A specific style of beer carries with it a specific set of expectations. Merely mention the words “wheat beer,” and my palate recoils slightly, as it reluctantly prepares itself for a swig of something light, banana-laced and usually accompanied by a wedge of citrus fruit. When I popped open a bottle of Anchor Brewing's new Winter Wheat — hitting bars and bottleshops today — I was not prepared for what came out of the glass.
[jump] The very name of Anchor's latest release reflects the Potrero Hill-based brewery's desire to steer clear of preconceived notions. Most drinkers associate wheat beer with the long days of summer. So when I gazed at the alluring, royal blue label of Winter Wheat I was hoping to taste seasonally-appropriate adjustments that would make this beer at least a touch different than it's warmer weather counterparts. To consider it a slight tweaking is a vast understatement. This is something altogether different.
Winter Wheat pours deep black, and drinks much more like a crisp porter or well-rounded doppelbock than it does any traditional wheat beer. The stylistic makeover comes courtesy of the beer's namesake grain. Anchor Brewmaster Mark Carpenter has sourced red winter wheat from a family farm just a stones throw from San Francisco. This hearty varietal is actually sown in November, harvested in June, and has an inherent richness that makes it popular for use in cakes and pastries. Also in the mash is a “Midnight” wheat malt from the Midwest, known for it's roasted, coffee-like essence. These ingredients combine to bring a darkness — in color and in flavor — to a style regarded for quite the contrary. In fact, pretty much the only element connecting it to a standard wheat is the body; feathery and effervescent on the tongue.
Defying expectations on the label and in the glass, Winter Wheat is a beautiful contradiction. And, most importantly, a tasty one. It will pair well with heartier fare familiar to the Thanksgiving table. I'm anxious to see how it stacks up against my world famous, exorbitantly-marshmallowed Sweet Potato Pie. A timely release means I won't have to wait long to find out.
Anchor Winter Wheat is now on the shelf at many of San Francisco's gourmet markets and liquor stores. Six packs will retail for $10.99. You can expect pints on tap by the end of the week at Toronado and The Page in the Lower Haight. But when it comes to this gratifying genre-bender, leave all other expectations at the door.