Does Your Brewery Need a Flagship Wheat Again?

For several years Walnut River Brewing had a Wheat as a year-round offering. 

It was mostly produced for in-house sales and never hit the retail shelves, nor had much draft presence, explained Distribution Manager and co-owner Travis Rohrberg. This is when slight traegies lead to the creation of a new brand the El Dorado, Kansas brewery has recently released as a year-round brand, Wayward Sun. 

“At first, it was a standard 5% ABV Wheat,” he said of the old brand, Falconer’s Wheat. “It evolved one day when we were mashed in and then realized we didn’t have the hops we needed, so we improvised and added Falconer’s Flight hops. It turned out great.

“After moving forward with the hop change, another batch had a glycol valve fail and froze probably a third of the beer, which was then realized when we had a low transfer volume to the brite tank. We estimated the final ABV at about 8% due to water loss from freezing. That was our best iteration yet, so we adjusted our recipe to brew an 8% Wheat with Falconer’s Flight hops.” 

Falconer’s Wheat was popular and Rohrberg said they had many requests to bring it back, but one of the brewery’s flagships is an IPA with Falconer’s Flight that is almost 8% ABV. 

“While it was a fantastic beer, an 8% Hoppy Wheat didn’t appeal to a vast crowd,” Rohrberg said. “With Wayward Sun, we wanted to strip it down and take it back to the basics and target a much wider audience, especially since we planned to make a big push to retail in six packs.”

Instead, El Dorado and Huell Melon create a tropical twist with a finish that’s classic Wheat for Wayward Sun. Wayward Sun is a classic Wheat recipe at heart, though. 

“The hopping strategy is where we’ve taken a different approach and modernized,” Rohrberg said. “Instead of using the traditional citrusy/floral hops like Cascade or Centennial you might see in many American Wheat beers, we opted for El Dorado and Huell Melon. 

“El Dorado contributes some great tropical notes like mango and pineapple, while Huell Melon imparts sweet honeydew and maybe even a touch of strawberry. They’re added late in the boil to preserve the flavors and aromatics and we also dry hop to round out those tropical and melon aromas.”

Another way they modernized the recipe is with water additions to soften the mouthfeel.

The rise of juicy IPAs, pastry beers, sours, and an ever-evolving consumer have made it difficult for a Wheat to get much love. But determined to help a Wheat find its place, Rohrberg said they chatted with retailers about a year-round Wheat and then followed up with samples and many test batches and recipe tweaks. 

“They loved the idea of a modernized wheat beer,” he said. “Wayward Sun is an everyday drinker that leans into the evolving interests of today’s craft beer consumers while holding onto what we know as a Wheat beer.”

It’s a shift to creatively using hops is what intrigues the Walnut River brewing staff. 

“There are so many new hop varieties and products out there with countless ways to use them,” Rohrberg said. “You can get some really crazy flavors from some of the new varieties — fruit punch, coconut, vanilla, cream, tropical, oak…the list goes on. 

“Wayward Sun takes advantage of that shift to creatively using hops while maintaining the nostalgia of a beer style that first sparked our curiosity in craft beer.”

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