Saturday, January 29, 2011

Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse

Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH
Kehlheim, Bavaria, Germany
Style: Weizenbock – Collaboration (8.2%abv)

Last month Joycelyn and I were in California to spend Christmas with her family in McArthur. On the four-hour trip north from the Sacramento airport to her hometown, we stopped (as usual) at the Liquor Barn in Redding. This liquor store has the best selection I’ve found along our path, and I always discover something new that is available in California that I cannot get in Colorado or Montana. This year one beer really caught my attention – Schneider Weisse’s Hopfen Weisse. I though I had tried all of Schneider’s offerings, either here or in Germany, but this beer was new to me. It turns out Hopfen Weisse is collaboration between Schneider Weissbierbrauerei in Germany and Brooklyn Brewery in New York.

Joining Forces

Collaboration beers are not unique. They have been around in the US for well over a decade. (Probably since the dawn of brewing thousands of years ago, right?) The first major collaboration I remember was back in 2004 called “Collaboration not Litigation Ale” made by Avery and Russian River. Both breweries had Belgian-style beers called “Salvation.” Instead of fighting over which brewery owned the name, they decided to join forces. Since that time I have noticed a major trend and many more collaborative offerings. Along with wood aging, over-hopped ales, and extreme beers, collaboration beers have become the craze.

The Germans?

With all of that said, I was surprised to see the Bavarians getting involved. Most collaboration beers I’ve seen have been US – US or US – Belgian joint efforts. Which makes sense. The Belgians are crazy, open-minded, “anything goes” brewers never bound by rules or norms. And the only country in the world that tops them when it comes to creativity would be the United States.

But the Germans are anti-Belgians. German brewers are almost exclusively classically trained (most at the world’s most famous brewing university – Weihenstephan), and with extreme discipline they methodically crank out consistent and delicious, high-quality beers within the ridged structure of the Reinheitsgebot. The Germans are engineers that brew. So along with another collaboration, the Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) / Weihenstephan holiday special “Infinium,” I was a bit surprised to see Hopfen Weisse.

It is not like Schneider and Weihenstephan are renegade breweries; these two are a pair of the most famous and traditional breweries in Bavaria. In 1872 Georg Schneider almost single handedly brought Weissbier back to popularity in Bavaria, and the brewery today is very traditional brewing exclusively wheat beers. Weihenstephan Abby is home to the famous Technical University of Munich brewing school, and is the location of the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery – licensed in 1040 and still operating. Two very famous and traditional breweries letting their hair down a bit.

The beer – Hopfen Weisse

Brewmasters Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery) and Hans-Peter Drexler (Schneider Weissbier Brewery) have long admired each other’s work. (Garret is a master chef and author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” and a wonderful ambassador for the craft beer industry.) Hopfen-Weisse (Hopfen means hops) is a collaboration between the two creating a pale Weissbock (strong wheat beer) that has been dry hopped with the noble hop Hallertauer Saphir. It is billed as a blend of Bavarian craftsmanship and American ingenuity. Traditional Weissbier is almost always lightly hopped (< 15 IBUs) and never employs finishing hops. The goal is to de-emphasize hops and let the body of the wheat and the flavor and aroma of the unique yeast shine through with lots of fruit and clove. Hopfen Weisse is not an extreme collaboration (like many), rather a “noble” deviation from a classic Weizen.

After purchasing a couple of these beers at the Liquor Barn, I finally got a chance to sample them in the small town of McArthur. On the nose I initially detected the classic Weizen clove aroma followed by a dose of fresh, grassy noble hops. The hops were not overpowering, but definitely there – and not citrusy like an American IPA. The high carbonation of this beer helps drive all of these aromas out of the beer. In the glass it was a turbid orange color – a touch lighter than Schneider’s original Weissbier despite the higher alcohol content. Its flavor was packed with banana and clove along with pleasant, grassy hops. It had lots of body and that silky wheat beer viscosity. The Nachtrunk was like a standard Weissbier, but with a drier hop note. Overall, Hopfen Weisse is not a drastic deviation from Schneider’s standard product, but definitely unique. I never thought I would taste a “classic” German Weizen with a significant hop character!

If you get a chance to pick up a ½ liter of this beer let me know what you think. Also, I would like to hear what your favorite collaboration beer is. I’m always looking for new specialties to try.

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