We're having that kind of spring in which the weather swings wildly between lingering chill and welcome heat, placing the beer drinker who favors seasonal beers in a quandary. The issue, at least for me, is the perplexing choice of fuller-bodied brews that address the damp late winter coldness, versus the refreshing crispness of summery wheat beers. Fortunately, the latest release in the New Glarus Thumb Print series has arrived for this transition. Imperial Weizen has a sharp and crisp yeastiness that is saturated in a spicy alcohol warmth.
What is it? Imperial Weizen from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wis.
Style: Brewmaster Dan Carey doesn't like to place his Imperial Weizen into narrow style guidelines. However, it begins as a weizen, a traditional wheat-based ale that originated in southern Germany. The style is generally considered a warm weather beer because of its crisp and effervescent qualities, but it is commonly found year-round. Weizens are pale golden to light amber in color, and are usually unfiltered, giving them a hazy or cloudy appearance. The flavor is distinct, thanks to yeast that can impart clove or nutmeg tones or even hints of fruitiness, such as banana. These beers are made with at least 50 % malted wheat and are usually low-hopped beers at less than 18 IBUs (International Bittering Units). Carey adds the "Imperial" to describe the beer's strength and taste characteristics, including a more prominent flavor and greater mouthfeel. Weizens often fall between 4.3 and 5.5 % ABV, but this brew finishes at 9 % ABV and has assertive hoppiness at 45 IBUs.
Background: New Glarus Imperial Weizen is made with all Cascade hops that give it a firm citrus- and grapefruit-tinged bitterness. Carey says the beer is "excessively" dry-hopped, which brings in even more spicy character of the Cascade. The malts that go into its recipe include German Pilsner and American (red) Wheat. The beer is made in open fermentation tanks with a special Bavarian Weisse Bier yeast that likewise adds distinctive spiciness to the flavor profile.
This is the second release of the year in the newly-designed New Glarus "Thumb Print" series, which replaces the brewery's "Unplugged" branding. However, if you look closely, you might notice that while the four-pack carrier reflects the Thumb Print design, the brewery must be using up the remaining "Unplugged" labels, because all the bottles are wrapped with the previous graphic.
New Glarus Imperial Weizen takes about a month to make. It is unfiltered and bottle-conditioned so expect it to appear hazy or cloudy. It sells for $10/four-pack.
If you like to follow New Glarus beers, the brewery will offer a taste of another one of its unique brews in a special Madison Craft Beer Week event on Monday, May 2. The Malt House is hosting a very limited release of a New Glarus Bourbon Barrel Aged Kriek (Cherry Lambic), starting at 5 p.m.
- Aroma: Assertive citrus hoppiness alongside yeasty tones like banana and cloves.
- Appearance: Hazy orange-copper color with a very thick and soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied with a warmth from beginning to end.
- Taste: A strong spicy quality that includes clove and cinnamon along with the dry bitter grapefruit of the cascade hops.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Spicy qualities with a lingering dryness.
Glassware: The clear Weizen glass allows the brilliant orange color of the beer to almost glow while the trapper near the lip supports the long lasting soft tan head.
Pairs well with: The spicy qualities make Imperial Weizen a difficult beer to match with main meal entrees. It really needs a dish that will allow it to be the star of the show. I was surprised how enjoyable it was with just an ordinary cheese pizza. It can really liven up what otherwise might be a bland experience.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers.
The Verdict: Imperial Weizen isn't a new beer for New Glarus, having been released as part of its limited release series in previous years. Somehow I've missed these earlier versions of the beer, so this felt like a new find for me.
From its initial aroma there's plenty of weizen character, thanks to the yeasty aromas/phenols of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and banana. At first sip, this beer's flavor seemed just too pushy, mostly because it starts spicy and doesn't let up. However, as I became more acquainted with it over a second bottle, the brew really grew on me. The alcoholic warmth is accentuated by Carey's bold use of Cascade hops. It all works to bring an overall intense spiciness that becomes more and more inviting as the beer's temperature slowly increases. I don't know where it falls as a seasonal, but it's coming out of my refrigerator much faster than the season seem to be changing.