11 August 2010

The best thing I ever drank.......American Wheat

I was watching TV the other night and listening to people talk about the best food they have ever eaten around a particular type of food. I thought this would work perfectly with beer styles and maybe people would even get something out of these as well. We invite you to write your own or provide comments on your favorite beer in the style we are talking about.

I'm starting with the style American Wheat for a couple of reasons. When the weather gets warmer this becomes one of my favorite beer styles. My favorite American Wheat comes from a brewery right here in Indiana.

The American Wheat style is one of the exact reasons why I love American craft beer and brewers. They take a classic style like the German Hefeweizen and put their own stamp on it. American craft brewers really have a knack for pushing the envelope and throwing stylistic guidelines right out the window to create something new and unique. This isn't always a good thing, but I think experimentation is something that makes the current brew scene really amazing.

I still remember the first Gumballhead I had from Three Floyd's. It was on Dark Lord Day in 2007. It was very warm that day and, as I was standing in line waiting for my allotment of bottles, they were selling cups of Gumballhead right there in line. It was blazing hot that year and I was sweating just standing there in line. This was just before they made Gumballhead year round so this was also some of the first of the season. I remember how perfect it was on that day. I wasn't expecting much other than a really refreshing beer on a very hot day. When you put the word "wheat" in a beer I am not really expecting much in terms of blowing my mind or anything, but this was one of those beer moments when I took my first sip and was "wowed" by a beer. To me, Gumballhead marries an IPA, a wheat beer, and a highly sessionable ale into one nice six pack package. A fresh Gumballhead will be very aromatic with big scents of grapefruit, lemon, and other citrus fruit without that huge hop bitterness that is a calling card for FFF's.

This continues to be one of my favorite beers overall, but among American Wheat beers this is my personal favorite and the best of the style I've had.

How about you? What is your favorite American Wheat?


  1. Rant alert.

    Granted, Gumballhead is a great beer, irrespective of the category into which it is placed.

    At the same time, it is so unrepresentative of the style as "officially" defined that it seems almost senseless to refer to it as an American Wheat.

    95 times out of one hundred, American Wheat will be the least challenging, most inspid offering on the menu, calculated and brewed as a summer starter, and more times than I care to remember, served with fruit hanging off the glass.

    Let's observe the self-evident grandeur of Gumballhead without sullying it by inclusion in a category that usually sucks.

    Thank you.

  2. Fair enough Roger. I don't really like style parameters either, but I had to put it somewhere for this one.

    I am curious your take on the next style I will write about because it is actually one of your beers. Stay tuned.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. The American wheat style is basically our bastardization of a wonderfully nuanced German style. We took away the heart of the beer by using a clean yeast, basically dumbing it down beyond recognition. Gumball head is great, but it's a pale ale that happens to contain wheat.

  4. Funny thing is that in the BJCP style guidelines Gumballhead is the third listed commercial example in the American Wheat category behind Oberon and UFO Hefeweizen. The complete list is actually pretty diverse which maybe describes the direction the category is going? And yes, Roger I am aware of your feelings about style guidelines. Just sayin'...


  5. Matt, just to be clear, my rant certainly wasn't aimed at you.

    If a person who drinks other American Wheats tries Gumballhead, he'll likely be confused. If someone who likes Gumballhead tries other wheats, he'll likely be disappointed.

    Style means next to nothing to me unless I can use it to educate drinkers. I like the descripion of Gumballhead as "pale ale that happens to contain wheat."

    I now am compelled to continue reseacrhing this pressing issue at the Public House, where Gumballhead is currently on tap ...

  6. And I wish I could help Roger with this very important research right now. Too bad that NABC is two hours away...

  7. Roger,

    I didn't mean to come off snarky, I didn't take it personally or think it was directed at me.

    The next style I am choosing to write about is one of your beers, and I am always interested in brewers take on styles.

  8. I'll throw my 2 cents in to the ring as well. To reiterate Brian's point, the BJCP defines an American Wheat as having 15-30 IBUs. The BJCP also lumps American Wheat and American Rye together. Unfortunately, the BJCP is the closest thing we have to a formal definition of every beer style in this country. So technically, at 28 IBU and a matching flavor profile, Gumballhead is a model American Wheat.

    However, to Roger's point, if a novice beer drinker that had just graduated from Blue Moon in to Hacker Pschorr had tried a Gumballhead, they would not place this beer in the same realm of style. They may not even like it! Because of this, the style, by definition, is now fairly useless.

    So what is my point? Nothing really, other than everyone is right in some way. Gumballhead is both an ideal American Wheat and hardly a wheat at all.

  9. Lagunitas' A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale is just as good as Gumballhead, if not better. But a lot of that seems to depend on the batch/bottles you get. Even when both fresh, there's a lot of variation. And I swear Gumballhead isn't quite as good as it was when 3F only bottled it in Bombers.

    Hopefully the rumors are true, and we'll see Lagunitas here in Indiana soon...

  10. i have a feeling the BJCP nudged their IBU's up and added some stuff about "moderate" hop flavor and bitterness to shoehorn gumballhead into the category, since it's a quality offering from one of the better microbreweries out there. so although gumballhead technically fits in the wheat category now, it's still an outlier when you look at commercial american wheats.