O'so Brewing is out with a flavorful seasonal beer that just started appearing on Madison store shelves. 3rd Wheel, a Belgian blonde ale made with rose hips, is the newest bottled beer from the Plover-based brewery. Owner and brewmaster Marc Buttera made it as a departure from the summertime variations of wheat beers that are so abundant this time of year. With 3rd Wheel, he adds the rose hips late in the brewing process and then ferments the beer with American and French oak chips. The result is beer with distinctive floral and woody tones, not unlike the rose itself.
What is it? 3rd Wheel from O'so Brewing of Plover, Wisconsin.
Style: The Belgian blonde ale is blonde to golden-colored and light- to medium-bodied. The style has a spicy sweetness with medium fruity tones in the aroma and flavor. It's not hoppy, but some bitterness should be noticeable in the crispness of the beer; it may finish with a light dryness. The Belgian blonde is moderately strong at 6%-7.8% ABV.
Background: 3rd Wheel is based on a popular limited release tap-only beer called Qu Rosa that Marc Buttera made earlier this year. Qu Rosa was the brewery's initial foray into the use of rose hips (the fruit of the rose). They are also used in herbal teas, jams, jellies, breads and even wine. They are also rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.
Buttera experimented with smaller homebrew-sized batches involving rose hips before moving up to make a single commercial batch of Qu Rosa late last winter. Qu Rosa was stronger than Third Wheel at nearly 7% ABV.
3rd Wheel follows a similar recipe, with pilsner malt and a touch of oats. Buttera allows the beer to undergo final fermentation in the ambient temperatures of the brewery, which end up around 70 degrees. That's warm for most styles of beer. The technique allows the Belgian yeast to impart more of its distinctive fruity flavors, aromas and dryness. 3rd Wheel is about 5.5% ABV and approximately 15 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). It sells for around $9/six-pack. The beer should be available for most of the summer.
The name "3rd Wheel" is Buttera's inside joke that his brewery sometimes takes on that role because it's the third brewery in Portage County -- along with the Stevens Point Brewery and Central Waters Brewing of Amherst.
- Aroma: A light, spicy, floral and yeasty nose.
- Appearance: Bright hazy golden with a medium soft white head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied and bubbly.
- Taste: A crisp yeasty and floral flavor with just a hint of tartness from the rose hips. The woody tones of oak and vanilla are in the background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Yeasty, some softer floral tones linger. But it ultimately finishes with a little dryness.
Glassware: The tulip glass shows off the beer's bright golden color, and its flared lip supports the medium soft, marbled head, allowing the aroma to dance under the nose.
Pairs well with: 3rd Wheel is a nice complement to grilled seafood, especially trout and salmon. It also matches nicely with seared tuna on a salad of mixed greens garnished with a small amount of pineapple or orange, which will bring out even more of the Belgian yeast character.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: 3rd Wheel's unique flavor sets it apart from other summer seasonals. The Belgian blonde ale is itself a refreshing beer this time of year, and so is this twist on the style, with tart floral spiciness from rose hips that blends with the softer vanilla notes from the wood chips. While I do enjoy the oaky accents to many beer styles, 3rd Wheel left me wondering what this beer would be like with just the tart quality of the rose hips and without the oak chips. Regardless, the bubbly yeastiness of the style comes through with a crisp, dry finish, which really makes this a beer to have hand for the summer ahead.