After more than a decade in a two-season climate I'd forgotten the joy of the first brew on a hot summer day. Now, the days are getting longer, the sun's getting higher, and the skin's getting tanner: it's time for the beers to get lighter. Leave the stouts and the porters to rest for a few months, I'm in the market for something light. And with a bright yellow sun high in the sky, this year’s first summer beer just had to come from a bottle with a bright yellow label. Out of Chicago's Goose Island Brewing Company comes 312 Urban Wheat. Yum!
The Pour: It's a wheat beer, so I gave the bottle a little swirl (some people roll their bottle on the tabletop) and then poured it into a tall lager glass. It came out a slightly hazy pale straw yellow; a bit lighter than most German wheats. The head is pale ivory, about an inch in height, with fine bubbles and fair to good retention. It’s highly carbonated, producing fine streams of bubbles right down to the last sip - the lager glass almost looks like an overgrown champagne flute filled with a fine Brut. The haziness persists, though 312 isn't as hazy as many wheats.
The Nose: Subtlety is 312's watchword, which in my experience isn't unusual for a wheat beer. I catch hints of citrus and malt, and maybe a passing waft of hoppy spiciness.
On the Tongue: It starts off sweet with hints of honey and a faint citrus tang. Malt notes are subdued, as are the hop notes. With such high carbonation, there's an ongoing fizz throughout. Most would call it "crisp," which works for me. Low hop content (15 IBU, according to Goose Island) gives it a smooth finish without tongue-crinkling bitterness. Given 312's relatively low alcohol content (4.2%BV) there's not much taste from that quarter. It's certainly a beer better suited for quenching one's thirst than getting hammered.
Overall: This is not the most complex of wheat beers I've had, nor the strongest. It is, however, more refreshing than typical of the genre. Wheats have never been my favorite variety, but I like this one - so it's probably atypical. It's ultimately quite drinkable, particularly as the hot season is upon us. The light flavor pairs well with spicy foods (heck, I think everything pairs well with spicy foods) and also stands up well alone.
Parting Thoughts: Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat is a tasty and refreshing brew for those hot summer days: yes, Virginia, it does get hot in Chicago in the summer. Purists may go pale at the idea, but many squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon into their 312 to enhance that refreshing sting on the palate. Quite low alcohol content, so suitable for a weekend afternoon after you've been working in the garden or painting the house. I give it a four.