Let’s Discuss: Wheat Beers
No, I haven’t suddenly changed direction and started a cereal blog (but that could be interesting as malt is becoming a much bigger focus in the craft beer community!).
I picked this image of “The Breakfast of Champions”* to highlight today’s topic of conversation – wheat beers.
A few weeks ago, I shared the story of Westbrook’s White Thai – a creative culinary take on a traditional Belgian Witbier.
The Belgian Witbier is only one example of the many beer styles brewed primarily with wheat, however. Two other popular styles include German Weissbier and American Wheat Beer, and there are plenty more variations.
So how do each of these styles differ?
Although they all have a similar wheat base, Belgian Witbier is characterized by an elegant blend of fruity, floral, sweet and spicy aromas and flavors.
Pale straw to light gold in color, this unfiltered beer has a cloudy appearance from the use of unmalted wheat. A sweet grain flavor (often with honey or vanilla notes) is followed by zesty, orange-citrus notes and spices like coriander. Hop flavor and bitterness are low. Although it has a medium, creamy body, Witbiers have high carbonation giving them a dry, tart finish.
Fun fact: This 400-year-old Belgian beer style essentially died out in the 1950s, but was recently revived by Hoegaarden Brewery in Hoegaarden, Belgium (now part of Anheuser-Busch InBev) and has grown steadily in popularity since.
In German Weissbier, or Hefeweizen, the fruity, spicy notes characteristic of this style are produced by specific yeast strains used in brewing; not from the inclusion of additional ingredients, like coriander and orange peel, which are added to Belgian Witbier.
Weissbier is a straw-colored, slightly hazy, unfiltered German wheat beer. The German ale yeast used for this style of beer produces byproducts, called esters and phenols, which contribute banana (from the esters) and clove (from the phenols) aromas and flavors. Slight vanilla or bubblegum flavors also be noticeable. The grainy sweetness of the wheat will also be present, while hop flavor and aroma are low.
The high protein content of wheat (at least 50% of the malt bill for this style, hence the name), contributes a hazy or cloudy appearance to this unfiltered beer. It also gives it a fluffy, creamy mouthfeel and light finish, making this a very refreshing style for a hot summer day. Historically reserved for Bavarian royalty, Weissbier became widely brewed in Germany in the 1870s.
American Wheat Beer
Unlike a German Wheat Beer (or Weissbier), which has strong yeast flavors (think banana and clove) from byproducts called esters and phenols, American Wheat Beer has a much cleaner fermentation profile, allowing hop character to stand out instead. Hop flavors can range from citrusy or spicy, to floral and fruity.
Pale yellow to gold in color, this medium-bodied beer has a bread doughy malt flavor, fluffy, creamy mouthfeel and long-lasting head. The high protein content of wheat contributes a hazy or cloudy appearance to this unfiltered beer – so don’t worry, this is normal!
For a fun comparison, why not try a side-by-side of a classic example of each of these styles so you can understand and appreciate their differences.
Here are a few recommendations:
Allagash White, Ommegang Witte, Vedett Extra White
Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
American Wheat Beer
Bell’s Oberon, Odell Easy Street Wheat, Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer
Or, try something completely out of left field, like Westbrook’s Southeast Asian inspired take on a Belgian Witbier, White Thai.
There are plenty of other wheat beer styles to try, too. Look out for the darker Dunkleweizen, boozier Weizenbock, or the tart Berliner Weisse.
Already tried a few? What’s your favorite wheat beer and why? Leave me a note in the comments.
[*Please note, I’m not endorsing wheat beers as the breakfast of champions – remember that whole public health degree thing?! – but, I know mornings are tough for most of us, so you do you!]
Image source: General Mills