Wheat beer is a type of beer that originated in Bavaria, Germany. It is typically a top-fermented ale that contains at least 30% wheat in the brewing process and is available in a variety of styles. Wheat beers are typically light in colour, have a low to medium alcohol content, and can appear cloudy or clear. They can be brewed with or without hops, depending on the variety, and lack bitterness, making them more approachable to those who are intimidated by hops.
The terminology within Wheat Beer can be puzzling; here’s an explanation of the terms you’re likely to encounter.
- Wit means “white” in Dutch/Flemish, and it refers to Belgian-style wheat ale or witbier, also known as bière blanche in French.
- Weisse is the German word for “white,” and it often refers to the sour Berliner type of beer, but it can also refer to the Bavarian type, as in weissbier. It is often used interchangeably with Weizen.
- Weizen is the German word for “wheat,” and it is most commonly associated with the Bavarian wheat beer style.
- Hefe simply means “yeast,” referring to an unfiltered beer served with its yeast, which is the most popular type of Bavarian beer.
- Dunkel (“dark”), steinfarbenes (“amber”), bock and doppelbock (“strong” and “double strong”), and kristal (“filtered”) are some other terms that you can come across.
American-style wheat ales are golden-coloured beers that are clear or hazy, clean and crisp and fermented with a non-European yeast strain. Although they resemble German weizens in appearance, they do not taste the same. phenolic and estery Aromas and flavours of German weizen yeast are not typically found in these beers. Beers in this category use American hop varieties with varying levels of bitterness; they are typically available only during the summer months, but some are available all year.
A Berliner weisse is technically any wheat beer brewed in Berlin. However, the name has become more associated with a more lactic profile than that found in southern Germany. This tart, thirst-quenching ale, dubbed “the Champagne of the north” by Napoleon’s soldiers, gets its sharp flavours from lactic fermentation. True Berliners will cut the sharp acidity of Berliner weisse with raspberry syrup, woodruff essence, or caraway schnapps.
These dark wheat beers get their character from the use of darker malts in the non-wheat ingredients, which results in a richer, darker-coloured beer with fuller malt flavours. Dunkel weizens retain the floral, estery characteristics of pale weizens. Dark weizens can be made with or without a secondary fermentation in the bottle, and they can be yeast sedimented or unsedimented, depending on the brewer’s preference.
Weizen bier is a top-fermenting beer style from southern Germany, specifically Bavaria, that is brewed with at least 50% wheat in the mash. Hefeweizens are light, carbonated beers that are ideal for quenching summer thirst. Secondary fermentation occurs, frequently in the bottle. Traditional hefeweizen yeast strains can impart spicy, clove, banana, or bubblegum flavours. The word “Hefe” (German for yeast) on the label indicates that the bottle contains yeast sediment. The average alcohol content is 5-5.5%. The body of these beers ranges from medium to medium-full. Hop flavours have a negligible impact on the flavour profile.
A more hop-forward version of a Hefeweizen. Not a combination of styles like a White IPA, but a Hefeweizen with the bitterness and aromas hops can add to beer.
A kristall weizen is a weizen ale that is not hazy. A weizen labelled “Kristall” indicates that it has been filtered prior to bottling to remove the protein haze and yeast commonly found in such beers. Kristallweizens lack the yeasty and spicy complexity that hefeweizen beers are known for, and have a cleaner, more delicate flavour. Floral and fruity aromas are frequently noted in classic examples of this style, which has a healthy alcohol content of 5-5.5% and a medium to medium-full body.
Weizenbocks are winter wheat beers that originated in Bavaria. The colour can range from pale gold to brown. They have a higher alcoholic strength, up to 7% ABV, and a warming personality, though they should still have a noticeable rocky head when poured. These beers combine the characteristics of hefeweizens and dopplebocks, and as a result, they are rich and malty, with estery, yeasty qualities, and a note of wheaty crispness through the finish.
Wit beer is a flavoured wheat beer. It has a distinct Belgian origin and is still strongly associated with the country’s lowlands. Wits use unmalted wheat in the mash, but flavour is added in the form of Curaçao orange peel and coriander, among other things. A hazy white precipitate marks their appearance, and these beers typically have some sedimentation. These are typically very refreshing summer thirst quenchers.
Wheat wine is a strong ale that contains wheat in its grain bill. Wheat wine, like barleywine, is sweet, malty, and high in alcohol (between 8% and 12% ABV). Wheat accounts for roughly half of the grain bill, or roughly 40% to 60%. The remainder is barley malt.
Wheat wines are lighter in colour and body than barleywines, less aggressively hopped, and thus less bitter. Brewers use lighter malts in wheat wines than in barleywines, so wheat wines are softer and fruitier.
This style is more of a mash (pun intended) up of styles rather than a formal style. White IPAs are golden-colored beers that are clear or hazy, and are a cross between the hop-forward American India pale ale style and the traditional Belgian wit style. These beers have the yeasty spice profile of Belgian wits as well as the citrusy and/or resinous aromatic hop profile of American IPAs, with medium-to-high hop bitterness. They are typically only available during the summer, but as this style grows in popularity, many more are becoming year-round brews.
OTHER WHEAT BEER STYLES:
- Gueuze, Lambic, & Fruit Lambics
- Spontaneously fermented wild ales from the area in and around Brussels (the Senne Valley) stem from a farmhouse brewing tradition several centuries old.
- It is a wheat beer, but lives within European Sour Ales beer guidelines.
- Gose beer (pronounced “goes-uh”) is a pale, top-fermenting wheat beer flavoured with coriander and salt.
- It is a wheat beer, but lives within European Sour Ales beer guidelines.
- Gose has a low hop bitterness and a dryness and spice from the use of ground coriander seeds, as well as a sharpness from the addition of salt.
- Originating in Lichtenhain, in Thüringen (central Germany). Height of popularity was towards the end of the 1800s, and was widely available throughout Thüringen. Like a pre-1840 Berliner Weisse.
- A smoked, sour lowe ABV German Wheat Beer.
- Not as acidic as Berliner weisse, probably more like a smoked Gose without coriander and salt, or a Grodziskie with Gose-like acidity.
- Piwo Grodziskie
- Pronounced in English as “pivo grow-JEES-kee-uh” (meaning: Grodzisk beer). Known as Grätzer (pronounced “GRATE-sir”) in German-speaking countries, and in some beer literature.
- A Polish low ABV beer. Lightly smoked oak aroma and flavour, with a moderate bitter finish.
- Regular commercial production declined after WWII and ceased altogether in the early-mid 1990s.
- A Dunkelweizen made with rye rather than wheat, but with greater body and light finishing hops.
- A specialty German rye beer originally brewed in Regensburg, Bavaria. Never a widely popular style, it has all but disappeared in modern times.