Okay…that’s how you say it. No, as is the case with a lot of Germanic names, it refuses to roll off most American tongues. It took my wife almost six months, back when we ran our wine shop, to learn to even remember the word “Gewürztraminer”, and then maybe another eight months to learn to say it. She did, finally, but I think she may actually have sprained her tongue twice. (FYI: “Guh-VERTS-truh-meener”)
That established, I have to confess to doing a thing which I never thought I’d EVER do and which I constantly tell others to shape up and get over: I neglected Euro beers for a long damned time.
I did it. I got US-centric about beer but I had every reason to: the Indie/Craft brewing phenomenon is one of the greatest business stories of the past 100 years, rivaled only by the technology boom that still continues and the dot-com boom which went bust faster than the Microsoft Zoon.
All of a blessed sudden, those of us who had studied and led cheering for independent American brewing were up to our necks in all these startling new beers and styles and breweries with unstuffy names and playful images. And they were GOOD – really good, the majority of ’em – and all but the most die-hard, Eurocentric, irrelevant purist asshats reveled in it. I did. And I still am. But, in the festivities, I forbgot about some dear old friends…
…and I humbly apologize.
When the folks at Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, located on that lovely hill in Freising, Bavaria, said they were sending “samples”, they didn’t specify. What they actually sent was a six-pack of “Vitus”, their iconic Dark Wheat beer that is to most other wheat beers what the Ferrari 488 is to your Mom’s Toyota van. Vitus is one of those old pals of mine and I owe it possibly more of an apology than many other beers because I have LOVED this silky, vivid, flamboyant uber-lager more than almost any other German beer aside from maybe Pinkus Ur-Pils and the immortal Celebrator Dopplebock. I have continued to drink Celebrator and those brilliant, weird, startling smoked everythings from Aecht Schlenkerla all through my American Indie/Craft Binge but the lighter lagers got shoved aside by all those assertive US ale monsters. Tasting Vitus again was nothing less than illuminating, from the instant it entered my mouth: “Oh, yeah…that’s what I always loved about German lager!”
Vitus is accurately classed as a single-bock lager, a “weizenbock” but one with a twist that’s set it apart for years: it’s not quite a dark wheat beer but certainly not a typical wheat, either. It’s a lovely, inviting lambent amber and brewed to be as aggressively creamy and silky as it can possibly be without cheating. It has a wildly attractive suggestion of bitterness about it, even at a very modest 17 IBUs, that will resonate with American HopHeads the way many light lagers don’t. It was given a ton of time in tank, on its lees, that’s resulted in a heft and gravitas entirely unlike any other weizenbock I’ve ever tasted. This is a delicious beer; purely and simply delicious. It’s flavors lean strongly to dried fruits, especially apricots and pears and that ubiquitous banana character of its German yeast that somehow, in Vitus, comes off as tasting like an actual ripe banana, instead of the usual banana extract.
The brewery’s website calls Vitus a “spicy single-bock” and that term is dead-on accurate. Spices galore come bursting out of the glass with each sip: nutmeg and allspice and mild cinnamon and sumac and lemon verbena and cloves present with authority but never even threaten to dominate the beer. The overall effect is almost literally stunning. It’s fresh but unmistakably mature and even a tad boozy(!), with a proudly sophisticated character that further sets it apart from all its many cousins.
I’ve nursed the six bottles of Vitus that were sent to me jealously. I limited my wife to two bottles, told her so, and after she drank the first one, turned to me and said, “I don’t blame you. I’d limit you to one bottle, sport, if they’d addressed the box to me.” As a food pairing, this is a near-perfect beer. As opposed to our gross national habit of drinking watery adjunct Pilsners like BudMillerCoorsPabst with all kinds of foods that so dominate their weak flavors that you might as well be drinking water, Vitus complements and enhances a shocking variety of foods. I’ve had it with risotto, Thai Swimming Rama, elk steaks, bison meatloaf, pork burgers, seafood salads, and a dinner-size roasted chicken Caesar and it was beautiful with all of ’em.
Vitus has been named “The Best Beer in The World” several times, most notably taking the belt as the 2011 World’s Best Beer from the World Beer Awards in England. I might quibble a bit with that, as some of the other beers that have won that same title are definitely worthy (especially the Deschutes “Red Chair” and Brasserie Dupont “Saison Dupont”) and any final “winner” is purely a matter of taste. I did, shamefully, neglect my old friend Vitus – along with its brothers Korbinian and Tradition Bayrisch Dunkel – but that shit stops right here. I now have Korbinian back in my fridge and I plan to keep it and Vitus there regularly. Vitus – and all the beers from this, the world’s oldest operating brewery – are more than worth the effort for any real American beer fan to take the trouble to learn how to wrap heads and tongues around “Weihenstephaner”. 100 Points