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...
Stone Brewing Company: Call It What You Want
Pair with: A cheese and charcuterie board
Take your average hef and flip it upside down, add some fresh fruit peel, subtract that standard, overwhelming banana flavor you expect and add more alcohol. Next, flip it right side up, and ta-da: Call It What You Want is born. It's big, filled with tropical flavor, and it throws all that you assume a Hefeweizen to be right out the window. The juicy brew might be strong in alcohol content but it is as easy to sip as a glass of O.J. in the morning.
This beer comes to us from Kris Ketcham, Liberty Station Brewing Manager for Stone Brewing Company. Ketcham took some time to talk about this beer that he has brewed up once a year for about three years now.
Upon tasting, you realize that the brew itself is bigger - much bigger - than your average Hefeweizen or Weizenbock. It sits pretty at 11 percent ABV and offers a slight banana flavor that you would expect, but with a more tropical, juicelike taste and a tangerine color. This beer is something that we can see kicking back with as a strong, summertime classic.
This brew, which doesn't fit the criteria for any one beer style, is made to be stronger on purpose, as per Stone's standard style of big, bold beers that aren't skimping out on unique flavor profiles.
"When we first started, we didn't want to brew too traditional of styles that we found boring, in a sense. We thought maybe we would take the Hefeweizen to the big level we like to brew at, as well. The first brewer we had was Matt Courtright, and he wanted to brew a tangerine hef, and I wanted to brew a lemon hef. We brought it up to [former Brewmaster] Mitch Steele, and we were like, 'We are going to make a lemon and tangerine hef.' He told us that we had to do something different to make it pop out more. So we said, 'Let's just imperialize it.' That's not something you typically see done."
Although this fruity and balanced beer is easy to drink, it is not easy to brew. The wheat malt is hard and heavy to mix, and it's hard to get a good yield with this brew, Ketcham explained. The recipe is not too complicated but requires some effort for a heavier, fruit-based beer.
"This is just a base of two-row, a split of white wheat and red wheat, and instead of a normal Hefeweizen that is usually 5 to 6 percent alcohol, we made this one about 10.5 percent alcohol. We also added a s* ton of lemon and tangerine, about half a pound per barrel. [There's] a lot of banana presence is there, and that's all from the yeast," he said.
We had to ask where the "whatever, man" vibe of this beer's name came from. Ketcham says it had to do with the beer's offbeat style.
"The name came about because originally we wanted to call it a German name, so we were going to go with Hemmacher and Schlemmer from the movie 'Beerfest,'" Ketcham said. "We went through the whole thing, were ready to use it and then someone was like, 'You know that's the name of a German magazine and we could potential get sued,' and we're like, 'Oh, no!' So, all the sudden everyone started throwing out different names for the beer. We called it a hef, but several people were saying, 'No that's a weizenbock, or that's a this or that, it's not a hef.' Eventually we were like, oh whatever, just call it what you want. That name stuck."
Call It What You Want is only available once per year and it seems to be one of the most awaited beers. It's just one of those rarities that exudes brewing skill and creativity. Most beer lovers will be happy to enjoy this one while it's on tap for a few weeks. That includes Ketcham, who loves the juicy brew for its summertime taste and for the memories it holds.
"I love how easy it is to drink; it's dangerous. It just smells like orange juice and bananas. I love how it's just like a hot, summer day kind of beer. You can kick back and have it, and it's refreshing but also strong," Ketcham said. "It also brings back some memories of Matt Courtright for me. He was a brewer at Stone who passed away, so we brew this beer around this same time that he passed away each year. That makes it more special. It's an awesome beer, and it's a fun one to remember him by. I just remember the fun times singing 'Call It What You Want' by Foster the People while we brewed this, just acting like a bunch of idiots."
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station. 2815 Historic Decatur Rd. stonebrewing.com