What’s Brewin’?: Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is the best American hefeweizen

I’m well aware hefeweizen have been no stranger to my column, but there’s one more that deserves mention because it reminds me of why I came to love the style in the first place: Sierra Nevada Kellerweis.

This is hands-down the best American hefeweizen I have had, even better than some of the German ones, and the Germans are the ones who invented it. The Kellerweis (German for “cellar-brewed white/wheat ale”) is not only authentic, but has just the right mix of flavors to mimic, but not copy, the best German hefeweizen like Hacker-Pschorr. The yeast isn’t too tart or sweet; it’s just right. The wheat malt has a deep and complex character that is also very mellow, refreshing and fruity. Plus, you can just tell from the nearly-opaque golden (not yellow or mustard-like yellow-brown) haze that this is an unfiltered wheat beer done right.

The secret, according to Sierra Nevada, to bringing out these complexities is using the traditional, but labor- and time-intensive, Bavarian art of “shallow open fermentation,” as opposed to the closed stainless-steel tanks used by most modern brewers.

Sierra Nevada beers generally have a lot of hop bitterness, the prime example being the winter seasonal Celebration Ale, but even the mellow Pale Ale has a little bite to it. The Kellerweis, however, is only conservatively hopped, as per the style, making it probably the least bitter of Sierra Nevada’s line of brews.

Even straight out of the bottle, Kellerweis has the perfect balance of yeast and wheat malt flavor, but it becomes the epitome of the style when poured in into a “Weizenglas,” the German style of glass that tapers toward the bottom, specially designed for wheat ales. This isn’t beer snob nitpicking; it really does make the beer taste better, especially if you pour it the right way.

My technique for pouring a hefeweizen is very close to the traditional way, with a few minor alterations that I have found make a better pour. First, hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and pour the beer in slowly along the side to make as little foam as possible (this will make room for more foam after swirling the bottle). Keep doing this until you can’t pour any more without it spilling over the side. There should be one-third or less of the beer still in the bottle at this point. Now, vigorously swirl the bottle for at least 10 seconds and, now with the glass upright, pour straight into the glass, not at an angle. Your hefeweizen now has a thick, yeasty-tasting head, and you have brought out the subtleties in flavor you will only find in an unfiltered, and in this case open-fermented, beer.

For more information about what glassware is best suited for each style of beer, visit http://beeradvocate.com/beer/101/glassware.

Send questions or beer recommendations to Tyler Estabrook at whatsbrewin@gmail.com.

from the July 22-28, 2009, issue

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