Beware of “Natural Flavors”

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat (bottle)- Witbier- Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, WI, USA

Grade: D-

It’s been a long time since I drank a beer I had to essentially force myself to finish. Had I taken the extra 30-seconds in the store to read the packaging I would have noticed it says “Natural Flavors” and I would have left this beer in the store. Such a vague tag on any food product rarely implies something good.

     Appearance Standard wheat beer presentation: cloudy dark yellow. Head is off-white and fairly creamy, though not thick and not long for this world.

     Smell- Faux fruit is the first thing that hits you. There’s the normal citrus of a wheat underneath, but it is over-powered by a pungent candy-berry smell; think Trix, Fruit Loops, or Jolly Ranchers. 

     Taste & Mouthfeel- If you concentrate and get past the tacked on flavor there are the underpinnings of a solid wheat beer. It’s a little hoppy and there are nice citrus undercurrents, but not too much of either; a bit of a peppery bite to boot. Unfortunately the fruit additive smell means a fruit additive taste that really overwhelms the tongue. Mouthfeel is good, though: not too thin and not too heavy with just the right amount of carbonation. It finishes crisply with a bit of a dry edge.

     Drinkability If you can get past the extract-enhanced fruit taste this would make a good session beer.  I can’t get past it so I’ll have to foist the remaining two bottles I have onto unsuspecting guests.


     Because the artificially fruity smell/taste is so overpowering I have to wonder if maybe I got a bad six-pack. I’ve tried this beer over two different sessions hoping that the second time around, being prepared for the smell/taste I’d be able to enjoy it and think of the fruitiness as secondary to it. I was wrong, but on the up side I was able to get over the shock and find that without the additional flavor I could see myself returning to this as a very drinkable go-to wheat. More mystifying to me is it seems some people have no problem with the taste and enjoyed the vague berry so much that this beer pulled a couple of awards back when it debuted a few years ago. Leinenkugel has here a solid if unsurprising American wheat beer that ran afoul with the good intention of adding a little something to it to help it stand out from the crowd.

     If you like extract boosted fruit beers and wheat beers maybe this one is for you. If you aren’t into enhanced fruity, then steer clear. I’m hoping I’ll run across some of the other Leinie brews in the Boston area, because I’m willing to give a brewery the benefit of the doubt and judging by their website they’ve got a lot of brews to offer.