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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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Beer Here: Wisconsinite Summer Weiss from Lakefront Brewery

Credit:Robin Shepard

I just can't get enough of the refreshing hefeweizens this time of year. They are light and bubbly, with a flavor that includes sharp hints of citrus, the subtle sweetness of banana and the spiciness of cloves. Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee has a new creation out this summer that lays claim to being 100% Wisconsin-made.

Many brewers tout high percentages of locally grown basic beer ingredients like malt and hops. Lakefront has taken local to another level by developing a Wisconsin-cultured Weissbier strain of yeast that becomes the backbone of a new wheat beer. Its name sums up the locally brewed movement: Wisconsinite.

What is it? Wisconsinite Summer Weiss from Lakefront Brewery of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Style: The unfiltered Bavarian-style Weissbier is cloudy with pale straw to golden color. Despite its cloudy, thick appearance, it's very light-bodied and bubbly, with spicy accents that may include cloves, vanilla, apple, banana, even bubblegum. Hefeweizens are made with more than 50% wheat malt, and typically have very low amounts of hoppiness. The "hefe" prefix refers to yeast, while "weizen" means wheat. German beer traditionalists often prefer the name Weissbier or Weizen. When the word "Krystal" is applied, such as Krystal Weizen, it's a notation that the beer has been filtered for clarity.

Hefeweizens commonly range in alcohol from 4.9% to 5.5% ABV. Very light versions of the style are sometimes called Leicht Weizens and hold even less alcohol (2.5%-3.5% ABV); they're usually are lighter in flavor too. Wisconsinite falls closer to a traditional hefeweizen, but because it's made with all local ingredients, brewery owner Russ Klisch calls it a Wisconsin Weissbier.

Background: Lakefront Brewery is a leader in making beers with local ingredients. In 2010, it introduced a lager called Local Acre. But Wisconsinite's Wisconsin-derived yeast distinguishes it from not just that brew, but from others that claim to be 100% Wisconsin-made. Klisch says to his knowledge, it's the first Wisconsin yeast strain since Prohibition to be used exclusively in a beer production.

Klisch worked with Jeremy King to culture the yeast that is used to make Wisconsinite. King runs Northern Brewer, a Milwaukee homebrew supply store. King also has a Ph.D. in microbiology from Purdue University. He approached the brewers at Lakefront with an idea to harvest yeast from the Wisconsin-grown barley that gets used to make Local Acre.

King ground up a small amount of the grain and mixed it with water in a test tube, creating an ideal growing environment for whatever yeast was on the grain. After several generations of the process, King used the yeast that he harvested to make a homebrew, which he shared with Klisch. That initial beer showed enough promise that Klisch decided to work with King and send a sample to Wyeast, an Oregon-based company that specializes in supplying yeast to homebrewers and commercial breweries. The Wyeast laboratory helped identify and isolate the Wisconsin yeast strain that eventually was used to make Wisconsinite.

Klisch says that while he could have patented it, he really wants to see others use the Wisconsin yeast. So he's allowing it to be sold to both homebrewers and other breweries. "It would be great to see other craft breweries and brewpubs try brewing with the strain to create a Wisconsin Weiss," he says.

Wisconsinite is also made with Wisconsin barley and wheat, most of which was grown in central Wisconsin. The Cascade hops that go into the beer are also locally produced in southern Wisconsin and processed by Gorst Valley of Mazomanie.

Lakefront Wisconsinite should be around throughout the summer. Its introduction set a monthly sales record among Lakefront single brands. Klisch says he's had orders from California to New Jersey to satisfy the thirst of Wisconsinites living out of state.

Wisconsinite is unfiltered and finishes on the low end of hefeweizens at 4.2% ABV and 10 IBU (International Bitterness Units). It sells in six-packs for around $8-$9. Just this month, it won a gold medal for Indigenous Beer from the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition. The event features awards in 84 different categories of beer.

Later this summer, watch for another installment in Lakefront's "My Turn" series of beers, where each of the brewery's brewers gets a chance to design a special-release beer. In August, Luther, a Smoked Helles lager, will be released. It's named after Mark (Luther) Paul, the head brewer at Lakefront.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light, but firm cloves and yeastiness.
  • Appearance: Cloudy golden with a thick and soft white head.
  • Texture: Light- to medium-bodied and bubbly.
  • Taste: There is a solid yeasty flavor upfront with a clove-spiciness that builds. Light hints of banana in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Clear, yet the cloves will hang around on the palate and become almost peppery after a second bottle.

Glassware: The weizen glass with its inward taper will bring the aromas from the yeast and cloves under the nose while showing off the beer's cloudy-bright golden body.

Pairs well with: Cool summer salads and picnic fare. A nice beer with grilled chicken that has been lightly marinated in a cherry or raspberry sauce to add some fruity tartness. Just be careful with entrees that have aggressive and robust flavors.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Lakefront Wisconsinite has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate and a 56/81 (overall/style) at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Lakefront Wisconsinite is a hefeweizen that really grew on me. I give it extra attention because it takes the Wisconsin-made label very seriously. I also like it because it made me think about what I really like in a hefeweizen. It's flavorful, light bodied, crisp and on the low end of the range of alcohol content for the style -- all of which comprises what one wants in a summer session beer.

The tones of clove really stand out, more so than the characteristic banana that I often look for in a hefeweizen. The spicy pepper-like qualities build on the palate after a couple bottles. I also found that the yeast had settled to the bottom of the bottle, so to make sure you get the fullness of the flavors you'll need to gently swirl the beer as you pour it to rouse the yeast (don't shake the bottle or you'll get a glass-full of foam). Lakefront has not only set a very high bar for Wisconsin-made beer, but I agree with Klisch -- it's worthy to start a trend of Wisconsin Weissbiers.

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