Ever since my business unit got stuck in Austin for nearly a month during Hurricane Ike, living out of the Embassy Suites on South Congress, my kids have been deeply infatuated with the place. Not Austin, mind you, but that hotel. The "Nightly Manager's Reception" has a lot to do with that. For a few hours in the evening, the hotel lobby turns into a traveler's happy hour, with complimentary beverages and snacks. The kids dig it because they get to indulge in Shirley Temples. I dig it for the free beer.
Usually, the offerings sit squarely in the watery American pilsner camp, but every once in a while, they branch out. On a recent trip back to Austin and Embassy Suites, I lucked out to find Boulevard Brewing Company's Unfiltered Wheat Beer on tap. As far as craft beers go, this is an easy choice for a bar whose goal isn't to offer the most exciting, complex brews out there, but rather to have something to serve alongside free pretzels. That's not to say that it's bad, because it isn't. It's just an easy beer to drink. There are no particularly assertive flavors, and it's relatively low in alcohol (4.4 percent). In short, it's a crowd-pleaser.
As my kids got sugared up and gorged themselves on popcorn, I sat down with my glass of Boulevard, a plate of pretzels, and some surprisingly good country-style mustard. The beer was a deep, hazy ochre, darker than I'd expect from a wheat beer. It had a thin but creamy head and striking opacity throughout. A lot of unfiltered wheat beers end up being just a bit cloudy, but this one was nearly impenetrable.
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The aroma was clean, with mostly floral notes and clean yeast showing through. Subtle hints of banana and cloves competed with a slightly metallic edge that some might describe as citrusy. All in all, the aromatics were not particularly pronounced, though generally pleasant.
On the tongue, hops and yeast hit at the same time, offering a nice round breadiness, like the smell that comes wafting out of the Sunbeam bakery on Washington Ave., punctuated by a spicy undercurrent. The pleasantly floral and spicy hops linger as bitterness on the soft palate, but are chased out by a malty finish.
The flavors are very clean and well balanced, with yeast, malt and hops playing a carefully calibrated game of tug-o-war, but the brew lacks depth. I kept wishing for more character to develop through the sip. Finally, after the finish seems to have dissipated, hints of green olive develop in the back of the throat, like an aromatic ghost -- odd for a wheat beer, but intriguing. I'd drink this again if offered a glass, but I don't know that I'd go out of my way to get it. There are much better examples of the genre, and you can always just skip straight to the source material and get a good Hefeweizen. If, however, you find yourself holed up at the Embassy Suites, I'd pray for this instead of unending Heine happy hours.