Was there a time before wheat beer? It is hard to remember now. Undoubtedly, the choice of beer in pubs was less nuanced in the past: bitter, mild, lager, stout. Wheat beer arrived on a wave of continentalism, with suspiciously cloudy contents––“Is this beer off, mate?”––unpronounceable vowel sounds and superfluous accents, and a beguilingly powerful taste.
Before Irish Wheat and Hop House 13 Lager became household names––my household in any case––Guinness had an early venture into making a wheat beer with Breó. The word is pronounced ‘bro’ and is Irish for ‘glow’.
Not many people remember Breó; fewer still have actually sunk a pint of the white stuff. Not surprising since it was only produced from 1998 to 2000. However, I can proudly say that I drunk a pint of Breó in the summer of 1999 in a pub in Athlone, County Westmeath.
I was something of a wheat beer virgin at the time, and didn’t know what to expect. Guinness marketed Breó as Breó White Beer, with the Irish Times claiming, in an age before political correctness, that Guinness ‘does a Michael Jackson’. It sounded intriguing. I was anticipating a glass of something that looked like a pint of milk, perhaps with a black, creamy head, like a complete inverse version of a regular pint of Guinness. In actual fact, the drink was light and clear, with a citrusy flavour, but with a potent wheat beer taste, which was novel for me at the time.
Sitting in a busy pub at lunchtime in the middle of Ireland, killing time before my train departed, waiting for a small local band to start up, I enjoyed my pint of Breó. In fact, I enjoyed it sufficiently to try to order it again as I travelled around other parts of Ireland but, never once again did I find it available at the pumps. Even in 1999, Breó was a ghost; a Will-o’-the-wisp, which I wondered if I had just imagined. White Guinness? “Never heard of it, love.”
Competition from the likes of Hoegaarden and Erdinger meant that Breó never did get a foothold in the wheat beer market and its demise was swift and decisive, but the very brevity of its existence has made my experience of it all the more special.
While other wheat beers may have lingered longer, I will always remember Breó as my first.
© Beery Sue
It’s a miracle that Beery Sue remembers anything after a wheat beer session.