Trader Joe’s house-brand beers. Part Two: Go Austria!

The second half of my mix-and-match six pack from Trader Joe’s was a bit anticlimactic. I was very excited to try the Dunkelweizen and the Bavarian Style Hefeweizen. Weizens, or wheat beers, are my favorite beer styles. But the Trader Joe’s versions weren’t too impressive.

Three styles of Trader Joe's beer: Vienna Style Lager, Bavarian Style Hefeweizen, and Dunkelweizen

I wish I took a picture of the first three bottles before they ended up in the recycling center.

The Hefeweizen was very similar in flavor to Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat. This is great news to those that like the Coastal Wheat, because the Trader Joe’s version is almost half the price. It has, what I consider, a very soapy flavor. I must point out, however, as I have before, that I know more people who like the Coastal Wheat than do not. Still, for me, it was a disappointment. I was expecting a slightly sweet wheat beer; instead, I got a vague flavor of dishwater. As my previous review stated, a nice thing about the labeling on the Trader Joe’s beers is that it states the alcohol content and the bitterness, based on a European method of rating (IBU). The Hefeweizen is 5.3% alcohol and 12 on the bitterness units. In practice, this means it is not a bitter beer.

I didn’t have much expectation for the Vienna Style Lager. The Vienna-style beers I’ve had in the past have been decent but nothing spectacular. Years ago, Samuel Adams had a Vienna-style, which was hoppy and spicy, but didn’t have much of a body after the initial burst of flavor. But the Trader Joe’s Vienna-style was probably my favorite of the bunch. It has a nice, sweet mellow malt flavor to complement the initial hoppy spice. It’s not overly bitter, with a 20 on the IBU scale. It’s easily the richest and most flavorful of the Trader Joe’s beers, at least in the six that I was able to try. I would have labeled this as the bock, but what do I know about brewing styles? It has 5.7% alcohol.

Whereas the Vienna Style Lager was a pleasant surprise, the Dunkelweizen was a letdown. Dunkels are wheat beers with caramelized malts, so they’re darker, but like most Hefeweizens, they’re sweeter and less bitter. But because the Trader Joe’s Dunkleweizen is made with the same yeast as their Bavarian Style Hefeweizen, it has the same flat, dishwater taste. It has a bit of the same sweet, caramel flavor of the Vienna, but not enough to cover that soapy flavor that I really should have a name for.

(I’ll start calling it Seifeweizen. I’ve tried five American Seifeweizens: Sam Adams Coastal Wheat, Trader Joe’s Bavarian Style Hefeweizen and Dunkelweizen, Magic Hat Circus Boy, and Brooklyn Brewing Brooklyn Summer Ale. I initially thought that there was a hop I didn’t like, but now I’m sure it’s the yeast used, and what I’m considering soapy is what others may refer to as banana.)

The dunkel is 5.2% alcohol and rates an 18 on the bitterness scale.

These are great bargain beers, basically a buck for 12 oz. of something better than Coors or Miller Ultra. The Trader Joe’s beers are light, but not light, which invariably means adding water. (Well, not Sam Adams Light. That’s actually a different brewing method. And also, not the point of this.) The TJ beers are excellent stepping stones towards trying different styles of beer. I will get more of these when I get to Trader Joe’s, but I’ll stick with the Vienna, the Bohemian Lager and the bock, and I look forward to their seasonals. Nothing will replace the thrill I get when I pluck the first Sam Adams Octoberfest just ripe from the chill chest. But once in a while, I don’t mind paying a lot less to settle just a teensy bit.