Kona Wailua Ale
Beer: Wailua Ale Brewery: Kona Brewing Co. Style: American Pale Wheat Ale ABV: 5.4 percent
At substantial risk of telling you what you already know: It's hot outside. Like, soul-crushingly, melt-your-eyeballs hot. I enjoy thick, robust stouts and palate-busting barleywines as much as anyone, but when I'm wandering this desert during the time of year I'm required to carry two or three backup shirts to avoid sweat stains, something light in body and heavy in refreshment is much more apropos. There's something to be said for seasonal drinking.
Enter the American pale wheat ale. Sort of a lighter, less flavorful version of a hefeweizen, these beers generally emerge on shelves around the same time as sundresses and swim trunks. They're typified by a malt bill that contains a high percentage of wheat (who knew?), which lends the beer a rounded, sweetish character that plays well with fruits - raspberries, apricots and other examples of nature's candy are often tossed in beers of this style to varying effect.
The beer on today's menu contains one of the lesser-seen adjuncts: passion fruit. It premiered on draft in Hawaii as Liliko'i Wheat in 1998, but was renamed Wailua Wheat in 2007. Though it's now called "Wailua Ale," the beer still contains the same ingredients, with passion fruit and wheat malt as key parts of the recipe. Kona, the Hawaiian- born brewery that makes Wailua, claims the new name emphasizes the beer's profile as a refreshing summer ale - though how the inclusion of the word "wheat" indicates heaviness is beyond me.
Kona's spring/summer seasonal, Wailua takes its name from the Wailua Falls, a cascade of fresh water found along the old Hana Highway in Kauai. Though brewed with passion fruit, the brew's appearance invokes pineapple, its golden hues made cloudy with unfiltered wheat while a thin sheet of soft white fluff fizzles away like a just-shaken tropical beverage. The nose - light, soft, fruity, tropical - subtly showcases a blend of passion fruit, pineapple and papaya. A sprinkling of floral hops, provided by generous amounts of Millenium, adds zing.
Those looking for obvious fruit character in a beer will be disappointed with Wailua - the fruit here is very, very subtle. For drinkers willing to look, the beer reveals notes of passion fruit and pineapple mixed with a touch of vanilla, which blends at the finish like a passion fruit creamsicle. Fruity, smooth wheat is more readily noticeable amid the pinching, prickling bubbles of the light-bodied brew. A finish as clean as the Hawaiian sky prepares you for the next sip.
Those skies are so clean thanks, in part, to Wailua. When it premiered the new name, Kona also announced that this beer would be the first packaged in spankin'-new 12-ounce bottles that, along with a chain of Hawaiian islands embossed fancily in the glass, boast a much slimmer overall shape. Kona did the same thing in 2010, reducing the weight of bottles coming out of the brewery by 11 percent, which they say eliminated 3,375 tons of carbon dioxide from the air - the equivalent to taking 638 cars off the road for a year. The new bottle is an additional 5 percent lighter and will save another 514 Jettas' worth of CO2.
The dedication to saving the environment is laudable, and as American pale wheats go, Wailua is okay -- just a bit lacking in character. Is it enough to excite your average beer geek? Nah. But it's hot outside, and you're looking for refreshment. Get yours from Hawaii.
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