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Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat

by: BeerAdvocate on 02-14-2007
During a promotional beer crawl last week, we had the pleasure of meeting Jake and Dick Leinenkugel—fifth-generation brewers from the Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI. Though the brewery has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Miller Brewing Company, the Leinenkugel spirit is more than apparent, as is the brewery’s cult following. Not only were the “Leinie” brothers quite passionate about beer—and very cool for a couple of old-timers—but they had beer lovers traveling upwards of 100 miles just to meet them and grab a pint of their brew. That’s love!

Leinenkugel's Sunset WheatSome of you might remember Leinenkugel’s Red being in the Boston market roughly a decade ago, but the beer that everyone traveled in for was the Boston release of Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat—brewed in response to customer demand, and to challenge Coors’s Blue Moon Belgian Wit. To our surprise, it’s brewed as a Belgian Wit (a spiced wheat ale), but fermented with a lager yeast strain instead of a traditional Belgian ale yeast strain. Interesting.

The Taste
We sampled quite a few on draught, from a cool-looking hourglass-shaped vessel. Cloudy, hazed, yellow with a short white head that holds together well. Aromas of tart citrus (leaning toward lemon) mingle with the scent of the big honking orange wedges hanging on the edge of our glasses. We immediately pick up on a very distinct and deep-rooted fruity blueberry note that floats on top. Hints of white pepper, coriander and faint mint beneath. Mild wheat character, and crisp in a moderate body. Hop bitterness? Just enough to balance. Suggestions of Lemonhead candy, lemon juice and tarragon. Finishes with a lemon zest and fermented wheat twang, some yeasty notes and a light graininess on a drying palate.

Final Thoughts
Apparently, we’re good tasters: As Jake and Dick said, we nailed that blueberry note, which, according to them, few do. In fact, their brewmasters actually added a “blueberry top note” to the beer—not sure if that means real blueberries or not, but it’s an interesting twist and an adored flavor for many New Englanders. Overall, we found this offering to be quite flavorful for a beer swimming up the mainstream; it’s unique, highly drinkable at 4.9 percent alcohol by volume and well-branded. However, as a new brand in the market, even with its cult following, Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat is going to face some extremely tough competition. Not only is Boston a tough nut to crack, but Blue Moon and Allagash White are well-entrenched.

Sunset Wheat is available on draught in Boston at select bars now, but look for it in six-packs of longneck bottles in March. There’s no definitive word as to whether they’ll be releasing any of their other brands here in Boston, but it sounds like they’ll be using the wheat to test the waters.

For more info: leinie.com

Respect Beer.
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