There can only be one undistributed beer of the week. The competition is fierce in San Diego's beer community, but someone has to take the title. This week's best undistributed beer is...
NORTH PARK BEER CO: WILDFIRE
ABV: 4.9 percent
Pair with: Strawberry salad with feta cheese
Witbiers are known their intense Belgian taste with spice-driven notes of rosemary. That's why we are a big fan of this beer; it's not typical and doesn't feature spice. Instead, it maintains some of the witbier characteristics, but ditches the traditional ones that can be overbearing. While it does have an enjoyable, wheat-like taste, it steers clear of that lingering banana yeast characteristic that is more common. It is light-bodied, crisp and full of citrus notes, and at 4.9 percent, it's easy to gulp down.
Wildfire comes to us from Kelsey McNair, head brewer at North Park Beer Co. Kelsey says that this beer is special to him for a few reasons, one being that it's not something he typically brews.
"We definitely wanted a beer that would fit into the Belgian-style, wit category, a beer to satisfy the wheat beer drinker. I don't necessarily like to brew a lot of wit biers. It's not really a style I ever go for," McNair said. "I used a non-conventional wheat strain for a wit. We used an Abbey Ale yeast, which we had used on a Belgian pale ale. I feel like I have a much better handle on the fermentation profile. The beer is an equal mix of wheat and pilsner malt and then there's some oats. Even though it's a dry beer, the oats add a bit of creaminess to it."
Wildfire is indeed creamy for a wit. It's also more balanced while remaining very light-bodied. There is a strong fruity characteristic to the brew, not one that you would usually see with a coriander, fennel, rosemary-based wit. There's a reason for that: this beer is zested with a special fruit that is atypical.
"At the end of fermentation, we zested up like 12-and-a-half pounds of Buddha's hand. It is really bright, citrus and lemony. That sat in the fermenter for three days before we transferred it over. You get all this nice, Belgian fruit with a citrus-y counter balance. You get a spritzy carbonation that has a nice texture to it," he said.
Where does one get the idea to work with Buddha's hand, which is rarely ever seen utilized in this style of beer? McNair had a little help from the newest member of his team, his assistant brewer.
"The suggestion [for using Buddha's hand] actually came from Joaquin, my assistant brewer. He had played around with that and had made a Golden Belgian Strong Ale at Border X, where he used Buddha's hand," he said. "It just turns out that it is in season right now, and it's only in season from November to January. It's really interesting to work with because it's all pith. There's no fruit, it's just pith and zest. The pith is not bitter like most citrus."
Wildfire may seem like an odd thing to call this light and sip-able beer. The name of this brew actually comes from a meaningful place, close to home for the McNairs.
"We were hunting for a name, which was exhausting because trying to find names these days is so hard. So we were looking and my wife grew up in East Tennessee. She actually grew up in the area where the fires recently impacted everyone. The name was her suggestion and we decided we were going to donate some of the proceeds from the beer to the cause," McNair said.
McNair's favorite part of this brew is similar to ours: the way the fruit stands out and changes the taste of this witbier for the better.
"I love the fruit character and the brightness. To me, it has all the nice things about a lower-ABV Belgian beer," he said. "I try to keep my Belgians on the cleaner end. That's my approach to everything really. How can I make it cleaner and a little bit more focused? So that way it doesn't get all crazy fruity. I'm not a big fan of the spicy, yeast-driven flavors. I try to keep all the seasonings out."
This beer is currently available to try on tap at North Park Beer Co. Get it while it's cold!
3038 University Ave., North Park. northparkbeerco.com