The Berkshire Brewing Company, located in North Deerfield, Massachusetts, produces an interesting mix of beer styles. Its year-round brews include craft beer staples like a porter and an IPA, but also more unusual fare, like a kolsch and a dark American wheat beer.
German style dark wheat beers are called dunkelweizens and tend to have a mix of toasted and sweet fruity flavors that combine to taste a lot like banana bread. They also tend to have very light hop character. The World Beer Cup judging guidelines go so far as to say “hop flavor is none.”
Berkshire’s River Ale, a dark American wheat, instead showcases the hops. The beer is hopped with a single, American variety, Willamette. It also lacks some of the fruity character that its German cousins get from their yeast.
River Ale pours an amber color and slightly hazy, with a big fizzy white head that quickly dissipates. There’s a citrus aroma, from the hops, upfront on the nose. This is met with hints of caramel and a little bit of spice. The spice is more evident on the tongue. The malt also is more complex, with some toastiness, and a toffee flavor. There’s also a brown ale-like nuttiness balanced out by cakey sweetness. There’s a little bit of yeasty earthiness in the finish. As the beer warms, the hops reveal a new dimension in the form of some floral notes. The overall mixture of flavors is strange at first, mixing caramel and orange as the strongest flavors. It does grow on you, though, becoming reminiscent of some kind of secret-family-recipe Christmas cookie.
Berkshire brewing should be commended for trying this lesser known style and for putting their own twist on it. Showcasing hops in a style more geared toward malt, makes for a pretty unique flavor. That flavor, however may not be for everybody. Those looking to try something new and different, though, should keep an eye out for River Ale.