New Glarus Brewing Imperial Weizen

August 03 2011 - 10:39 PM

Ten years ago I moved to Chicago and my beer tastes started changing right away.  Among other new styles, I started drinking hefeweizen beers such as Summit, Hacker-Pschorr, and eventually wheat beers such as Hoegaarden.  For a while I was rarely seen without a tall beer glass topped by a lemon.  Then a light switched on, I stopped rinking hefes altogether and they didn't go near my palate for years as I became more and more drawn to IPA's and stouts.

Today, the beer landscape in Chicago has dramatically changed with the arrival of so many craft breweries in the last few years.  Hefe brewing has improved dramatically too, marked by beers such as Brooklyn Brewing's amazing Schneider Hopfen-Weisse collaboration which I got to try at Local Option Bar.  Then I tried New Glarus Imperial Weizen. 

New Glarus Brewing of Wisconsin pulled out of Chicago sometime in the late 90's to focus on meeting their local demand.  They may distribute to Indiana, Minnesota, and possibly Michigan, but this revered Wisconsin craft brewer has forever ceased Chicago distribution due to distribution issues.  Fortunately, there are plenty of Wisconsin transplants living here, many of whom are kind enough to grab some New Glarus during a return visit to the Badger State.  One such kind-hearted soul, Josh, recently brought back some Imperial Weizen for some of us in Chicago to try.  It would be worth the trip to travel there to get more.

The Imperial Weizen ranks at or near the top of the art form for hefes.  I've now tried it several times, and my only full pour of it was into a Stiegl rounded 20 oz. pint glass that really allowed it to open up.  The foam head on this beer is overwhelmingly huge and it takes several minutes to recede enough to even find the realized liquid.  Odors of sweet melons, pine, bread, and a bit of herb stream out of this bulbous top.  The beer itself is cloudy and opaque, a slightly straw colored orange.  Rich flavors of peaches, apricot, melons, and a bit of spice ripple through your palate and cascade down your throat to the hint of a bitter hoppy finish.  Overall, the mouthfeel is lush and a bit creamy but is never sticky or heavy. 

All in all, this is a sensational beer and can be savored in the glass for quite a while, never ceasing to remain enjoyable.  It is 9.7% alcohol, so the downside is that you will probably not drink more than one of these in one sitting.  Since you or someone else had to travel to Wisconsin to get it, you are likely to drink these sparingly anyway. 

–Mark Sheppard