Gratzer or Grodziskie is a nearly forgotten beer style, a hoppy, smoked-wheat ale, originating in the Polish city of Grodzisk (known under German occupation as Gratz). Ron Pattinson’s The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beers, describes the beer as having met its demise in the late twentieth century. This Hooksett, New Hampshire’s White Birch Brewing has decided to save the style from extinction, though, as its spring seasonal.
Like Harpoon with its Long Thaw, and Sierra Nevada with its Ruthless Rye, White Birch has set out to brew something slightly more interesting and substantial for the slow transition into spring. According to the label, just as Spring is “somewhere between warm and cold,” First Sparrow is “somewhere between weird and quaffable.”
That’s actually a fairly apt description, but don’t get the impression that this beer is weird in a bad way. The beer pours a rather normal golden yellow color with lots of visible bubbles. The small white head fizzles out pretty quickly. The beer has a light body, but it’s not overly thin. There’s a light smell of wood smoke immediately on the nose, as though one of the neighbors is having a bonfire. That smokiness always lingers in the back, but never overpowers the other flavors. Instead, it adds an interesting counterpoint. With the bready and cracker-like malt, it gives an idea of toast. With the fruity hops, it makes one think of grilled pineapple. The other flavors present will be familiar to any hefeweizen fans. There’s banana sweetness, a mild spiciness and juicy lemon and floral hops. Each sip starts sweet and juicy and finishes dry with the smoke.
Since the Grodziskie is a nearly extinct beer, it would be hard to compare the First Sparrow to style. What can be said is that First Sparrow is a great beer. Hefeweizen drinkers especially will find enough familiarity here to draw them in, and enough novelty to make for something exciting. With luck, maybe White Birch will start a new Grodziskie craft beer trend. If not, though, they’ve got the market practically cornered (this article states that some other US brewers have tried the style) on a very interesting style.