4.3AROMA 9/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 8/10 PALATE 5/5 OVERALL 17/20
American brewers, both macro and craft, have been trying to make palatable versions of German hefeweizens for years. However, the result is more often than not bland, watery, and/or fruit-flavored gimmicks. The Southern Tier Brewing Company probably realized this when they came up with Hop Sun - an American pale wheat ale that has an exponential amount more character than the majority of other summer seasonals on the market. It’s got the light body and easy drinkability you want from a summer beer and the genuine flavor you expect from a craft brew.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
I poured a 12oz bottle into a wheat beer glass. Hop Sun pours to a maize or golden color and forms a small, frothy, bright white head that evaporates rather quickly and doesn’t leave much lacing on the glass. The body is lively upon the initial pour but settles down to complete tepidness. This is especially interesting since both summer and wheat beers are known for their effervescence, but I don’t think this is a flaw.
The aroma is very inviting. It’s akin to an India Pale Ale as there’s a floral bouquet as well as lemon zest present. There’s also a Fruity Pebbles-like sweetness I’ve encountered in many American witbiers.
My first sip of Southern Tier Hop Sun was something of a epiphany: this is exactly what I’ve wanted a summer beer to be but have never found it until now! So many other craft, quasi-craft, and macro breweries have put out beers that can best be described as "pale wheat ales," meaning they have the basic makings of a wheat beer but are overly-flavored or watered down. But with Hop Sun the beer is exactly what the name implies - a summer beer with real hop taste.
Up front the beer is slightly mild with a noticeable lemon and cereal sweetness. It’s very light on the palate, but robust enough to make its presence known. As it finishes there’s a hop bite commonly found in many IPAs, but without the intensity. It’s actually quite dry for a second or two but quickly fades away and leaves a pleasant, citrusy aftertaste. I think the best way to describe it would "IPA Lite."
If I had to find a flaw with this beer it would the lack of wheat flavor or texture. Wheat beers tend to be unfiltered with zesty palates of banana, clove and perhaps the addition of a berry or citrus fruit, but this doesn’t have much of that aside from the lemony flavors. However, it’s beers like Hop Sun that remind me not to get too hung up on styles or even descriptions from the brewers themselves, since this is a good beer anyway.
If there’s anything a summer beer absolutely must be it’s sluggable. Summer brews are often consumed in social situations and used mostly as thirst-quenchers rather than as something to sip on and appreciate. Hop Sun is a beer that really has it both ways with its delicious, authentic-tasting palate that goes down extremely smooth. I think the tepid body actually helps in this instance since the hops only tap dance on the palate for a moment before receding away.
At 4.9% ABV this is a perfectly-proportional brew as far as weight and potency is concerned. I could envision beer drinkers of all experiences being able to down bottle after bottle without feeling overwhelmed. The light body makes it an ideal beer to pair with meals and snacks, both as a refresher and a flavor complement.
There’s so much to like about Southern Tier Hop Sun I can’t even really find a fault with it. But at the same time I wouldn’t say it’s a world class beer since it didn’t knock my socks off the way a beer of such caliber would. I hate to grade on a curve, but for a summer seasonal it’s extremely impressive and genuinely satisfying. The only caveat is it might be a bit too "real" for macro drinkers whose idea of a "zesty" summer beer is Shock Top, Blue Moon, or even Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat. Still, for all the craft beer drinkers out there looking for a light-bodied beer that actually satisfies, Hop Sun is it.