Grain is one of the key ingredients in beer, and most beers are made using barley, a common cereal grain. The barley is “malted,” which changes its chemical composition to allow for the extraction of sugars embedded in the grains. But barley is not the only option available to the brewer; indeed, many types of grain can be used to brew beer. Among the most common is simple wheat.
In contrast to the vast majority of today’s commercial beers, which use barley as the main ingredient, wheat beers use roughly half barley and half wheat. The wheat offers a crisper flavor profile than barley, and protein compounds from the wheat often result in a cloudier beer with a long-lasting thick head (the foam formed on top of the beer after pouring). This is the kind of beer you’d expect to be served at a traditional biergarten in Bavaria, preferably from one of those “full-figured” blonde beer ladies in the funny attire.
In any case, wheat beers have become increasingly popular on the craft beer scene here in the United States. Of course, we Americans had to make our own variety of wheat beer — American brewers typically select yeast strains that produce lower levels of the intense flavors associated with traditional wheat beers. Hops are typically used more gratuitously, especially to add flavor and aroma. The beers are light and refreshing and almost always associated with summer.
Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, N.Y., has offered its seasonal take on the American wheat beer, fittingly named Hop Sun. Southern Tier was founded in 2002 with a philosophy of producing great small-batch beers. Since then the brewery has been wildly successful, frequently needing to upgrade its capacity to fulfill demand. Hop Sun is one of the brewery’s seasonal favorites and a popular example of this great style.
I picked up a bottle as part of a variety pack at my local bottle shop. I poured the beer from the bottle into a tall Weizen glass, the traditional vessel from which to enjoy wheat beers in Germany. Noticeable first was the beer’s brilliant clarity, which stands in stark contrast to the traditionally cloudy appearance of many unfiltered wheat ales. Hops punched through the aroma with strong grassy and fruity notes. Interesting yeast aromas came through as well, though not as prominently as, say, a traditional hefeweizen. The beer is medium-bodied and easy drinking. It’s well carbonated and fairly dry, with pleasantly grassy, almost herbal flavors present. It is definitely a thirst quencher, with plenty of flavor to satisfy the taste buds as well.
There’s nothing quite like a good refreshing wheat beer on a hot summer day, and Hop Sun definitely fills the role. This is the kind of beer you want to have nearby on a summer day out on a canoe, laying in a grassy field soaking up the sun, or just sitting on your couch watching TV while trying to beat the heat. It’s pleasantly flavorful and not overpowering, and at 5.1 percent ABV, you can imagine drinking more than one in a session. This Philly summer is going to be hot and humid as usual, so grab yourself some Hop Sun from Southern Tier to make it that much more pleasant.