The Long Process of Inventing a New Beer Style

In most industries, inventing a new style is a relatively simple, straightforward, quick matter. This is not the case in the world of beer. Inventing a new style of beer can take decades to gain recognition of the achievement, if it ever happens at all. Consider the case of wheat wine, invented in Sacramento back in the 1980s.

Wheat wine was not an intentional discovery. It was actually an accident. Rubicon Brewing Company produced a batch of summer wheat beer, but unbeknownst to the company, the batch was botched. In fact, it had a double dose of malt sugar. This single "oops" meant that the beer was considerably stronger than summer wheat beer usually is – coming in somewhere around 11% alcohol. It was actually more akin to barleywine than summer wheat beer. 

Of course, barleywine (and wheat wine) are not really wines. They're beers, because they are made from grains instead of grapes. Wheat wine was born in Sacramento back in 1988, but it did not gain recognition for a very long time. Even today, it is not really recognized as a "style" of beer. There are inroads being made here, though. For instance, the Beer Judge Certification Program now identifies it as a style as does the Great American Beer Festival even though it still relegates it to second fiddle – placing it squarely as a subcategory within a larger one.

For those who want to enjoy it, though, wheat wine has become more widely available. With this increase in availability has come greater recognition of the beer as a distinct style. After all, given its unique characteristics, it's hard to confuse strong wheat beer with an IPA, stout or blond ale. For those not acquainted with this type of beer, some explanation might be necessary.

Wheat wine has a range of strengths, from 7 to 14% alcohol, depending on the brewer and the recipe used. It is usually extremely smooth, with a light taste and more than a little sweetness. However, it is a nicely balanced drink, even with its higher alcohol content. Unlike barleywine, there is no problem with the alcohol throwing the beverage off balance. Drinkers will also find a range of different colors out there, from gold to amber and everything in between the two.

For those interested, wheat wine can be found from a number of great craft breweries. You'll find Terrapin Brewery puts one out, as does Smuttynose Brewing and New Holland, as well. 

In most industries, inventing a new style is a relatively simple, straightforward, quick matter. This is not the case in the world of beer. Inventing a new style of beer can take decades to gain recognition of the achievement, if it ever happens at all.

Posted on March 2, 2011 and filed under Beer Styles and Trends, Facts & History.