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And now . . . Imperial Hefeweizen

Pyramid Imperial HefeweizenJust when you thought it was safe to go into the style pool again . . .

Today a press release from Pyramid Brewery announces the introduction of “Imperial Hefeweizen, the first in a line of new limited edition, specialty beers known as Pyramid’s ‘Brewers Reserve.’ ”

This on the heals of a loud discussion at Seen Through a Glass about Samuel Adams Halltertau Imperial Pilsner.

From the Pyramid press release:

“Pyramid pioneered the wheat beer market back in ’85 with the first year-round wheat beer brewed in the U.S. since prohibition and soon followed it up with our American style Hefe Weizen. Now we’re taking that wheat beer tradition one step further by introducing one of the first, if not the first, Imperial Hefeweizens brewed and distributed in the U.S.,” said Art Dixon, Seattle Head Brewer for Pyramid Breweries. “Our team is truly pumped to feed our passion for wheat beers in this new select Brewers Reserve release.”

Pyramid’s new Imperial Hefeweizen, like our flagship Hefe Weizen, is a smooth, unfiltered ale, but also features a pleasant hop flavor and a more full-bodied and robust taste. The limited edition ale is brewed in small batches of less than 120 barrels using the finest West Coast ingredients, combining 60% malted wheat with Nugget and Tettnang hops for a robust, yet surprisingly refreshing taste. Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen has an alcohol by volume level of 7.5%.

“Beer aficionados are in for a one-of-a-kind taste experience with our new Brewers Reserve beers,” said George Arnold, Master Brewer for Pyramid Breweries. “Starting with our inaugural Pyramid Imperial Hefeweizen, these limited edition beers are specifically designed for those who want to take their craft beer experience to the next level.”

I don’t think everybody needs to get their knickers in a knot because Pyramid has invented this term (notice, I don’t say style). My beef with it would be that the name doesn’t tell me what this beer might taste like.

Let’s go back to Imperial or Double IPAs, which arguably started this naming trend a dozen years ago. The first was called Double IPA and as a group of generally similar beers emerged mostly West Coast (and mostly Southern California) brewers suggested it had become a new and definable style. This took several years, and I’ve already written about it.

A few breweries have since introduced beers they described as imperial pilsners (lower case intended), sometimes using those words as part of a brand’s name. I’m OK with that. It generally tells consumers about the beer – lots of pilsner malt, lots of hops, little (should be no, but life isn’t that good) fruity ale flavors. Just because they use the term doesn’t mean it ends up being a “style.”

(Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the company of Belgian brewers, but my interest in arguing about styles has seriously waned of late. I think the BJCP Guidelines are excellent for what they are intended – giving homebrew judges a blueprint for fairly scoring beers. I use them the several hours a year I judge homebrews. I don’t consult them to decide if I like the beers I otherwise drink.)

I had planned to write about Samuel Adams Halltertau Imperial Pilsner by now. Not so much to “evaluate” the beer as to discuss some technical hops stuff (after all, I am a geek) and about the beautiful Halltertau Mittelfrueh hop that the beer showcases. Other items to post here and other work got in the way, but soon, maybe tomorrow I will find time.

Still I’m not going to write about it as a “style.” It’s not. Maybe it will be some day, though I doubt it.

And imperial hefeweizen? It means nothing. In America hefeweizen tells you what about a beer? Go buy a bottle of Pyramid Hefe Weizen or Widmer Hefeweizen. Now find some Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat. Got some sorting out to do on the non-imperial stuff, don’t you think?

Pyramid is simply offering a clue about one beer. I lied when I typed I had no idea what Pyramid’s imperial might taste like – I expect it would be a bigger, bolder version of Pyramid Hefe. I understand they want the people who like that beer and who want to try something bigger and bolder to have a choice they sell.

I figure they aren’t really out to invent a new style. If they are then they are idiots.


19 Responses to And now . . . Imperial Hefeweizen

  1. Alan August 29, 2007 at 5:54 pm #

    Didn’t Southern Tier come out with this not-style first?

  2. Lew Bryson August 29, 2007 at 7:08 pm #

    Tell you what, Stan…for not really caring that much about styles right now, this is some of the angriest writing I’ve seen under your name in quite a while. I kinda like it, in an off-to-the-side kinda way.

  3. Jay Sheveck August 29, 2007 at 9:36 pm #

    What’s next? Imperial Skippy Peanut Butter, Double diet Pepsi-cola, Imperial 2% Milk…. Imperial-Stuff Oreo Cookies…. only a desperate copy writer would come up with this crap. Still, how does this beer taste?

  4. Stonch August 30, 2007 at 3:48 am #

    Need I even say how ludicrous I think this whole thing is?

    Best just to ignore it, though. It seems to be a localised problem! 😉

  5. Josquin August 30, 2007 at 4:32 am #

    Wow. Just wow.

    On the one hand, I think an extra-strong hefeweizen is a fun idea. I’ve only tried to homebrew one once, and it was a poorly executed experiment, but I’m convinced it can work very… convincingly.

