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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Beer Here: Crack'd Wheat from New Glarus Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

New Glarus Brewing opened the doors of its new Hilltop Brewery to the community last weekend. The $21M complex sits high on a hill overlooking its namesake community. It's actually been in operation since November 2007, but since that time, owners Dan and Deb Carey have been getting everything up to speed, installing the critical equipment needed to expand their company's production from 3,000 barrels (when they opened in 1993) to an estimated 80,000 barrels this year. At the open house, more than 2,000 people turned out to take self-guided tours, sip a few brews and listen to music from The Jimmys. It was an excellent opportunity to meet the Careys and explore their new digs.

"It was a huge day," says Deb Carey. "It was overwhelming. All day long people kept shaking our hands." Many visitors stopped to thank the couple for their beer and what they've contributed to the community.

As for the beer of choice for the day, it was difficult to pick one, but on a beautiful hilltop overlooking town, a wheat beer just seemed right. And with New Glarus, there's a choice among three different weizens. With its crisp hoppy edge, it was Crack'd Wheat that I decided to take home as a memento of the occasion.

What is it? Crack'd Wheat from New Glarus Brewing Company.

Style: This beer is a combination of styles. Brewmaster Dan Carey calls it a marriage of a sophisticated Bavarian Hefeweiss and an assertive American Pale Ale. The Hefeweiss is a cloudy golden to pale amber beer with a yeasty aroma and a flavor commonly described as clove, nutmeg and banana. It's light- to medium-bodied, crisp, and can be very bubbly when bottle conditioned. In traditional hefeweizens, a hop flavor and aroma is absent. By contrast, American Pale Ale (APA) is known for low fruitiness and strong bitter, hoppy flavor. The APA is deep golden to copper in color, with floral and citrus-like American-variety hop character and a high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. With New Glarus Crack'd Wheat, hearty additions of Amarillo and Cascade hops are at the center of its American hoppiness.

Background: New Glarus Crack'd Wheat is a new year-round beer for the brewery. It evolved from last year's version of Imperial Weizen, which was introduced as part of the brewery's "Unplugged" series of special releases. While at its heart is wheat and a proprietary yeast strain developed in the brewery, it's dry-hopped with Amarillo hops for that citrus aroma and flavor.

Brewery founder Deb Carey says it was difficult to come up with a name for this beer. After struggling for some time, "We settled on 'wheat' because it is what this beer is about, but we also chuckle that the 'crack'd' part sort of says 'us,' because we're a bit off from everyone else, a little nutty or cracked."

Crack'd Wheat takes about five to six weeks to make. Its initial fermentation occurs in a special area of the new Hilltop Brewery where the fermentors are exposed to room air. It's slightly stronger than most wheat beers, with a 5.9% ABV. It sells for about $9/six-pack.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Firm, modest, floral hoppiness.
  • Appearance: Hazy, brilliant yellow golden color with a thick, soft, white head.
  • Texture: Medium bodied.
  • Taste: Solid yeasty flavors with clove and banana. Hoppiness provides crispness.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Sharp, grapefruity, hoppiness.

Glassware: The weizen glass with its subtle curve at the lip holds the head very nicely, almost too well. Bottle conditioning creates lots of foam, and this beer takes awhile to settle down following its initial pouring. Make sure you have a clear glass to appreciate the brilliant yellow-golden color.

Pairs well with: The sharp crispness of Crack'd Wheat makes for a great companion to shrimp, especially fresh cold shrimp with light cocktail sauce and light, cool salads.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: A- (excellent) from Beer Advocate and 97 from Rate Beer.

The Verdict: I like Crack'd Wheat's additional crispness from hops. This is wheat beer with a special citrus, grape, fruity tone, especially up front. It's crisp, effervescent and refreshing, and beautiful to look at. It's also a beer outside of the mainstream style definitions and reflects Dan Carey's creativity, resulting in a very drinkable brew.

Who would have thought that one beer might please the hefeweizen drinker and the pale ale fan in the same glass? Deb Carey notes that even she wondered if the concept would "mess up" a good wheat beer, but now realizes how great an idea it was to marry the two styles. This surprising beer is flavorful, hoppily refreshing and very tasty.

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