Beer Reviews: Birrificio Montelupo’s Turbone Wheat Ale

Turbone Wheat Ale
Turbone Wheat Ale offers a lesson in “what can go wrong.” — photo by Casey Wagner

While perusing the beer section of a local store, trying to figure out what to review next for Little Village, my eyes were drawn to the discounted price ($3.99 per bottle) of Turbone Wheat Ale, brewed by the Birrificio Montelupo of Montelupo Fiorentino, Italy.

I thought: Why not take a chance on Turbone Wheat Ale — especially since its normal price is listed at $7 a bottle? Oh, let me count the ways …

First, it’s on sale. Much like the meat and dairy products that are sold at discount prices near their expiration dates, there is a reason why beer is on sale. Somebody wants to get rid of it, fast. More than likely, discounted beer has been sitting somewhere — probably unrefrigerated — for a long time and is past its prime, when the flavors and aromas are at their best. There is nothing wrong with pilsners, pale ales, IPAs and some darker beers that are just over six months old, but they will not taste as good as they did when they were fresh, as the brewer intended — especially if they have not been refrigerated.

Secondly, it’s an import. Imported beers endure long, arduous journeys, often in unrefrigerated containers and trailers. This means that imported age-sensitive beers are far from fresh by the time we buy it. The fact that Turbone is from Italy could be considered a foul ball into the seats behind first base. Frankly, I don’t expect much from Italian beers, though it’s unfair of me to make this judgement, since my experience with Italian beers is limited to Birra Moretti and Peroni. These two Euro pale lagers are the best known beers from Italy (likely nowhere near indicative of the entire Italian brewing industry), and I am open-minded and willing to try more beers from Italy. John’s website lists 32 different beers from Italy, in fact — a number that surprised me.

Well aware of the risks involved with discount beer and imports — I have been burned many times by both — I took the chance on Turbone Wheat Ale. Bad idea. However, the tasting experience provides a good lesson on the risks of discount and imported beer.

Serving type: 500 ml bottle. No freshness date.

Appearance: Poured into a 300 ml wheat beer glass. (A strike against myself was not using a half-liter wheat beer glass. I was not thinking right all day, apparently.) The initial color is hazy, apple juice gold. Once I disturbed the yeast sedimentation at the bottom of the bottle and poured it into the glass, however, the color becomes cloudy gold with amber tones. The carbonation is so weak that an aggressive pour only produces a pathetic, half-finger of foam with large bubbles that left a ring of white foam around the edge and a galaxy-shaped skim in the center of the glass.

Aroma: Overall, it smells pretty flat. The aromas are not invigorating, fresh or lively. Needless to say, it smells like it is on sale for a reason. The scents that do come through are sour apple, almost offensive strawberry-scented perfume, pale malt, bready wheat and some very faint scents of clove. There is also a pervasive undertone of wet paper or cardboard.

Taste: It tastes like very tart apple juice mixed with lemonade and flat, expired orange juice. There is no carbonation, and flavors of wet cardboard underlie apple, strawberry, lemon peel and green banana. As it warms, a faint vegetal flavor, somewhat reminiscent of cooked peas, emerges.

Drinkability: This bottle was on sale for a good reason: The beer inside is way past its prime. I am sure this beer tastes much better when it is fresh, but would it be worth $7 per bottle? I doubt it.

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