Wheat beer is a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat in addition to malted barley. Wheat beers are usually top-fermented (as required by law in Germany). The main varieties are weissbier (includes hefeweizen), witbier, and the sour varieties, such as lambic, Berliner Weisse and gose.
Two common varieties of wheat beer are witbier (Dutch – "white beer") based on the Belgian tradition of using flavourings such as coriander and orange peel which was revived by Pierre Celis at the Hoegaarden Brewery, and the Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas and weissbier (German – "white beer") based on the German tradition of mixing at least 50% wheat to barley malt to make a light coloured top-fermenting beer. Both the Belgian witbier and the German weissbier were termed "white beers" because "wheat" has the same etymological root as "white". Belgian white beers are often made with raw unmalted wheat, as opposed to the malted wheat used in other varieties.
German wheat beers are called "Weizen" (wheat) in the western (Baden-Württemberg) and northern regions, and "Weißbier" or "Weiße" (white beer or white) in Bavaria. Hefeweizen (the prefix "Hefe" is German for yeast) is the name for unfiltered wheat beers, while Kristallweizen ("Kristall" being German for crystal) is the same beer filtered.
In Britain, wheat beer is not considered traditional, but several brewers produce cask-conditioned varieties, such as Oakleaf Eichenblatt Bitte, Hoskins White Dolphin, Fyfe Weiss Squad and Oakham White Dwarf. British wheat beer tends to be a hybrid of the continental style with an English bitter, rather than an exact emulation.
Wheat beers are commonly marketed as spring or summer seasonal products.
Weizenbier or Hefeweizen, in the southern parts of Bavaria usually called Weissbier ("white beer"), is a Bavarian beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. By German law, weissbiers brewed in Germany must be top-fermented. Specialized strains of yeast are used which produce overtones of banana and clove as by-products of fermentation. Weissbier is so called because it was, at the time of its inception, paler in colour than Munich brown beer. It is well known throughout Germany, though better known as weizen ("wheat") outside Bavaria. The terms hefeweizen ("yeast wheat") or hefeweissbier refer to wheat beer in its traditional, unfiltered form. The term kristallweizen (crystal wheat), or kristall weiss (crystal white beer), refers to a wheat beer that is filtered to remove the yeast from suspension. Additionally, the filtration process removes wheat proteins present in the beer which contribute to its cloudy appearance.
The hefeweizen style is particularly noted for its low hop bitterness (about 15 IBUs) and relatively high carbonation (approaching four volumes), considered important to balance the beer's relatively malty sweetness. Another balancing flavour note unique to hefeweizen beer is its phenolic character; its signature phenol is 4-vinyl guaiacol, a metabolite of ferulic acid, the result of fermentation by top-fermenting yeast appropriate for the style. Hefeweizen's phenolic character has been described as "clove" and "medicinal" ("Band-aid") but also smoky. Other more typical but less assertive flavour notes produced by Weissbier yeast include "banana" (amyl acetate), "bubble gum", and sometimes "vanilla" (vanillin).
Weissbier is available in a number of other forms including dunkelweizen (dark wheat) and weizenstarkbier (strong wheat beer), commonly referred to as weizenbock. The dark wheat varieties are made with darker, more highly-kilned malts (both wheat and barley). The weizenbocks typically have a much higher alcohol content than their lighter cousins.
The three major brands in Germany are Erdinger, Paulaner and Franziskaner. Other renowned brands are Weihenstephan, Schneider, Maisel and Andechser. Regional brands in Bavaria are Hopf, Unertl, Ayinger, Schweiger and Plank. The style is currently consumed throughout Germany, but is especially popular in Bavaria.
Witbier, white beer, bière blanche, or simply witte is a barley/wheat, top-fermented beer brewed mainly in Belgium and the Netherlands. It gets its name due to suspended yeast and wheat proteins which cause the beer to look hazy, or white, when cold. It is a descendant from those medieval beers which were not brewed with hops, but instead flavoured and preserved with a blend of spices and other plants referred to as "gruit". Gruit is still used today, although nowadays the gruit consists mainly of coriander, orange, bitter orange, and hops. The taste is therefore only slightly hoppy. The beers have a somewhat sour taste due to the presence of lactic acid. In the past, the Belgian wheat beers were much more sour than is the case now. The suspended yeast in the beer causes some continuing fermentation in the bottle.
