Deschutes “American Wheat” is a classic American ale. Already, with ONE sip, but confirmed with every successive mouthful.
Wheat…just that word conjures up vivid and very specific universal images. In the mind’s eye, we see fields of golden stalks, waving in a gentle breeze, shifting colors and textures like a rolling surf. It suggests home fires burning warmly, fresh bread and apple pie aromas wafting out an open window…Sally May in a gingham dress, sitting in a porch swing, her long, tanned legs laid across the wooden slats and brown hair flowing down to her….
Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yeah: wheat.
Wheat is, of course, the main ingredient that we consume in our most common and universal food: Bread. Staff of Life stuff. “Wholesome” is a term we most associate with bread…but wholesome gets a bit compromised when we skip that step of grinding the wheat down to flour and add a few hops to the tank to produce something which few of us associate with the term “wholesome”…Beer.
Used to be that only shady characters drank beer. Back in the early twentieth century, beer became declassé and wine started to drift out of California and over from Europe and quickly displaced beer – our native beverage, our all-American grain-based celebration of the Heartland – as the choice of sophisticated palates.
But that was then and this is now and, given our current societal climate, even scandalous old Bettie Page pin-ups seem wholesome. And beer has – by virtue of the nation’s small, independent brewers – come out from under its rock and become a beverage as much about food and class and sophistication as wine has ever been. In some people’s minds, in fact, beer has become a little too sophisticated; too artsy and contrived and exotic.
I’m not one of those people. I LOOOOVE weird, different, crazy beers and seek them out avidly…BUT…
…just as even the most battle-hardened gourmand will, occasionally, become tired of continually bombarding their taste buds with endless complexity and anaylsis and sou vide this and amuse-bouche that, beer fans sometimes just want a f**king beer; just something clean and fresh and flavorful and uncomplicated to drink, kick back, and enjoy. The problem is, we have all now moved on, well and permanently, from those watery, insipid, low-ambition adjunct Pilsners which comprise the BudMillerCoorsPabst Universe and we just don’t settle for mediocrity, any more.
And, as happens so often in the American Beer Continuum, Deschutes Brewery comes along with the perfect solution.
Deschutes “American Wheat” Ale…adamdantly not a German wheat ale and definitely not a typical “white ale”, American Wheat is in that continuum that is exemplified by North Coast “Blue Star” Wheat Ale. The sweetness of the classic Euro wheat ale is present but muted; nicely balanced with a mellow, toasty wheat bread character that recalls Blue Star without mimicing it. American Wheat gushes grainy goodness and overlays that with some hops-driven citrus notes of lemon curd and tangerines and grapefruit. Here, again, Deschutes shows their near-legendary knack for unearthing and utilizing hops that rarely show up in most American beers. The aroma hop here is Celeia, a hybrid of Styrian Golding, Aurora and a Slovenia wild hop. Celeia lends this ale a large part of its comforting – dare I say “wholesome” – aromas that recall new-mown hay and wild herbs and flowers. But the real surprise in this cracker-jack ale is Hops Breeding Company’s 431, an experimental variety that’s still being developed. 431 gives this ale its haunting intimations of white peaches, loam, wild berries, and mango. The overall impression is of unforced complexity; a seamless set of flavors that present distinctly and linger on the tongue. The effect is wildly appealing: It’s light and crisp and finishes clean and dry but has substance; a satisfying wholeness that comes from a completely rounded flavor profile that hits the caramel and nut malt notes emphatically, while offering up forward hops character with intimations of spices and baked apples.
The word “wholesome” comes to mind.
In choosing the name of this beer, Deschutes hits the nail on the head in a way that even surpasses their usual talent for concise description. This is absolutely a beer that evokes the American heartland and does it in a way that Budweiser never even approached. This beer is America NOW. It’s complex but not complicated. It’s hoppy but not All About Hops. It’s fresh but not tart, fruity but not dominated by fruit, and light, certainly, but not ephemeral. It has gravitas; the impression that you’ve had a beer that you can drink several of but not the mass-produced sameness and wimpiness of Old School glug beers. This is an ale that’s been not so much brewed as loved into existence by great brewers who know their craft backwards, up ‘n’ down, and sideways. Deschutes set out to make a great summer beer with low alcohol, great flavors, and a little pleasing body. They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel but to make the best damned wheel anyone ever put on their covered wagon…
…and they did just that. Deschutes “American Wheat” is a classic American ale. Already, with ONE sip, but confirmed with every successive mouthful. It’s an ale for Everybody. Your grandmother will love it and your Bud-victim newbie pal and your HopHead beer buddy will, too, as a little respite from Lupulin Overdose. I can’t even imagine this ale getting tiresome or wearing out its welcome. If you really dislike warm bread, fresh citrus fruits, cool things on hot days, Sally May and her porch swing, blue skies, picnics, music, puppies, and the whole idea of America’s long vistas and amber waves, then maybe you won’t like this…but I bet you still will. “American Wheat” takes the bar for the American-style Wheat beer and hikes it up to a standard that very few breweries can even hope to reach. Fortunately, you’ll be able to reach this one and, I suspect, you will…repeatedly and for a long, long time.