American beer makers have been riffing on traditional styles since the first flagons were quaffed in the New World, and that spirit continues today in a modern craft industry that seeks to tap - and wow - a growing fan base.
"Americans are really great at taking old beer styles and making them completely our own," said Jeff Jacobs, co-owner with his wife, Lynn, of Great Storm Brewing in Colorado Springs. "If you go to a craft brewery, you can always find something that matches with your palate really well.
That's one of the things I love about craft brewing: It's so varied you can inevitably find something that you love."
When things work out right, how brewers achieve that "something" can be a story of suds-serendipity.
In the case of Great Storm's wheat wines, it was a surplus of wheat malt left over from the brewing of a spring seasonal soon after the brewery opened in 2012. Jacobs had read about but never made or even sampled a wheat wine before, but the time seemed ripe to give the lesser-known - and distinctly American - style a try.
"What we came out with was a great beer we brew every fall, and then about a year later, we had an idea to do a dark one because I'd never seen one like that out on the market," said Jacobs, whose 31 Black Wheat Wine, named after the Air Force Academy's 31st Squadron, the Grim Reapers, is available on tap through mid-March. "It's a new style that I think people are becoming more aware of it (wheat wines), but I don't know if it's gotten into sort of the mainstream beer consciousness yet."
According to the 2015 guidelines for the Beer Judge Certification Program, the nonprofit organization that certifies and ranks beer judges, the "wheatwine" style first was brewed in 1988 at Rubicon Brewing Co. in Sacramento, Calif., and today often shows up as a "winter seasonal, vintage, or one-off release" with a broad range of interpretations.
Similar to barleywines, which earn their oenological title due to a vino- like alcohol content (as well as their 18th-century inventors' attempt to woo a broader audience), wheat wines are "very strong beers" brewed in a similar manner using wheat, rather than barley. Jacobs uses white wheat for about 70 percent of the grain bill, which lends it a "nice softness," and rounds out ingredients with heirloom barley, debittered black malt, dark British caramel malt and rye malt, for "spiciness."
Magnum and Citra hops kick in some brightness; English yeast, some dryness.
The outcome is a winter seasonal with a bold and spicy character and an ABV around 9 percent.
"With the light wheat base and the higher alcohol, you get a lot of those sort of (red) wine elements," Jacobs said. "Imagine a Dunkelweizen on steroids, you'd pretty much have 31."
If you go: Great Storm Brewing, 204 Mt View Ln, Unit #3
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