Orange Avenue Wit (Witbier, 5.2%). Coronado Brewing Company, Coronado, California. $5.50 per 355ml bottle.
The signs were not good. Apparently the start of February in the Southern hemisphere coincides with Lughnasadh, or Lammas, the festival of the wheat harvest. I could finish the Australian beers later, I must have a wheat beer. But while reviewing the Australian beers I had read about the sometimes widely differing standards of tap and bottle beers, and when combined with my own failings in various states to fully appreciate what was on offer I thought I should start a kind of ‘redemption Thursday’* to give the most appalling brews I’d had over the last year or so a second chance. It was only fair. Then I had the Atlas on tight-arse Tuesday and it brought up all sorts of orange nightmares and I knew I had to go back and lock horns with my nemesis: the very last, and one of the very worst beers I’d had in 2011 – the Coronado Orange Avenue Wit.
My notes at the time describe it as “murky … reminiscent of a bladder infection … loathsome.” Because it was. It was the thing-that-should-not-be, a toxic clash between two or more flavours that not only did not blend but produced a brutal, foul stench from their mutual antipathy. How bad was it? This would have been the music to match it. Maybe it was a bad keg, maybe it was not meant to be kegged. Perhaps, given it was New Year’s Eve, few noticed or felt inclined to point this out (apart from Kim who tried valiantly to save me from myself) but really, and you’ll just have to take my word for it, it was repulsive. It’s still on tap at the little underground cult bar that for the moment shall remain nameless and I’ll update over the weekend** to check what, if anything, has changed. The only reason I feel brave enough to do so is because at home, poured from a bottle into my own glass, it is far, far better. Unbelievably so.
It pours a slightly hazy yellow/orange as you’d expect, with an aroma of orange and slight spice though it’s a bit earthier than I thought it would be. This could be a style thing, witbiers aren’t my usual first choice. The foamy white head is gone within 60 seconds but a ring around the glass remains to the end. The flavour reflects the aroma pretty closely; slightly dry, orange and zesty with a very subtle spice – it says coriander on the label and I’m not going to argue – and I get a faintly sweet, fruity finish. There’s supposed to be honey in it that I’m not getting, though I’m used to the manuka honey in the NZ beers which would be quite different. It’s a thinnish mouthfeel, with what I’d have thought was just a bit too much carbonation, and there’s a slight though not at all unpleasant lemony sourness towards the bottom of the glass. The flavour overall is pretty subtle but balanced and agreeable. It wouldn’t be a terrible summer ale, and is definitely quaffable.
As it happens (thanks again, wikipedia) not only is this not a disastrous mix of stupidly incompatible flavours but the use of orange and coriander is actually traditional in Belgian wits. So instead of the wildly unsuccessful, unlistenable and ill-advised experiment I had originally thought suited this beer, the musical match is almost the complete opposite. Something light, inoffensive, summery and cheery with a hint of something bittersweet (both bitter and sweet oranges traditionally go into these, apparently). It’s not what tends to crop up on my itunes, but I reckon something like the Sundays works with it. Summertime is breezy and inconsequential enough to suit a beer like this, and you can bet that elsewhere on the album there’s enough lyrical depth to save the songs from being disposable pap. Or perhaps it’s just getting a bit late. I honestly haven’t made up my mind about this one. It’s only vaguely recognisable as the catastrophic abomination from last year. I wasn’t prepared for this.
You know what? I’ve learned something today. Even if you’re in a classy place with a long established and proud reputation and you’re not at your best because it’s New Year’s Eve, if you get served something that is clearly not right you need to take it back and demand satisfaction. This is a fine beer that I would be content to recommend to friends (indeed I am). While not earth-shattering it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than some of the mainstream stuff or, say, a bladder infection.
Verdict: More than decent but not outstanding, goes down very well. Surprising only in relation to a disastrous tap version. Could easily stand a bit more orange or spice. 63/100.
*It is still Thursday as I write this. I figure it’s the thought that counts.
**Weekend update: Definitely a bad keg. Very drinkable tap version this time around.