AT CHICAGOLAND BEVERAGE retailers one of the most constantly sought-after beers (and thus also the shelf space most constantly vacant) is Three Floyds Gumballhead. Plenty of other brews are more rarefied, of course, including several even brewed by Three Floyds themselves. But many are limited releases or particularly expensive bombers while Gumballhead is a relatively unassuming year-round American Pale Wheat Ale sold in common six-packs. Its devotees hardly ever fail to ask after it, however infrequent their success, and those inexperienced begin to chime in just to see what all the fuss is about. Yea, and so fame begets fame. And then sometimes it simply appears in the most unassuming of places, stripped of reverence and just a beer again, sitting on the shelf alongside all the others. Yea, and so is life.
Gumballhead pours a color between golden and amber, a little hazy but clear enough to make out its persistent carbonation. Its head is sticky and persistent, hinting at the red wheat in its grain bill that also provides a prickly pepperiness to the mouthfeel that complements its Amarillo hops quite naturally. Gumballhead is still less obviously wheaty than such style peers as Oberon or A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, lighter in body, and far more focused on lemon citrus and pine in its aroma. In fact overall it is closer to standard pale ale than many others in its category. But its bitterness, high for the style at 35 IBU, is still less than most pale ales or even what its own aroma would suggest. And here the wheat does its undercover work, so to speak, substantiating the back end of the beer with enough flavor to make it interesting without complicating its taste too much. Those Amarillo hops, a bit tart and plenty flavorful without being brash, are given plenty of space to shine. Deservedly so. Meanwhile, malts are understated–present enough to bear up the body and carry the juiciness of the hops, but hard to pick out on their own. ABV of around 5.5% hardly a factor and the finish is crisp.
Its easy-going yet tart flavor makes Gumballhead an attractive paring with everything from pizza to salad. It must also be acknowledged as a pioneer of the style, now more than a decade old and predating the likes of 312. Yet Gumballhead is no longer the best-in-show and is frankly a little overrated, especially considering how much more consistently available one can find its Lagunitas competitor–and for less.
Served: 12 oz bottle (The WIndsor Tavern, Chicago)