Nano-scale breweries and brewpubs usually have great leeway to improvise and experiment, and can offer a changing lineup that appeals to enthusiasts who like to try new beers. These operations are more flexible in this way because when they're working with small volumes, it's easier to create unconventional new brews or tweak standards to emphasize certain flavors. This is especially true for One Barrel Brewing.
The brewery and bar on Madison's east side has been open only about year, and at times customers' thirsts have overwhelmed the supply of its beers, which are made in 31-gallon batches. But over the past few months, owner Peter Gentry has gotten matters more in hand and supply is finally meeting demand. He recently hired a full-time assistant brewer, Dan Sherman, of Madison. Together they're brewing six batches of beer a week, usually working six days -- unless they double-batch and turn a one-brew day into a late night.
Recently, One Barrel's beer menu has consistently featured 10 house beers and a tap assortment of other brewery's offerings. During a recent stop there I discovered a new wheat beer in Gentry's summer line-up, and it's definitely a keeper. Named Flemish Giant, it's an interesting twist on the Weissbier tradition.
What is it? Flemish Giant from One Barrel Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: One Barrel Flemish Giant is lighter in flavor than the standard German Weizen, or Weissbier. These wheat ales can range in color from a yellow-straw to pale amber. However, the estery aromas and common flavors like banana and clove from the yeast are more subdued in Flemish Giant than in a typical Hefeweizen. (The "hefe" prefix refers to yeast, while "weizen" means wheat.) These brews are made with more than 50% wheat malt. Overall, a Weizen usually does not have much hoppiness in aroma or flavor -- rather, there's just enough to offer some crispness. Their strength can range up to 5.5% ABV. A Weizen may be served with a slice of lemon on the edge of the glass, with the citrus-sourness complementing the banana and clove tones.
Background: Flemish Giant just started appearing on tap at One Barrel Brewing. It's a new beer for the brewery and one that's expected to be around most of the summer. Peter Gentry intentionally selected a type of yeast that offers less of the banana and clove accents and more light crisp-to-tart fruitiness. Other than that, the recipe is a straightforward Hefeweizen, with 50% wheat malt and a low amount of hops. The beer needs no lemon in it, though, he vows: "We wanted it to speak for itself."
Gentry likes to use animal images for inspiration in beer names. A taste of this brew reminded Gentry of the slightly sour beers from the Flanders region of Belgium, not far from Germany and its weissbiers. The Flemish Giant is a large breed of rabbit that originated in the region. Gentry has even made up T-shirts for this beer -- they feature a cartoon rabbit, rather than the penguin he uses in most of One Barrel's marketing graphics.
Flemish Giant has lighter flavors than a Hefeweizen, but it still finishes at the upper end of Weizens at 5.2% ABV. It's available only at One Barrel Brewing, where it sells for $4.50/glass and $12/growler (refill). If Flemish Giant isn't available upon visiting the taproom, it's likely to return within a few days.
Also coming on tap shortly at One Barrel is Hodag, a nut brown ale made with walnut sap. It's named after the mythical creature that haunts the northern Wisconsin forests around Rhinelander. The walnut sap was harvested locally on property belonging to a friend of Gentry. Also out soon will be Hootenanny, a spiced pale ale made with oregano harvested from assistant brewer Dan Sherman's garden.
- Aroma: A light fruity-citrus nose.
- Appearance: Hazy-cloudy, bright yellow-golden. Great color, but it lacks the long-lasting soft white head of foam that you expect in a Weizen.
- Texture: Light-bodied, bubbly, with some softness.
- Taste: Sharply fruity, a light lemony sourness, with mild yeast tones.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light sour-fruitiness, but clean and crisp.
Glassware: One Barrel serves Flemish Giant in the basic bar pint. At home, using the tall, shapely Weizen glass will show off its color and highlight the light yeast nose under your own.
Pairs well with: The light, crisp, clean fruity-tartness of Flemish Giant can be easily overwhelmed by flavorful entrees. It's best with cool summer salads and sandwiches. It's also a refreshing beer on its own on a hot day.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: One Barrel Flemish Giant is light on the flavors I enjoy most in a more traditional German Hefeweizen. I look forward to the hints of banana and clove and a soft sweetness that comes with the yeast and wheat that make the style such an ideal light summer beer. This beer backs away from those flavors, but not entirely.
I like Flemish Giant and can't fault it for not conforming to the German standard, because Peter Gentry sat out to make a Weizen that holds the banana and clove to a minimum while allowing more of the fruity tones to emerge. What he has created is a brew that's very approachable for those looking for a milder Weizen. In the end, it's great for summer with a crisp sour-tartness that lends a clean and refreshing impression.