Wheat beer roundup
Given the mild and balmy March we've just had, wheat beer turned out to be a refreshingly appropriate choice for drink of the month. However, not all wheat beer experiences are equal, and depending upon where you go in Wellington, you can have everything from a delicious drink in pleasant surroundings to a flatly disappointing result. Or indeed nothing at all, since it's surprising to find how many otherwise praiseworthy bars have no wheat beer on their lists.
So, range is the first variable. Unsurprisingly, beer specialists like the recently reopened Malthouse (yes, that was the far from mysterious mystery bar) and Bar Bodega have plenty to choose from, and I think I counted over a dozen wheat beers on the Malthouse's liver-boggling list, so I might have to take a few trips back to sample some of the more obscure brews. Where only one wheat beer was on offer, it tended to be either Hoegaarden or Tuatara Hefe, though there were a few more interesting drops around: Limburg Witbier at Nikau and the excellent Three Boys Witbier at Tupelo.
One class of bar that one might expect to do well is brewery bars, but my experiences were disappointing. The Brewery Bar at Shed 22 used to serve up their own Verboden Vice, but that's been replaced by Mac's Great White, which seems bland by comparison and had virtually no head. The Loaded Hog (not strictly a brewery bar, but one that promotes its own brews) was worst of all: their Hog Wheat was thin and acrid, more like a stale lager than a wheat beer.
There were a lot of variations in serving techniques. A few places have wheat beers on tap, though that doesn't guarantee a good pour. St Johns' served up a tasty Erdinger, but it was as if it was married to Henry VIII: it's head didn't last very long. The Southern Cross sells Tuatara Hefe on tap, and while I prefer the White Rock they used to serve, it's still dangerously quaffable for such enormous pitchers. Many beer connoisseurs prefer tap beer to bottled, but with wheat beer there's often some satisfaction to be had from swirling the last mouthful at the bottom of the bottle to stir up the yeasty residue, pouring it into the glass along with the especially creamy head that it delivers.
The glass itself also makes a difference, and while I wouldn't necessarily go to the Belgian extremes of having a special glass for every brand, the glass should at least be the right size. Mighty Mighty served their Schofferhoer Hefeweizen (a special selection for Berlin Bonanza) in a bog standard Kiwi beer glass, and while it's in keeping with their quasi-ironic retro approach, it was far too small for the beer. Lido did even worse, accompanying their bottled Tuatara Hefe with a short tumbler, which is wrong for any sort of beer. Leuven, as could be expected, go to the opposite extreme, with enormous buckets of Hoegaarden that require some dexterity to hold, not to mention a great thirst to finish.
As to the vexed question of lemon vs no lemon, it was rarely an issue. The only place that proactively offered me a choice was Matterhorn, and then they went one step further by offering orange peel as an option. I tried both, and was pleasantly surprised by the orange: it seemed to bring out the botanicals in the Hoegaarden very nicely.
Now that autumn is making itself more keenly felt, it's time for a very different drink of the month for April, so I'll write about that soon.