IT'S SAFE TO SAY that we live in a land of great ales.

Since Fritz Maytag canceled his plans for post graduate study in Asia and bought Anchor Brewing, the West Coast has become nirvana for good, fruity, warm-fermented ales with hops to burn.

Here in the Bay Area, we also happen to boast one of America's premier lager brewers "" and I don't mean Anheuser-Busch. I'm talking about Gordon Biersch, the San Jose brewery, not the separately owned brewpub chain.

Co-founder Dan Gordon, a UC Berkeley graduate who went on to study brewing science at Weihenstephan Technical University in Munich, Germany, and five years later, in 1987, became the first American to graduate in more than 30 years. He brews some of the most authentic lagers this side of Munich: a classic Marzen (***½) and a stunning Blonde Bock (****).

The United Kingdom and Belgium are famous for ales and most West Coast craft brewers use English and Belgian ales as a starting point.

Germany's famous for lagers, the cool-fermented style that most of the world has copied. But the Germans also make ales. Hefeweizens, unfiltered wheat beers with yeast remaining in the beer, are among the most popular craft beers in America.

Well, move over hefe "" Dan Gordon has a new German-style ale, a style very popular in Germany, and it's a wowzer. Meet our Beer of the Week: Gordon Biersch Dunkelweizen (***½). It's going to be available this spring in 12-ounce bottles and on tap at good beer pubs.

It's 5 percent alcohol by volume, a dark, unfiltered copper with a tiny whiff of foam. The aroma's very different "" perhaps bananas, spice and bubble gum. The taste's smooth and balanced: malt, cloves, ripe fruit fading into a long dry finish, not lactic, not exactly sour, but kind of intense and fetching.

Gordon says that little edge at the finish is from the yeast strain he uses. "It's W 68, a yeast from Weihenstephan that tones down the citrus, acidic quality that a lot of beers made with dark roasted malts produce. Love it or hate it, it's a traditional Bavarian yeast strain," he says.

The beer's made from almost 70 percent malted wheat, considered high even for a wheat beer. There's dark roasted malted wheat, caramel malted wheat and pale malted wheat, all from Weyermann, the German speciality malt house. The rest is pale barley malt.

Hops are mild, herbal German Hallertau, which balance, but don't dominate the taste. "It's first and foremost my favorite style of beer," Gordon says.

I'll drink to that.

CALENDAR: Coming up on March 21: Beer chef Bruce Paton's dinner featuring the uber-hopped, delicious beers of Green Flash Brewing. $75. Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave. at Geary, S.F. 415-776-8200, Ext. 7785; www.beer-chef.com.

Pleasanton Hotel chef Chris Smith has a zinger of a dinner coming up. He's pairing the food with the beers of North Coast Brewing. How about braised short ribs with Old Rasputin Imperial Stout?

You'll find the menu on my blog. March 26, 7 p.m. 855 Main St., Pleasanton. $50. 925-846-8106, www.pleasantonhotel.com.

LAST MINUTE NEWS: Dan Gordon's former partner Dean Biersch is opening a Belgian-style pub in Sebastopol next month: Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave. His publicist says it features "a constantly changing lineup of beers from Europe and smaller regional producers in the U.S. "" all selected by Biersch himself "" in a relaxed, inviting, beer-savvy atmosphere."

Reach William Brand at whatsontap@sbcglobal.net or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at www.beernewsletter.com/blog.

RATINGS

***** World classic

**** Don't miss it

*** Very good

** Good beer; no defects

* Demand a refund.