Terrapin Side Project 3: Gamma Ray Wheat Wine

Review Date 11/18/2008  Last Updated  9/6/2018  By John Staradumsky


Twenty years ago, if you asked a bartender for a glass of wheat beer, you might get a curious look and a statement that such was not available, if you were lucky. But times change, and with the advent of beers like Red Hook and perhaps more especially Widmer Hefeweizen, wheat beers gained an acceptance, nay a cult following across America.

With that said, none of those beers are really much like Terrapin Gamma Ray Wheat Wine Ale, third in a series of special one-off brews from Athens, Georgia's Terrapin Brewing Company. Gamma Ray is one potent wheat beer (hence the moniker wheat wine), with a whopping alcohol content of 11% by volume-more than twice the strength of most beers.

To get Gamma Ray to that strength, Terrapin adds copious amounts of local honey to the brew prior to fermentation. Honey, being mostly sugar, presents a veritable smorgasbord to yeast, adding to the amount of alcohol present and adding some richness as well. I have been less than overwhelmed with the first two Side Projects, Roggenrauchbier  and Hop Shortage Ale . Not that they were bad beers, mind you, just that they did not excite me as much as a "side project" should, especially one that costs almost seven bucks for a bomber.
Terrapin Side Project Volume 3: Gamma Ray Wheat Wine Ale pours to a hazy orange color with a very minimal head formation and a spicy vanilla nose. One of the first things you notice about this brew is the almost total lack of carbonation. Even with a vigorous pour, the beer is almost flat. Almost no head, and no carbonation apparent in the liquid, either. Gamma Ray is bottle conditioned, and if you peer into the depths of your glass you will see a fine sediment of yeast on the bottom of the bottle.

When you take a sip, you'll immediately notice that this is a beer very much different than your average wheat beer. And yet, there are some strong similarities, too. The mouthfeel and body are much thicker and fuller than a classic wheat beer, obviously (you'll still detect some tart crackery wheat flavor, though). But the classic Bavarian wheat beer flavors are here: lots of banana, some juicy red apple, a bit of clove, cotton candy, and a strong undercurrent of vanilla.

The honey imparts a smooth richness, some toasted almond notes, and even some sweetness, though most of it will have fermented out. A hint of phenolic Band-Aid aroma comes through, too. I'm getting some warming alcohol in the finish which helps to dry the beer out, but it doesn't seem like 11% worth.

This is a very complex and delicious brew, rich and warming but also full of spicy flavor. The best in Terrapin's Side Project series so far, I think, though it did give me a headache the next day.....

Update 9/6/2018: Did they say one time release? Terrapin Gamma Ray Wheat Wine has been spotted a few times since I wrote this review almost 10 years ago. Where does the time go? Tonight I spied the beer on Taco Mac's draft list.  I love wheat wine and they are so rare, so of course I ordeed a glass. Flowery honey nose, thick full mouthfeel is bready and wheaty, rich toasty honey, banana and cloves, warming alcohol finish. All that and more for $6.25 seems a deal to me!

Glad I tried it?  T

Would I rebuy it??


*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.

(B)=Bottled, Canned