"We invite you to fill the difficult role of 'Deschutes Brewery Beer Tester.' We know it's a lot to ask, but we'd love to get your feedback on a beer that we've been experimenting with in our Bend and Portland pubs for the last several months.It is always a good move to laud the genius of your reviewer's palate before you serve her your beer. We feel quite clever that way, and predisposed to like the beer. So a bow of admiration to the brewery before we get into those opinions of mine they are so keen to hear. Gassho.
"Currently named Miss Spelt Hefeweizen, this brew has been so popular in the pub locations that we've bottled up a small sampling to get some feedback from the professionals: YOU.
"We're not going to tell you much about it: we want yoru opinion, unsullied by our explanations. Please let us know what you think about Deschutes Brewery's take on this popular style of beer. We can't wait to hear back from you."
Thanks to the confounding Widmer Hef, you are never sure what to expect when you crack a bottle bearing that name. In the case of Miss Spelt, we are looking east, toward Bavaria. In these wheat beers, the process of fermentation produces various compounds, notably phenols and isoamyl acetate, that characterize the style. In other words, the banana and clove for which it is famous. (For more on how open fermentation, wide fermenters, ferulic acid and other factors help create these distinctive characteristics, I commend to you Stan Hieronymus' excellent Brewing With Wheat. Again.)
As for Miss Spelt, the Google tells us what the press release won't--that at least one previous batch was made with 40% spelt. This ancient grain is closely related to wheat, but contains less gluten and is more easily tolerated by folks (like me, actually) who have slight wheat intolerance. That reference I found also puts Miss Spelt at 28 IBUs and 5.3% alcohol. No doubt this is a slightly rejiggered recipe, but it's a decent jumping-off point.
I love German hefeweizens. The combination of phenols, esters, and a crisp, tart finish make them the unbeatable summer beer. On a hot day, nothing can compete. But spelt hefs? Let's say I'm so far not convinced.
Miss Spelt produces a rich, billowy head and has great effervescence. Right down to the end of the glass, it is animated by lively bubbles. The aroma is inviting, with light clove and a strong dose of bubblegum. I lunged in for a fair gulp, but was surprised by the strange texture and disorienting flavor. It's thin and sweet, and has a strange, yogurt-like/milky note. I say yogurt because there's a slight sour turn to it. The aftertaste drags on quite a long while, creating a thin, tinny flavor that lingers on the mouth a good minute after a swallow. As I said, hefeweizens should end with a dry, crisp note, but this is watery and lingering. I didn't need to go back for another pull because I was still sampling the last one--not ideal in a summer beer.
Reading through Stan's book, you get the sense that there's a huge amount of science going on with a simple wheat beer. The presence of ferulic acid, to which I alluded earlier, is critical in producing the appropriate flavor compounds. They're here, but other compounds are too, ones absent from other hefs. I presume shifting to such a large percentage of spelt messes with the chemistry, and this yogurt and tin stuff is the consequence. Deschutes claims the beer is quite popular in their pubs, and I have no reason to think they're polishing apples there. But it's not popular with me.
Pass me a Weihenstephaner instead.
PHOTO: JOHN FOYSTON