New Belgium Mothership Wit & Four Peaks Sunbru
Last night I stepped out to join a few ladies of AZ Girls Pint Out, a little group that gets together to drink and enjoy craft beer. We met at a new restaurant called Spitfire Grill and Tavern in south Tempe and tried a few microbrews from their extensive list that included local, organic, canned, and even gluten-free varieties. It was a really wonderful evening and I met some really nice people. I’m going to try to make time to attend some of the events in the future and hopefully meet more women who have a passion for craft beer. It’s not just a man’s world.
The first beer I tried was New Belgium’s Mothership Wit, an organic wheat beer, or witbier, on tap. Everyone was very intrigued with me bringing my camera to the restaurant, but I managed to get a decent picture out of the hazy golden yellow brew without too much flash getting in the way. When it was initially set on the table in front of me, it sported a finger thick creamy white head that left behind sheets of sticky lacing formed by the tiniest bubbles. It had decent head retention and the lace deteriorated at the same pace I drank the Wit.
There was something very herbal, spicy and sweet about the scent right from the start, which I later found out was thanks to coriander – this seems to be a popular spice with witbiers. Hints of wheat and a light lemony fragrance also wafted from the glass, but the coriander once again shone the brightest. I found myself searching for the orange-peel essence of other witbiers as well, but instead found the lemon, which wasn’t bad, but it gave it a lighter feel in the nose.
The taste was very much like the smell, starting the with the zesty coriander and a tart wheatiness, and ending on a dry yeasty note. A hint of lemon presented itself throughout the entire drink, but I found it to lose most of its grip about halfway through, where it hid under the herbs until the very end when it re-emerged with a mild bitterness. The Mothership Wit holds a lighter spicy carbonation over a thin mouthfeel, and I ended up wishing that it had a bit more body – maybe with more malt and/or carbonation? – like I’ve discovered in other witbiers.
All in all, not a bad beer, and I love that it’s organic. I am a huge advocate for more organic products, and organic craft brews are certainly something I’m more than willing to support.
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The second beer I tried was Four Peaks SunBru (Tribute) Kölsch-style Ale in a can. This was my first craft beer from a can, and I gotta say, I can understand the logic behind canned beer versus bottled (UV rays and such), but I still would rather drink bottled beer – even if it’s ultimately being poured into a glass. And maybe it was just the Sunbru, so I’m not completely writing off canned beer as SanTan Brewery sells all of their beer in cans, and it’s very popular around here, but I definitely tasted a difference.
It was brought to my attention today by some people I follow on Twitter that Sunbru is labeled a “tribute” beer, but the origins to this title are a bit hidden. I asked why this might be after a little bit of mostly fruitless research and it was suggested by olllllo that the marketing team at the time thought it wasn’t as important as just getting their beer out there without the stigma of a previously famous beer attached to it. So after much googling, I came across two articles that help to explain the history behind the Sunbru being a tribute, but not why they choose to keep it secret; or just not publicize it. Apparently, Sunbru was made as a tribute to the Sunbru beer that was first produced in October 1933 by Arizona Brewing Company (entire history here, but I’ll paraphrase it). Less than 6 months later, in April 1934, the brewery was bought out and Sunbru was replaced by a beer named Apache, which caused people to inadvertently refer to Arizona Brewing Co as Apache Brewing. The beer titled A-1 didn’t replace Apache beer until January 1943 but was credited to saving the brewery from certain bankruptcy after changing ownership no less than 3 times previously. Around 1952, after surviving prohibition and its repeal and record sales both locally and nationally, the bigger breweries were starting to take their toll. Anheuser-Busch and Pabst started moving west to join Coors in massive advertising campaigns as well as building new breweries and took out more than 185 smaller regional breweries during the 50s, leaving many others gasping for breath in their wake. A-1 Brewery (renamed after the popularity of the beer) held on, though weakly, even after a legal battle with Busch in regards to their usage of an eagle on their labels that Busch claimed was too similar to theirs. A-1 ended up replacing the eagle with a knight on horseback as well as introducing a new ale, A-1 Ale. Many more changes were made in order to keep up with the heavy competition, including another change of ownership and the introduction of a line of premium beer, which had its hits and misses. In 1964, after two longtime executives of the company passed away, the quality that A-1 had come to be respected for was taken for granted, and it is believed that to cut costs, save money and increase production, more water was added to the beer. Customers noticed, and sales dropped drastically. Finally, on October 8th, 1964, A-1 brewery was purchased by Carling Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio, a subsidiary of Canadian Breweries, Ltd. and the brand was lost forever. (All information was found at A-1 Beer Prints and gathered by Ed Sipos)
After being one of the most popular beers/breweries across the state, and even throughout some of the country, it’s hard for me to understand why Four Peaks doesn’t feel the need to talk about why they tribute their Sunbru to the A-1 brand, but to each their own I suppose. In the meantime, a quick recap of the Four Peaks sunbru:
The Sunbru poured a very light, clear straw yellow (not properly represented in the photograph, apologies) and barely formed a thin collar or ring of foam that left no lace. Not very impressive from the starting gates.
Remember that time I said a beer smelled like soy sauce? Well, I think the atmosphere while I tried this beer also made my nose a little eager to identify with something else, and the first thing I smelled was peanut butter. Weird, right? It didn’t last more than a few sniffs, and maybe it was more peanutty, but either way, I’m now closer to being convinced that my nose is crazy. The scents that stuck around through my drinking of the beer were more convincing, being a mixture of some sweet malts, very faint lemon, and light metallic hops that also caused it to smell mildly spicy.
The taste was faint. I would even go so far as to say it was a bar above flavorless. There were a few lemony hops and a mellow herbal-ness, not to mention it ended slightly bitter, but I think most of what I tasted was due in large part to the aroma as I had the glass to my mouth (aka: under my nose). The consistency was rather thin and stopped just short of watery, a place I thought I’d never toss a microbrew, and I was vaguely disappointed. I’ve come to expect certain things from craft beers, but this one might be considered a novice beer for someone starting to get into microbrews. A month ago, I probably would have gladly drank this beer without a second thought. I’m just glad I jumped in head first and never looked back, and though this isn’t my favorite Four Peaks product, at least I can say I tried it. From now on, I’ll stick with their darker beers.
One last note: Nimbus Brewery, based out of Tucson, has just started making an A-1 tribute pilsner as well. According to BeerPHXation, “someone not affiliated with a brewery bought the A-1 name years ago and recently brokered a deal with Nimbus to have it brewed.” I’m fascinated by all of this history and will continue to research information and hopefully get a chance to find and try the Nimbus version someday soon.