Beer of the Weekend #579: Turbone Wheat Ale

Yesterday the LV posted my review of Turbone Wheat Ale, brewed by the Birrificio Montelupo of Montelupo Fiorentino, Italy.

The beer was way past its prime but I decided to write a review as a lesson on what can go wrong with discount and imported beer. I am posting the whole, unedited version here with the customary info added at the end.


While perusing the beer section at a local store, trying to figure out what to review next for the LV website, my eyes were drawn to the discounted price ($3.99) for bottles of Turbone Wheat Ale, brewed by the Birrificio Montelupo of Montelupo Fiorentino, Italy. (Written across the top of the label is “Birra artigianale prodotta in Toscana,” which I assume loosely translates to “artisan beer produced in Tuscany.”)

Why not, I thought, take a chance on Turbone Wheat Ale — especially since its normal price was 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. How far past is usually a mystery since many breweries do not print convenient and easily understandable bottling dates on their beers. There is nothing wrong with pilsners, pale ales, IPAs, and some darker beers that are just over six months old. But, though they may not be offensive, they will not taste as well as they did when they were fresh, as the brewer intended — especially if they have not been refrigerated.

Secondly, it’s an import. Imported beer endures a long, arduous journey by truck and ship, usually in unrefrigerated containers and trailers, so age-sensitive beers (those not ideal for aging) are far from fresh by the time we buy it.

Also, the fact it 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 think that since my experience with Italian beers is limited to Birra Moretti and Peroni, two Euro pale lagers that are probably the best known beers from Italy (and likely no where near indicative of the entire Italian brewing industry), I am open-minded and willing to try more beers from Italy. (The John’s Grocery website lists 23 different beers from Italy — 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, I thought the tasting experience would provide 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 became 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.

Smell: 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 paper or 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.

Fun facts about TWA:

-Style: “Wheat Ale” is written on the back label. It is more like a domestic wheat ale than one form Central Europe.

-Price: $3.99 at an anonymous store.

-Alcohol content: 4.8 percent ABV.

-I would try this stuff when it is fresher; I think it would be a decent brew. Unfortunately, since no bottling date is printed on the bottle, I have no clue what’s fresh and what’s not. Despite that, I am giving this beer an asterisk since it was way past its prime.

The Quiet Man’s grade: C-*.

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