I became enamored of wheat beers twenty years ago, while touring southern Germany. We met with two other couples in Frankfurt, rented a VW bus, and spent a week in Bavaria. One favorite memory of that trip was an afternoon stop in the town of Garmisch. It was sunny, and we found a sidewalk café. There, we all ordered tall glasses of “Weissbier.” Seated at the next table were two servicemen, who coincidentally had served at the same Army base in the Philipines as our friend Doug. The joviality of conversation was matched by the effervescent beer we all were drinking—in the tall glasses designed especially for this beer.
Wheat beers are ales (top-fermented), that originated in Europe. In Germany, several wheat beer styles were developed—by the 1500’s Weissbier was an established regional specialty in Bavaria. This style contains 50 to 60% malted wheat, along with malted barley and small amounts of German hops. Also known as Hefeweizen (“hefe” means yeast; “weizen” is wheat), this style traditionally has a beautiful golden, hazy appearance, with a meringue-like topping of foam. When the head subsides, you may appreciate the delicate aroma—fruity, with scents of bananas, cloves, and bubblegum—by products of the German strain of yeast that makes this beer. The flavor is also fruity, with a subtle graininess imparted from the wheat. Along with these flavors is a mild tartness that makes this beer style especially refreshing in the summertime.
Another style of German wheat beer is the puckery sour beer, Berliner Weisse; also a traditional summer beer—it is rare to find in local liquor stores. A friend in the local homebrew club (ZZ Hops) makes a very good Berliner Weisse—a tricky beer to produce, because the yeast co-ferments along with the bacteria that create yogurt, Lactobacillus. Napoleon’s troops declared this German beer “the Champaign of the North” in 1809.
German light wheat beers make good companions with light salads and seafood. My favorite cheese pairing this summer has been Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier with French Bucheron—a tart semi-soft cheese with a soft edible rind, that I found at my favorite cheese shop, The Better Cheddar, on the Plaza. Darker styles of German wheat beers include Dunkelweizen, and Weizenbock; these are usually enjoyed in cooler weather.
Belgian brewers are less restrained in creating beer styles. The witbier (“wit” is Flemish for white) was first produced in 11th century Belgium, and were the first hopped beers—predating the German white beers. Witbiers were mainly produced around the towns of Leuven and Hoegaarde—the style nearly became extinct in the 1950’s, but was revived in the 60’s as the brand “Hooegaarden.” This is the classic example of the witbier style; it has become very popular and versions of it are made by several Belgium breweries, and many craft breweries in the US. Like the German Weiss, witbiers also have an aroma of fruit and bubblegum and clove produced by the yeast. Brewers of witbiers typically add spices of coriander and orange peel (and other spices)—giving the beer a citrusy zest. North American versions of witbier include Blue Moon, Unibroue’s Blance de Chambly, Avery’s White Rascal, Ommegang Witte, and Boulevard’s summer seasonal, ZON—which received a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival several years ago. The softly tart flavor of Belgian-style witbiers make them good accompaniments to salmon and chicken. A nice cheese to pair with witbiers is fresh mozzarella—the mild flavor complements the somewhat delicate flavors and light body of this beer style. Other Belgian beer styles include wheat in their ingredients—but witbier is lightest and most refreshing for summer.
American wheat beers are generally tame compared to the German and Belgian beers, fermented with yeast that does not produce the distinct bubblegum/clove found in the European wheats. American styles can be unfiltered and hazy, or filtered and clear. This beer style is a good introductory style to American craft ales—often a transition beer for friends that are only familiar with the common American lagers. With a light body and low levels of hop, American wheat beer is very drinkable. Enjoyed year-round, the American wheat beer is especially refreshing during the summertime! I’m going to share a selection of good American wheat beers with friends later this week—along with a choice of cheese. I’ll let you know what they think!
For More Info: