Stylin’ & Profilin’: What Is a Wheat Beer?

Stylin’ & Profilin’ is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.

What is a Wheat Beer?

American Wheat BeerThe definition of a wheat beer is that it’s one brewed with a large proportion of wheat, typically consisting of anywhere between 50-65% malted wheat, relative to the amount of malted barley found in other lagers and ales. The addition of the extra amount of wheat is what gives this particular beer a refreshing, crisp profile.

In the middle ages, Germanic tribes set out to brew a much paler ale than what was normally produced due to a high abundance of wheat grain and barley. Combining the two brought to life what is known as Weissbier. They were lighter in appearance and the term “white beer” became a common term, with ‘weisse’ actually meaning ‘white.’ Some believe Weissbier to be one of the oldest beer styles, with a brewery in Germany known as Brauerei Weihenstephan brewing white beer as early as 1040 AD.

In beer culture today, four main styles of Weissbier can be found: Berliner Weisse, Belgian Witbier, American Wheat Beer, and Southern German Weissbier, which is more commonly known as Weizen or Hefeweizen. You will also stumble upon Dunkel Weizen, which is a darker version that is typically produced unfiltered.

Hefeweizen broken down means yeast (hefe) and wheat (weizen) and are generally highly carbonated brews. When poured into a serving glass, they are a cloudy pale gold to amber in color. Most beers brewed with wheat produce this appearance due to the higher proteins in wheat malt, and malted or raw wheat is a great agent for head retention. Wheat beers are best served in long, trumpet style glasses because it will aid in decanting some of the sedimentary yeast at the bottom of the bottle, as well as show off an impressive head if poured properly.

Aroma from the yeast strain hit the senses with that of a medicinal or clove-like scent. You may also pick up notes of fruity esters, bubble gum, vanilla and banana.

A true German-style Hefeweizen is such a contrast in flavor compared to an American Wheat beer. American Wheat beers more commonly use a neutral American yeast strain, which will emphasize the malt character a little more, and have a much cleaner flavor. Some of the other differences between the two are the use of hops and malt. German Hefeweizens are barely touched with hops, so as to not bring harshness to the delicate balance of esters, phenols (fruity fusel alcohol and a medicinal by product) and the fermented wheat flavor. As for the malt, American Wheat beers will mash with American malts though they have been known to throw in some tradition, especially when trying to brew the real thing by using German malts. In addition, some American wheat beers are clearly filtered and resemble a pale version of a regular American golden ale, these are usually summer seasonals and the only characteristics they lack are the yeasty flavors.

Wheat beers are considered the perfect summer beer, helping beat the heat with a light, yet crisp and refreshing taste. This day and age, it’s not uncommon for one to add fruit to a beer. You’re either on one side of this argument or the other. Some like to add lemon or orange to their wheat beers, others forbid it. It’s entirely up to you, but the acidity of the lemon will effect the head of your beer…if that’s important to you, it’s best not to fruit your brew!

Typically, the first beer people go to in this category is Blue Moon. However, there are plenty of options in this category to aid you in broadening your wheat beer scope. Sticking strictly to the American Wheat beers, there are several on this list from Beer Advocate that I enjoy when the summer heat comes on strong. Grab a few of these, kick back in your favorite patio chair, and take in some sunshine.

Cheers and enjoy!

 

 

 

Some content courtesy of Beer Advocate

Jason Cercone

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