Barleywines got their name as being beers brewed to "wine strength," often in the 10-12% ABV range (believe it or not, once a rarity in the brewing world). With an excess of malt sugars necessary for the yeast to produce this level of alcohol, barleywines have often required heavy hops additions to offset an otherwise cloying nature.
But in the past decade or so, a second "wine strength" beer style has arisen, also with an ambiguous name of the "wheat wine." This beer is very similar to a typical barleywine but brewed with at least 50% wheat, which is an impressive amount even for wheat beers. (American wheat beers usually only contain 20-30% wheat.) Instead of relying on hops to offset the sugary nature of the malt, the dryer flavor of wheat works in much the same way to offset and balance the beer. With many similarities to cousin barleywine, a wheat wine can offer some distinct flavor differences.
Community Beer Company is the first North Texas brewer to play with the wheat wine style with the recent release of the Minivan. Conceived by head brewer Jamie Fulton to celebrate the birth of his third son -- and presumably to cement his image as suburban dad -- the Minivan is anything but dull and conventional. Brewed with 60% German wheat, the Minivan is finished off with the same ale yeast used in their Mosaic IPA as well as a touch of Belgian yeast from their witbier to end up with a hefty 10.8% ABV and a taste that might surprise you.
Minivan is heavily malted, more so than most beers and surprisingly so for those accustomed to the American strong IPA. It is amber in color with tastes of sweet, dark wheat, some heavy toast but not roasty like a stout. The wheat flavor is unique blended with the barley malt, retaining that bready flavor but with not much bitterness at all. It is very different from a brighter wheat beer like the German hefeweizen, but like the hefeweizen it has a soft and velvety mouthfeel, almost thick and chewy. The witbier yeast lends a very subtle estery twist at the finish, adding some depth and leaving the palate clean.
Although sweet the Minivan is never cloying, and can be a refreshing after-dinner drink for warmer seasonal weather headed our way. If you must pair it with food, the natural choice is a flame-grilled steak with a simple loaf of freshly baked bread.
Availability: A limited release that is draft only for now, to be found at better beer establishments around North Texas.