7/19/18: Wicked Weed Brewing's Lunatic Blonde

6:01 PM

This is a post that's been some time coming. It's a political one. Not political as in Democrat versus Republican. No, it's political in a much more important sense: It focuses on the politics of beer. In having this one-man discussion (you're more than welcome to join in in the comments!), I do not promise to pose any concrete answers to questions that might arise as you read this. I'll do best to explain my views and hope that they do something to add to yours. But that might not be the case. Like I said, this is a political post.

We will have a focal point in this post. You can see what it is if you've glanced at the title. It's what, at one time, was my favorite brewery, Wicked Weed, and their Lunatic Blonde Belgian-style ale.

I remember the first time I encountered Wicked Weed. It was three years ago this month. I was visiting my friend in the Carolinas and he treated me to a guided brewery tour of Asheville, NC. The tour stopped at WW. I immediately fell in love. On that stop I tried my first sour beer and started to see what Belgian ales are all about. I nabbed a howler of Freak of Nature, brought it home with me, and did this mini review for my Facebook page.

Recently, Michelle and I honeymooned in a cabin a short drive from Asheville. While I knew we'd head to Wicked Weed, my excitement wasn't as palpable as it once may have been. Why? Because last year AB InBev bought out the company. Whether this is good or bad is up to you to decide. I'm not happy with it, though. This is where the political element of this post begins.

Before going further, let's look at some terms that are necessary knowledge for full appreciation of the discussion from here on out. Big Beer, macrobeer, microbeer, craft beer, and independent beer. These terms are pretty damn important in the beer world. While some (or maybe just one) are antiquated, an understanding of them will help you grasp the importance, or at least, the perceived importance of this subject.

Big Beer and macro beer can be used interchangeably, and you'll often see this when reading about beer. These are the guys who reign large in the beer world. This Wikipedia article simply lists a macrobrewery is a brewery too large or diversified to be a microbrewery. For our purposes, we'll a macrobrewery (a maker of Big Beer) as a company that outputs more than six million barrels of beer per year (you'll see where I get that number later on). The article also states that macrobeer can carry a negative connotation. We'll get into this later, as well.

If you'll permit me to reference the article a third time, it calls a microbrewery a small brewery. It also states that, in the early 21st Century, the term craft beer began to replace microbeer. Thus, microbeer is an outdated term--since I started paying attention to beer I haven't heard anyone use it. It's still acceptable, and people will know what you mean if you say it, but craft beer is much more common.

So, as we turn our attention to the term craft, let's take a peek at how it's defined by the Brewer's Association. According to these guys, who are comprised of big supporters of craft beer, craft beer has three components: small size (annual production coming in at less than six million barrels of beer), independence (less than a quarter of the brewery is owned by a member of the alcohol industry who is not a craft brewer), and traditionalism (the alcohol needs to come from traditional or innovation sources [malted grain, fruit adjuncts, etc.]).

An important part of the craft definition is the bit about independence. In fact, just over a year ago the Brewer's Association dropped a new label for independent craft. This is important because many "craft" beers (today's featured beer not withstanding) may appear to be independent to the casual consumer when they are, however, owned and distributed by Big Beer. It's important to note that when a macrobrewer acquires what was a craft company, they still may (and do) refer to that beer is craft.

Why is this important? Well, as a consumer, you should probably know where you're money's going. I also know that some people have a moral aversion to Big Beer, due to its unsavory business practices. Like when AB-InBev tried to bribe its distributors to only carry InBev brands in an attempt to squelch craft beer. Hence the negative connotation associated with macrobeer.

I myself experience some cognitive dissonance when it comes to macrobeer. Take the sale of Wicked Weed to InBev for instance. My first thought was, "Damn. That sucks." But my thought immediately after that was, "Wait. Does this mean Wicked Weed, like all the other InBev brands, will see a much larger distro range?" Unfortunately for me, the answer was a resounding no.

