SIERRA NEVADA has never paid much heed to boundaries. As forefathers of American Pale Ale and American Barleywine, innovators in brewing technology (e.g. the now-infamous hop torpedo), and early adopters of (or even investors in) cultivars from Cascade to Citra, Ken Grossman and company would rather rewrite the rules than play by them. So came as a bit of a surprise when in 2009 they introduced a traditional Hefeweiss to their year-round roster even before launching a bona fide IPA.
What wasn’t surprising was how Kellerweis found ways to be distinctive and earn its place in that lean lineup. Sierra rarely plumps for sweet when they could opt for bitter, but no such opportunity exists with Hefeweizens. The style’s distinctly spritzy combination of a clove phenol and banana ester would just not respond well to the palate-scraping bitterness popular in West Coast brews. Many American brewers go bananas (apologies) instead, churning out beers as sweet and unsubtle as Runts. Sierra, thankfully, tiled Kellerweis towards then phenolic side, emphasizing its clove spiciness, waft of medicinals, and faint smokiness. A solid handful of banana esters and vanilla in the aroma maintain an overall impression of balance in a body that’s full for the style at 3.5 Plato.
Kellerweis pours with a fountain of golden effervescence in the glass and on the tongue, but the head is regrettably meek. That may also reflect a lesser percentage of wheat in the body, as its distinctive texture is also rather understated. Kellerweis’s entire tail end seems to taper, in fact, leaving off a smidge watery instead of with a sprightly upward twist. This may be a result of age, though: Hefeweizen is a style heavily dependent upon freshness and this bottle was reaching the edge of its prime lifespan. Considering its strong fundamentals and Sierra Nevada’s pedigree, it’s safe to assume a brand new bottle would have scored at least two points higher.
Altogether it seems there’s little left to say with Hefeweizens that hasn’t already been covered by the original masters of Bayern, but Sierra Nevada found a niche nonetheless. It may not be the best—but as with all their other brews it remains distinctly their own.
Served: 12 oz bottled August 6, 2013