Today we'll be discussing wheat beer, so pull out a number 2 pencil, your composition books, and a pint glass and we'll get started.
Wikipedia has an incredibly lengthy discussion of wheat beer that, in the end, boils down to "using a significant proportion of wheat in the brewing process". Thanks, I guess?
Anyway, wheat beers are usually light in flavor, and in turn lend themselves easily to including additional flavors. Thus you can have all sorts of flavored beers, including raspberry, apricot, blueberry, and so on.
I've often felt that Blue Moon was a good introductory beer for the above reason, namely that it has a host of other flavors that don't taste too beer-y (if that makes any sense). However I recently had a friend express her disgust for Blue Moon based exactly on that: it doesn't taste like beer, it tastes like the floor of grandma's spice cabinet.
Said friend however said she loved Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. This was the third person who had said this to me and thus figure it was time I gave it a try.
I couldn't tell at first if the beer was named Leinenkugels or Leinenhugels. The top hit for Googling Leinenhugels is a one-sentence negative review on Livejournal (of all places). Googling Leinenkugels (with or without a possessive apostrophe) set me straight. Leinenkugel's Brewery is now owned by Miller Brewing, and that they only began brewing Sunset Wheat about two years ago and more recently introduced a wheat beer/lemonade mix, the latter of which was the subject of the aforementioned (and probably well deserved) negative review.
The above should have been obvious to me: you do NOT see a beer on every shelf of every grocery without there being a big brewery behind it, and I have been seeing this stuff everywhere. They even had a booth set up at the last Wynwood Art Walk I made it out to, where they doled out warm 1/3 bottle portions in tiny plastic cups. No impression was made on me that evening, not sure why.
The presence of Blue Moon at your local Winn Dixie is attributable to its ownership as well, as Blue Moon is brewed by Coors. If Coors attempted to market Blue Moon under its own name, disaster would no doubt ensue. But this brings up an interesting question though: Does it matter who owns the brewery? While Miller bought the Leinenkugel brewery in 1988, the family still manages and runs it. Contrarily, Blue Moon has always been owned and brewed by Coors.
Aside from both being owned by major breweries, the beers share a lot in common: both are wheats brewed with coriander and share many similar characteristics. Blue Moon however is unfiltered and is additionally spiced with orange peel.
How do the taste? Well, to be honest, I don't like Blue Moon for the exact same reason my non-beer drinking friend doesn't. She didn't like it because it was too weird tasting, and I think it tastes too much like you're sucking on a flower. This is possibly due to it being unfiltered, but this would only add to the taste not remove anything from it, and another problem is that Blue Moon feels like it's lacking something. However Sunset Wheat was surprisingly good and full flavored. I say "full flavored" because a lot of beers people call "refreshing" are so light on the palate that I wonder why I wasted my time and belly space. Sunset Wheat somehow manages to be refreshing yet flavorful and complex without resorting to adding anything beyond coriander.
So in short, maybe it does matter who made your beer. It's obvious these two are big breweries' attempts at competing for the same market segment, right down to Leinenkugel/Miller using the sun in lieu of the moon in the name. Blue Moon obviously has the leg up at present, but I'm willing to bet that if Miller pushes it hard enough, Sunset Wheat could put a serious dent in the light-beer-but-not-quite market.