Last Friday, the line of beer drinkers awaiting the noon release of the brew collaboration between Wren House Brewing Company and Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix stretched around the block. We previewed the beer a few months ago. It's the latest entry in Wren House's pie-themed "Pie Thief" series.
The brew, Pecan Pie Thief, is a wheat wine — like barley wine, but with the dominant grain being wheat. At two stages of the brewing process, which lasted six weeks, head brewer Preston Thoeny added pecans smoked over at Little Miss BBQ. Theony created a pie-like sugar effect in the beer by way of lactose. This was all in the noble effort of making pecan pie but in high-alcohol liquid form.
The beer was ambitious because, let's be honest, do you imagine a pecan pie beer tasting good?
Thoeny says the beer turned out better than he envisioned. "I got more pecan than I thought I would," he said. "It's kind of hard to get flavor from a nut."
Pecan Pie Thief is a damn impressive beer. What makes it tick is a rambunctious alcohol content of just over 10 percent. That high alcohol level gives the dark beer backbone, a pillar of huge warmth to balance its sweeter pie flavors. The comforting richness of pecan shines through. There's hardly any smoke, and next to the pecan flavor the faint smoke registers as more of a dusky spice of the kind you would expect in a fall pie.
Somehow, the black-coffee-colored brew actually tastes like pecan pie.
It does, but with the pie-ness lowered to an ideal volume.You get warm, toasty nuances from the nut and a level of sweetness that makes the dessert factor of the beer subtle and distant enough for the beer to be enjoyable, granular in its nuances, and about as drinkable as a 10 percent ABV beer can be.
"We went nice and slow with the fermentation," Thoeny says. "We tasted every other day until it was getting where we wanted it."
Thoeny added the first half of the 75 pounds of smoked pecans during the boil. This step occurred back on the first day of brewing. Four weeks into fermentation, Thoeny added the rest of the smoked pecans. He also added vanilla. This late-game step, called conditioning, is a way to dial up flavor even further.
You may have noticed the cool label dominated by a whimsical pop-art-like rendition of Little Miss BBQ's pecan pie. Thoeny's wife, Lauren Thoeny, designed the label. Her label graphics elevate Wren House to the forefront of the design arms race that microbreweries seem to be running in these days. (Her design on Wren House's Lady Banks gose is another keeper.)
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Thoeny is looking to expand Wren House's Pie Thief series. He hopes to collaborate with more food artisans on pie-themed brews. Pie comes in many forms, and maybe pie beer will, too.
If you want to track down Pecan Pie Thief, head over to Wren House. You can drink the brew on draft or walk away with four cans for $24. (A steep price, but this beer has the alcohol content of a white wine. When you compare its price, volume, flavor, and originality to wine, the brew comes out way ahead.)
Wren House will also be barrel-aging some Pecan Pie Thief on vanilla beans. Look for Pie Thief's barrel-aged big bro to drop sometime in the future.
Wren House Brewing Company. 2125 North 24th Street, 602-244-9184
Monday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday noon to 9 p.m.