While I'm bummed about the sale of WW (I have a personal distaste for InBev--I'll drink their stuff, but I'll rarely buy it), the quality of the beer still shines through. And that's good enough for me to reconcile my cognitive dissonance. But some people may feel otherwise. When Michelle and I were in Asheville, I asked my beery Facebook group what breweries we needed to hit. One guy was quick to recommend WW but equally quick to end that recommendation with something along the lines of "...but if you don't want to for personal reasons, I understand."

I take his viewpoint here. I don't like AB InBev. I don't like how their goal seems to be the take over or the snuffing out of the craft beer (or, looking back on the definitions I've provided, microbeer) scene. But Wicked Weed, and many other InBev brands, make good product. The dude who waited on us at WW was very kind and quick to suggest we hit up some other quality, decidedly craft, Asheville breweries.

Overall, it's a touchy subject for a lot of beer people. Like I said, tt's politics. Sure, a lot of people swear off Big Beer. A lot of other people are disgusted by all craft beer. Then there are people like me who are somewhere in the middle. I like beer for its quality. I always have and I always will.

So, while I'm disappointed in Wicked Weed for selling out to InBev, because it shows what I perceive as a lack of faith in craft beer (they're kind of hanging their craft brewing brothers and sisters out to dry by jumping in bed with macrobeer), they still make a hell of a product.

Which brings us to the can of beer that's been camping out in my fridge for the better part of a month: Wicked Weed's Lunatic Blonde.

The official Lunatic Blonde webpage calls the ale bitter, hoppy, malty, fruity, funky, and tart. It clocks in at 6.5% ABV. The embedded YouTube video says there're hints of clove and spicy notes from the yeast, but these are intended to be subdued in order to showcase the hops it employs.

The bouquet's giving me the traditional Belgian yeast aromas. I get clove. I get the spice. There's a tiny bit of banana. But there's also something else; a minty-ness, an almost bubblegum quality. It's rounded out by a strong ale part, like what lays under all the aromatics in your favorite brown ale. It's tough to put into words. Regardless, while not all the notes hit here are expected, none of them feel out of place. Purrl may disagree, or she may have an aversion to InBev. She gave it three whiffs before quickly turning away. Please forgive the blurriness of my photo.

The hops really come through in the taste. Sure they're in the finish (meaning I'm getting ahead of myself here) but they're definitely present and prominent. The fore gives me more of the clovey, bubblegumness I picked up in the aroma. The beer is very dry. Not cloying, just unanticipated.

Lunatic Blonde has a big, super creamy mouthfeel. I expect my Belgian blondes to be bubbly, but this is much more than that. Is it off putting? No. Is it what I expect/desire when I reach for a beer in this style? Another no.

Earlier I said that my buddy took me on a brewery tour of Asheville a few years back. Call my a nostalgic son of a gun, but that tour's what I'm thinking of as I sit on my porch drinking this beer. I got hammered but somehow he stayed sober--the irony is that he came to visit me in January and the opposite happened. Our Asheville tour started at Asheville Brewing Company (a location which, sadly, Michelle and I didn't make it to during our honeymoon). Our guide was a cicerone who taught us the proper way to smell a beer: pinch your nose, take a swig from your brew, and quickly exhale through your nose. It's weird, but it's a technique I use for every single one of my posts here.

We wandered around town drinking with the tour group. One guy got super sloshed and wrote his resume on a scrap of paper and handed it to our cicerone guide in a desperately drunkly ploy for a job. I don't think he made a good impression. Anyway, Asheville NC is a hell of a beer town. And that's due to all of it's breweries, Wicked Weed included.

So, what have we learned? That maybe microbrew shouldn't be a defunct term. Maybe it's exactly what's needed to describe AB InBev's "craft" beer brands. That I have a distaste for InBev, even if I enjoy some of their brands. That people can drink whatever beer they want. If you don't like what they drink, that's cool, but at least beer will give you some common ground with a stranger. Oh, and that I'm pissed at Wicked Weed for selling out. I don't think I'll ever get over it fully. But they employ good people who believe in good beer. And they still make good beer. Case in point: Lunatic Blonde get's a John Likes Beer rating of 8.5/10. It's not my favorite Belgian blonde, but it's a damn fine take on the style.

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