Being a beer geek can end up being an expensive hobby. I swear, when I walked to Downeast Beverage, I was just planning on picking up a cheap six-pack to beat the heat – probably Sebago’s Hefeweizen or some Old Scratch Amber. 8 bucks, in and out with some cold beer. But when I saw El Hefe, a “hefewine” from a brewery I’d never heard of, I had to jump on the new and exciting. One ten-dollar bomber later, I was dazed, confused and back in my apartment.
A second look reveals that the “Manly Men Beer Club” isn’t a new Maine brewery. Instead, it’s a line of special beers from the brewers up at Atlantic Brewing in Bar Harbor. Like the Pugsley’s Signature brews from Shipyard or the Sebago Single Batch beers, Manly Men is a chance for the Atlantic brewers to play with wild and wacky beer styles. So far, there are three different brews on the shelf; a barleywine-hefeweizen hybrid (El Hefe), a smoked barleywine (Sea Smoke), and an ale brewed with ginger and molasses (Blackstrapped Molasses Ale).
I love the ancillary text that goes on to the bottles of special release beers, so I’ll transcribe the back of the El Hefe bottle in full.
The Manly Men Beer Club is proud to offer this new brew in its continuing quest to explore the outer reaches of the malt beverage universe.
Our head brewer, James Taylor*, was given the club’s challenge: brew a high gravity Hefeweizen while tempering the typical clove and banana notes. He began with a healthy amount of Bohemian Saaz hops, and a grain bill of equal parts malted barley & wheat berries. Then he swapped the German Weizen yeast in favor of an English Ale yeast, better suited for a Barleywine Ale.
The result is a complex yet delicate beer with a soft mouthfeel which warms yet doesn’t overpower. We like to think of this beer as sort of a cross trainer between the classic unfiltered wheat style and a barley-wine ale, hence the name “Hefewine.”
(*yes, he does play acoustic guitar)
So we’re looking at a hefe with less clove, less banana and more barleywine ballsiness? Sign me up!
The El Hefe pours way dark, a tawny brown with a thick tan head. If the beer takes only one characteristic from its hefeweizen mom, it is a wicked cloudy body with lots of yeast to swirl around. The nose is pretty much straight barleywine, with sticky-sweet caramel malt and a touch of roasty barley. The deviation into hefe territory is a serious spike of clove and Saaz spiciness, which makes the El Hefe smell a bit more like an eisbock than either of its parents.
This sucker is boozy on the first sip. The estery banana flavors you’d expect from a hefe aren’t here – probably a result of the English ale yeast. Instead, you’ve got a round, fresh-baked wheat bread flavor (and a touch of clove) up front, which is bum-rushed by hot alcohol. The balance is a bit off, to be honest. The barley part of a barleywine usually provides a bit of a backbone to a beer like this, and the wheat half of things doesn’t seem to be holding up quite enough. Definitely not a lack of flavor here – this is an in-your-face beer – but the flavors are overwhelmed by the alcohol. Definitely a sipper. As the beer warms up, the hop spiciness, barley roast and wheat flavors ramp up a bit – but so does the bracing alcohol.
Since I’m always pushing for more Maine brewers to try new things in the brewhouse, I want to commend Atlantic for trying something different with the Manly Men line. I’m excited to give the other two initial Manly Men beers a shot. Unfortunately, it looks like exploring “the outer reaches of the malt beverage universe” with the El Hefe pushed brewing a balanced brew into the backseat. An imperial hefeweizen is a fantastic idea, but this release tastes like it could use just a touch more tweaking.