    But when Pyramid–irony of ironies–comes out adding qualifiers to its already-shakily-used “hefeweizen,” what could we possibly expect? This brewery has already earned the U.S. the notoriety of making so many neutral-yeast hefeweizens that it actually requires research to find American-brewed Bavarian varieties. For the unversed consumer, this means being in a perpetual state of confusion as to what “hefeweizen” means (besides the waiter putting a lemon wedge in the glass). Of all the brewing companies that might have tried this, Pyramid is certainly the least entitled of them all.

  6. Loren August 30, 2007 at 4:33 am #

    Playing along with Pyramid…

    How is this Imperial? Is it the alcohol? Because I’ve seen quite a few NON-Imperial (does that make them Plebian?) HefeWeizens damn close to that ABV. Or is it the IBU level? Can’t be the hop choices because those are German hops (of origin anyway). Can someone come up with some parameters here. Before it’s added to the Impy pile that is.

    Waiting for Imperial Kolsch…anyday now.

    I wonder if Pyramid wasn’t the brewery here would anyone be as upset? At least it wasn’t Widmer though.

  7. brewer a August 30, 2007 at 5:02 am #

    I think it’s just really really unfiltered.

    I don’t have very many nice things to say about calling a beer a hefeweizen without that distinct german yeast character. Call it an American Wheat, but Hefeweizen automatically denotes banana, clove, and delicious in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever thought that about an “American Hefeweizen”

  8. Stan Hieronymus August 30, 2007 at 5:28 am #

    Back to Lew for a moment.

    I was simply going to link to the Pyramid press release in our Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner thread, but soon had too many words to fit in that little box for comments . . .

  9. Stan Hieronymus August 30, 2007 at 5:31 am #

    For Loren:

    How is this Imperial?

    It’s not.

    But I do have another idea. Somebody could open the Imperial Brewing Co.

    Then we could have Imperial Kolsch, Imperial Mild (see a comment from Martyn Cornell a while back), Imperial American Light Lager and, of course, Imperial Imperial (Double) IPA.

  10. SteveH August 30, 2007 at 5:55 am #

    “Just because they use the term doesn’t mean it ends up being a style.

    “(I don’t consult them to decide if I like the beers I otherwise drink.)”

    Truer words were never spoken.

    To Alan in the first response, and I think I answered your same post at BA this way, I thought Schneider had invented it first with Aventinus. 😉

  11. SteveH August 30, 2007 at 5:57 am #

    “Imperial-Stuff Oreo Cookies….”

    Oooh, now we’re on to something — served as dessert paired with a nice Imperial Stout! 🙂

  12. Stephen Beaumont August 30, 2007 at 6:03 am #

    Love the idea of the Imperial Brewing Company, Stan. Someone tell Tom Baker, and quick!

    But back to the new Pyramid brand, I’m surprised that no one as yet has noted that so-called “Imperial” hefeweizen already does exist, and it’s called weizen bock. (Which, I think our European friends should recognize, is in itself a stylistic conundrum, combining as it does top and bottom fermented styles.) So one presumes that it’s the hops that make this particular brand “Imperial”? That being the case, and returning to Josquin’s comment, should it need to be an actual hefeweizen first?

    Years ago, Mark Silva told me that he actually apologized to German brewers of hefeweizens for the mistreatment that certain U.S. brewers had inflicted upon the term. That pretty much sums up my views on the subject, but then again, I’m Canadian.

    (BTW, just OT, up in Edmonton, Alberta, the Alley Kat Brewing Company is making a Herbsweizen, a filtered weissbierwith named after the owner/brewer, Neil Herbst. It’s one of the finest kristals I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.)

  13. Stephen Beaumont August 30, 2007 at 6:04 am #

    Damn! Steve just outposted me with the weizen bock reference. Beat me by minutes, he did!

  14. SteveH August 30, 2007 at 6:12 am #

    I left the Weizeneisbock for you Stephen! 😉


  15. SteveH August 30, 2007 at 6:16 am #

    “Herbsweizen, a filtered weissbierwith named after the owner/brewer, Neil Herbst.”

    Hmm, Herbst being the German word for Autumn, does this place the Herbsweizen in the Imperial, Autumn, Krystalweizen style? 😀

  16. Stan Hieronymus August 30, 2007 at 6:23 am #

    Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse might fit in there somewhere, although its brewers are way too sensible to use the Imperial monicker.

  17. Loren August 30, 2007 at 6:45 am #

    Stan, I actually jokingly posted about such a brewery on BA a few years back. Hook…line…and sinker to boot.

    I think I called them Imperialistic Brewing Co. from Overthetop, OR.

    Damn…I should’ve TM’d the name then!

  18. Alan August 30, 2007 at 8:37 am #

    SteveH: I don’t know that I posted on BA but I sure love when I get to be 21% as clever as the next guy(s). You would think I would get used to it..but no…;-)

    As for the utility of “imperial” I thought I saw the height of absurdity with a IIPA until I thought I saw a IDIPA.

  19. SteveH August 30, 2007 at 10:25 am #

    Alan – my mistake, someone else pointed out the Southern Tier brew at BA.

    But the IDIPA made me LOL! Can’t say as I’ve seen that. Yet.

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