I’ve accepted that I’m moving to Kansas next week. Just for a year, mind you, but along with the whole life upheaval thing I’ve gotten a number of questions about how I’ll keep contributing here at VBR. Fear not! Instead of packing that past few months I’ve been on a singular mission to track down as much of my to-do list (including some old New Beer Resolutions) as possible. The result is a fairly deep queue of reviews that are already written, a slew of tasting notes from visits (including a final few in the next several days), bottles to take with us, and of course a few seasonals in the fridge to welcome Summer. Over the next few weeks I’ll publish the first of the big backlog, and it being summer there’s no better place to start than Wits, Hefes, and Wheat Ales which brings us to Champion. With one of the more diverse menus from the get-go, Champion has really honed their canned lineup with the intermingling of continental flavors. This one also happens to be a collaboration, but not in the way you’d think…
Positive Jam, Champion Brewing Co. (Charlottesville, VA)
Pale Wheat Ale, 4.5% ABV, 20 IBU
Presentation: Can pour into tulip.
Appearance: More hazy pale than cloudy white, a goldenrod core flecked by an aura of yeasty goodness. The head poured moderate and while fizzy kept for a few minutes. The carbonation in the foam prevented any lattice from forming.
Taste: Very light and dewy, and the nose is where you pick up the lavender. It’s certainly not floral but nor is it really potpourri – the “dewy” is more a sense of freshness and I would not have placed lavender as the ingredient without the tasting notes (in other words, don’t be afraid of it). That combined with a backbone that is suggestive of coriander but not truly a dominant spice makes the body closer to a Pilsner or Kölsch in heft than an Ale. The first time I truly pulled out lavender on its own was in that finish, and you really have to keep to technique – sniff/half breath in, sip, sniff/full breath – to truly appreciate that original subtlety.
Mouth Feel: Very gentle on the tongue, with the spice mix only lightly teasing underneath and at the back corners. The carbonation which produced the rough head appeared for effect only and did not affect the taste. Any hop or bitter presence one might get from a Pale Wheat Ale is wholly masked by the lavender.
Overall: You might be forgiven for having not heard of The Hold Steady, or more so for not recognizing the beer’s name as eponymous for their 2004 song of the same name. It’s a trippy little homage to American exceptionalism if tongue is planted fully in cheek. It’s hard to imagine the deep cutting riffs and this beer pairing at first, but then you turn off the bass, crank the treble, and imagine a sweltering tailgate as the sound test echos from the pavilion stage, and it all makes more sense. As counterculture as the song appears, you can also see Positive Jam the beer as a nod towards the American need to reinvent or reinterpret Old World classics. For all the times a Witbier may have soaked up your stomach, or a typical Pale Wheat Ale’s bitterness left you with cottonmouth on a hot summer day, you probably won’t experience that here. The spice and florals are more suggestive than cloying as they easily could have been, and for that this is a mild, very drinkable alternative to your typical summer beer.