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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Hatha-Weizen from Ale Asylum
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Credit:Robin Shepard

When Ale Asylum co-owner Otto Dilba brought home the idea of starting a brewery with his friend Dean Coffey, Otto's wife, Hathaway, must have rolled her eyes. After all, any significant other would have every right to wonder about the risks of starting such a business venture. But Otto jokes he made the deal more tempting by promising to name a beer after her. So when the east side brewery opened five years ago, the first beer on tap was a German hefeweizen named in her honor, Hatha-Weizen. Since then, it has become a summer regular, and has just arrived for its annual visit in the brewery's taproom.

What is it? Hatha-Weizen from Ale Asylum of Madison.

Style: The unfiltered Bavarian-style weissbier is characterized by a cloudy pale straw to golden color. Hefeweizens can have a variety of spicy flavors, including cloves, vanilla, apple, banana, even bubblegum. They are made with more than 50% wheat malt, and typically have very low amounts of hoppiness. The style, which originated in southern Germany, is one of the oldest types of beer. 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, in the case of a Krystal Weizen, it's a notation that the beer has been filtered for clarity.

Background: Ale Asylum brewmaster Dean Coffey makes Hatha-Weizen with a majority of wheat as his base malt, to which he adds German Pilsner malt. The beer is hopped with Czech Saaz, just enough to accentuate its crispness. It's "an amazing beer style," says Coffey. "It shows how just four basic beer ingredients, water, malt, hops and yeast, can produce amazingly different flavors and textures."

Coffey became obsessed with wheat beers as a home brewer, after listening to a lecture by a friend who had traveled to Germany. Later he discovered the version offered by Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, the world's oldest working brewery.

The hefeweizen is known for its cloudiness, which can gives the impression that it's a thick, heavy beer. Its cloudy appearance comes from wheat proteins and suspended yeast. However, when brewed correctly, looks can be deceiving. In the U.S., these bright yellowish colored beers are often served with a slice of lemon on the lip of the glass, which some feel helps cut the yeasty flavor, accentuating the crispness of the style. Dilba, however, finds the lemon to be almost a distraction from the well-rounded flavors of the style. "But if you buy a pint, we'll pretty much serve it however you want, even give you a straw to drink with, if you like," he laughs.

Hatha-Weizen has only been on tap at Ale Asylum for about a week. This year the brewery made just one 15-barrel batch, which should last through July. It is only available in the brewery's taproom, where it sells for $4.25/glass and $10/growler (refill). It finishes at 5.5% ABV.

Ale Asylum's popularity continues to grow, so much so it's having difficulty keeping up with demand. The brewery just ordered two additional 40-barrel fermenters. As the brewery's space is so limited, it's difficult to imagine how it will accommodate the extra tanks. All of this leads to speculation that within the next few weeks Dilba and Coffey will announce details on expansion plans, which could move their brewery to another, larger location, still on the east side.

In other news, Ale Asylum's summer release party for its Tripel Nova, a Belgian Tripel, will be held at the brewery on Father's Day, this Sunday, June 19. The 2011 version be tapped, as well as earlier vintages. Tripel Nova will turn up officially in six-packs around July 1.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Refreshing fruity tones of banana.
  • Appearance: Cloudy, vivid yellow-golden. Medium, soft, white head.
  • Texture: Light- to medium-bodied and bubbly.
  • Taste: Yeast flavors with assertive fruity banana tones.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Fruity, crispy and bubbly.

Glassware: The weizen glass is great to show off the bright, hazy golden color, and its slight inward taper near the lip will coax the fruity esters toward the nose.

Pairs well with: Hatha-Weizen is a wonderful beer on its own on a hot summer day. It's also great with fresh summer salads. Just go easy on the salad dressings to avoid overwhelming the fruity hints of citrus and banana.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: B+ (very good) at Beer Advocate and a 77/94 (overall/style) at Rate Beer.

The Verdict: When you name a beer after your spouse, you better make sure it's good. Congratulations to Hathaway, because this hefeweizen is an awesome tribute from husband Otto and brewmaster Dean Coffey.

Hatha-Weizen has all the character and flavor one looks for in a hefeweizen, with brilliant yellow-golden color and light crisp fruitiness with undertones of banana and the spiciness of cloves. It's refreshing and bubbly, and ideal for summer. If you like the German hefeweizen style and traditional standards like Weihenstephaner and Franziskaner, you'll find that this locally made version will stand up to the best Germany can offer. Grab a growler and find yourself a sunny spot to enjoy right here in Madison, without the travel time to Bavaria!

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