, it means it's got a kiwi flair to it"

"What does that mean?"

(pause)

"Um, you'll have to ask the brewer"

"o.k.", stands waiting

(pause)

"Ahhhmmm, I think he's over here", wanders off and doesn't come back. I like to think he was hiding. PR wanker.

 
At 1:52 PM, March 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re lemon in your weissbier.

in germany you can get it with and without, there's no 'right' way. but: what lemon will do is kill the big fluffy head because of the oils in the juice (and maybe also the skin). so if you want the head to stay there to the bottom of the glass, don't add lemon; if you don't care, and like the flavour, then go for it. my wife's german (south west, but definitely NOT swabian i'm sure she'd like me to say) and she likes it with; i don't, particularly as the person who brews it i labour long and hard to get a beer that keeps its head and then she kills it in one swoop!!

 
At 3:54 PM, March 06, 2007, Anonymous Marc said...

Hmm...a German bier hall. Does that come with polka music too? Hmmm....

 
At 3:58 PM, March 06, 2007, Anonymous Marc said...

In Berlin next to the Sprey they have this cool bar where they run an "exhcange" based system for beer prices. They have one of those airport/stock exchange type boards with all the beers listed. Every 10 minutes the prices are adjusted based on how much of each type is sold. This gets my vote for a bar in the stock exchange building - what the hell - throw out those wankers at the stock exchange and use their signage - the council own it and this seems more publically spirited than displaying the price of shares...

 
At 4:07 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

Marc: That is great idea! So prices go up when heaps of a particular beer is bought?

You'd want to be the first one in on the after-work shout then.

 
At 4:30 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Wow, what a comment storm! Forget architecture and sustainability, I've found out what Wellingtonian's really care about. Looks like "lemon in wheat beer?" is a topic up there with "bus vs light rail" in terms of passionate advocacy.

Anyway, Hadyn appears to be right, according to an article in Capital Times late last year. Not that the Shed 22 site will admit to it, though. Macs' web page for Great White doesn't specifically say that it replaces Verboden Vice, but I think it does and it's not as good.

Sibylle: yes, I always seem to pour far too much head and then spend the next ten minutes trying to suck up enough foam to get to the actual beer! I guess the trick might be in rinsing the glass first, though I've never tried the "invert the glass over the bottle then turn both upside down" trick - sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The Schneider Weisse was good, but I've always really liked Schöfferhofer. I'm not sure when the new Malthouse is opening: their website still claims they'll reopen in February, which is obviously wrong, but they've made quite a lot of progress (mostly in catering to smokers, from the looks of things) so with any luck it'll open some time this month.

Seamonkey: I think that White Rock is better than Tuatara, and I'm a bit disappointed that the Southern Cross has switched their tap beer to Tuatara Hefe. Erdinger seems pretty tasty but not as complex as some. More research is definitely required!

 
At 4:37 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Marc: the NZX ticker is visible through the glass roof from St Johns, so you could always improvise something similar. Maybe everyone picks a share, and every time someone's share price goes down, they have to buy a round. Bags not Telecom!

 
At 5:11 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Seamonkey Madness said...

Another wheat beer is Speights Harvest.

On tap (last time I looked) at the Shepherd's Arms, it can be summed up as an apricot-flavoured wheat beer. A bit too sweet and monotonous for the serious beer person - maybe one for the ladies? Or apricot fanatics? =)

 
At 11:43 PM, March 06, 2007, Blogger Maximus said...

How about Shed 11 or Shed 13 as a Farmers Market by day, and a Bierhall by night? Oompah all night long, and make fresh mit dem Pretzels in Morgen...

 
At 8:05 AM, March 07, 2007, Blogger stephen said...

Argh no, not a beer hall. That is a perversion of my original vision :)

Somewhere small, and dare I say it, gemuetlich.

 
At 9:03 AM, March 08, 2007, Anonymous Simon said...

21 posts and counting Tom! [well 22 with mine] Do Wellurban readers prefer a beer to a Martini, Mojito or Maitai? Even if that beer is made of wheat and best quaffed with jeans a sports jacket and black polo neck....

 
At 11:01 PM, March 08, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

No Simon, Wellingtonians officially favour caipirinhas. But there's that lime shortage and all...

 
At 9:41 AM, March 09, 2007, Anonymous che tibby said...

went to a beer stock exchange in melbourne. great fun, but the prices artificially plateau on highs and lows. took most of the fun out of seeing munters trying to rush to get VB only to find it had maxed (would have been nice to see it going above rates in a 'normal' pub).

plus the prices never dipped below a certain amount. which was stink, because some beer should be simply given away... ranfurley anyone?

 
At 2:01 PM, March 09, 2007, Anonymous Simon said...

your right Jo, but caipirinha would spoil my attempt at alliteration, not to mention the fact that Wellurban readers are obviously far too cool for school to drink what the rest of Wellington quaffs.

 
At 2:07 PM, March 09, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

Woah there Simon, did you just say that Wellurban is cooler than the Wellingtonista?

 

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