A Look at Two of the World’s Best Wheat Beer Brewers
June 24, 2004 Written by jercraigs
Toronto, CANADA -
Where do the best German style wheat beers in the world come from? It may surprise you that the answer is not entirely obvious. According to their current status on Ratebeer three of the best hail from Toronto, Freising, Germany and New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Two of the highest rated wheat beers on RateBeer include Denison’s Weissbeer, and New Glarus Solstice Weiss, with ratings comparable to Weihenstephaner from Germany. The fact that according to Ratebeerians, two of the three top beers of this style are brewed in North America is in itself an interesting situation. The fact that brewers Michael Hancock and Daniel Carey both attended the 1987 class in brewing technology at the Siebel Institute of Technology, is an even more interesting coincidence. Was there something special in the air that year that inspired these two brewers to pursue this style of beer?
Michael Hancock grew up in southern England, and immigrated to Canada from England in 1976 to take a job with Molson as their energy and environmental engineer. He eventually participated in their production-training program where he was exposed to all aspects of Molson’s brewing activities. After leaving Molson in 1986, Michael decided to attend the Siebel Institute in order to hone his knowledge of brewing theory.
Michael had known Prince Luitpold of Bavaria since 1981, and they began working together in 1989 when he began working as the original brewer at the newly opened Denison’s brewpub in Toronto. Michael later became the driving force behind Denison’s both as the head brewer and supervising assistant brewers, some of who have gone on to work with other local microbreweries since the brewpub closed.
Michael counts wheat beers and pilsener amongst his favorite styles. He cites the Weissbeer and Dunkel as his favorites of his own beer. When asked about his favourite beers besides those of his own creation, Michael initially made a face like I had asked him to navigate a minefield. But when pressed he relents admitting that “Warsteiner and Aventinus are frequent favorites but it changes often, depending on what’s in the fridge.”
Michael’s own preferences combined with the association with Prince Luitpold influenced the choice of European beers for Denison’s, where the philosophy was to produce a small number of authentic German style beers with consistently high quality. This is reflected in the Ratebeer ratings – all beers with more than two ratings earned a rating of 3.2 or higher.
Unfortunately, as reported in <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/Story.asp?StoryID=136> Oakes Weekly issues with the landlord lead to Denison’s closing its doors in January, 2003. The beer lives on though, with Michael making use of the facilities at Mill St. and Black Oak Brewing Co. to keep pumping out his wheat beer. In future Michael hopes to have the Weissbeer available in bottles (something for which there is already strong pent up demand for in Toronto) and eventually re-introduce the Dunkel.
For most people their first thoughts of Wisconsin involve cheese or perhaps the Green Bay Packers, not world-class Belgian and German influenced beers - unless of course they are familiar with the array of beers produced by Daniel Carey and the folks at New Glarus Brewing Company. In 2003, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado named New Glarus the Best Small Brewery in America, and Daniel Carey the Best American Brewmaster. No small feat considering the festival features a beer list numbering in the thousands, from some of the best breweries in the country each year.
Daniel received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Malting and Brewing Science from the University of California at Davis in 1982. Daniel apprenticed with the Ayinger Brewery near Munich in 1987, and in the same year earned the distinction of being the class valedictorian of the Siebel Institute’s diploma course. Daniel has worked with numerous breweries throughout the United States while helping install new breweries with JVNW, and was employed as a Production Supervisor with Anheuser-Busch prior to founding New Glarus Brewing with his wife Deborah (who is a native of Wisconsin) in 1993.
A number of factors influenced their choice of location including Deborah’s desire to return to Wisconsin and a demographics study that indicated that Madison would be a good place to locate a brewery. Daniel also describes New Glarus as a great small town in which to raise their daughters, noting that it reminds him of the California of the 1970’s that he remembers fondly, and says that it also feels a lot like Germany.
There is a definite European feel to New Glarus. Located in the heart of Green County in Southern Wisconsin, there is a strong European influence, even declaring themselves “America’s Little Switzerland” on <a hrefhttp://www.swisstown.com>their website. The local landscape is quite similar to that of Glarus, Switzerland and has been attracting Swiss settlers for over 100 years. The brewery is just one of many unique businesses in New Glarus, which also boasts an authentic Swiss bakery and an array of authentic Swiss cuisine. Ruef’s Meat Market for example, smokes their own meats and makes Swiss specialties such as kalberwurst and landjaegers.
New Glarus is probably best known on Ratebeer for their Belgian inspired fruit beers such as their highly rated Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart. They also include two bocks, another wheat beer, a zwickel, and more in their stable of European style brews. Daniel is quick to point out that they do make American style beers as well, such as their “Totally Naked” lager. He goes on to say that “I really enjoy making different types of beers. Our brewery is all about TASTE so we make many very different styles from light lager to Eisbock with IPA’s etc. in the middle. As a small brewery we are not glamorous or efficient, our strength lies in making diverse flavors.”
Daniel plays the diplomat when asked which of his own beers is his favorite, saying “You can’t ask me that! That’s like asking a mom which is her favorite kid.” I think many people would be surprised to hear that he lists an “Ice Cold Fresh Regular Coors out of a long neck on a hot summer day!!” as one of his favourite beers other than his own. Other favorites include Rodenbach Grand Cru, Reichelbrau Pilsner, Schlenkerla Weizen Rauch and any good cask ale. “All of these beers taste good to me because I drank them in their ‘place of origin’.” According to Daniel beer is best consumed in a quiet pub in its homeland. In the case of Coors for example “it is best in a dive cowboy bar like "Haps" in Helena, Montana.”
Daniel counts bohemian pilsner and sour brown ales amongst his favourite styles, but feels that an over emphasis on categories and styles can be a disservice to the craft brewing industry. If asked, “What style of beer is this?" his answer is "It’s MY style!" Future plans at New Glarus include a fresh batch of their Apple Ale or perhaps a Weizen Eisbock.
So when it comes right down to it, it seems that having attended the Siebel Institute together seems not to have been an influential factor in Michael and Daniel’s quests to make great wheat beers. I find the similarities of their bios intriguing: the time at Siebel, stints working with the big guys, German influences and of course much deserved appreciation here at Ratebeer. It is likely though that they share many of these coincidences with others in the brewing industry if you look for them. I suppose now I have nothing left to do but stroll over to the fridge and help myself to a wheat beer.