Witbier differs from other varieties of wheat beer in the use of gruit. French regulation (part of the territory was French in the 14th century) excluded the use of hops in gruit. Witbier can be made with raw wheat, in addition to wheat malt.
In recent times, some Belgian brewers have been making fruit flavoured wheat beers.
A minor variety of wheat beer is represented by Berliner Weisse (Berlin White), which is low in alcohol (2.5% to 3% ABV) and quite tart. Although it can be imbibed by itself, enthusiasts often add sweetened syrups of lemon, raspberry or woodruff herb into the beer.
Leipziger Gose is similar to Berliner Weisse but slightly stronger at around 4% ABV. Its ingredients include coriander and salt, which are unusual for German beers. Both Gose and Berliner Weisse acquire their sourness through the use of lactic acid bacteria in the fermentation in addition to yeast.
Names and types
According to the place in which the beer is brewed and small variations on the recipe, several different names are used for wheat beer:
- Weißbier, short Weiße: these terms are used almost exclusively in the southern German state of Bavaria. "Weiss" is German for "white".
- Weizenbier, short Weizen: these names are used to indicate the same thing. "Weizen" is German for "wheat".
- Hefeweissbier or Hefeweizen: "Hefe" is the German word for yeast. The prefix is added to indicate that the beer is bottle-conditioned (unfiltered) and thus might have sediment.
- Kristallweissbier or Kristallweizen: if the weissbier is filtered, the beer will look "clear" (or "kristall").
- Dunkles Weissbier or Dunkles Weizen: a dark version of a wheat beer ("dunkel" is the German word for "dark").
- Weizenbock is a wheat beer made in the bock style originating in Germany. An example of this style is Aventinus, made by the G. Schneider & Sohn brewery in Kelheim, Germany.
- Witbier or simply Wit: Dutch language name for the Belgian style of wheat beer.
- La bière blanche (Literally, "white beer"): The French language name for this type of beer.
Bavarian-style wheat beer is usually served in 500 ml, vase-shaped glasses. In Belgium, witbier is usually served in a 25cl glass; each brewery (Hoegaarden, Dentergems, etc.) has its own shape of glass. Berliner Weisse is often served in a schooner.
Kristallweizen (especially in Austria) and American styles of wheat beer are sometimes served with a slice of lemon or orange in the glass; this is generally frowned upon in Bavaria.
In northern Bavaria, it is common to add a grain of rice to kristallweizen, which causes a gentle bubbling effect and results in a longer lasting foam. A common item on pub menus in Bavaria is cola-weizen, which is a mix of cola and weizenbier. Often this is referred to as a "Neger" – a pejorative German term for a person of African descent. If weizen-bock is used instead of normal weizen it is called a "Turbo-Neger".
Another mixture popular during the summer is a radler variant with a 50–50 mix of Weissbier with lemonade called "Russ", which is the German term for Russian.
In different parts of Germany bananenweizen (wheat beer with banana nectar mixed in) is very popular.
How to pour a wheat beer is also important to serving. First, clean your glasses (which is not only for wheat beer, but all kinds of beer glasses need to be washed with clean water and dried up right away. It will improve beer's flavor and taste. ) Second, hold the glass on an angle, and pour the wheat beer slowly. Third, with about 10% or 15% of beer left in the bottle, swirl it smoothly to mix the yeast and beer together. Finally, pour the remaining beer in your glass. This process will help to improve the flavor, scent and appearance of your wheat beer.
Weissbiers feature fermentation by-products such as esters (which lend fruity flavors and aromas), especially isoamyl acetate, reminiscent of bananas, and the phenolic compound guaiacol, a metabolite of ferulic acid, which smells and tastes like cloves. Other phenolics sometimes found in Weissbiers evoke medicinal or smoky sensations. The bittering level of most Weissbiers is close to 15 International Bitterness Units, a very low level. Hop flavor and aroma are typically low.
The ester and phenolic aspects are produced by the special type of yeast, rather than the high fraction of wheat in the grain bill.
The carbonation level can range from 5.5 grams per liter (approximately 2.7 volumes; slightly higher than that of most other German beers) to 7 grams per liter, or more. This produces a generous stand of foam, especially in light of the high protein content of wheat malt.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to German Beers.|
- WeizenWeb – wheat beer around the world
- GermanBeerGuide.co.uk – A British website's guide to Hefeweizen
- Men's Health Magazine Possible health benefits of wheat beer
- Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) wheat beer style guidelines