Wheat beer is a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat. Wheat beers often also contain a significant proportion of malted barley. Wheat beers are usually top-fermented (in Germany they have to be by law). The flavour of wheat beers varies considerably, depending upon the specific style.
The main varieties are weissbier, witbier and the sour varieties, such as lambic.
Two common varieties of wheat beer are witbier (Dutch - "white beer") based on the Belgian tradition of using flavourings such ascoriander and orange peel which was revived by Pierre Celis at Hoegaarden, and weissbier (German - "white beer") based on theGerman tradition of mixing at least 50% wheat to barley malt to make a light coloured ale. Both the Belgian witbier and the German weissbier were termed "white beers" because historically they are pale unfiltered and have a hazy appearance due to the type of yeast. 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 weiss ("white beer" or "white") in Bavaria. Hefeweizen ("hefe" is German for yeast) is the name for unfiltered wheat beers, whilekristallweizen ("kristall" is German for crystal) is the same beer filtered.
Breweries in other countries, particularly the U.S. and Canada, will brew wheat beers based on these two main traditions using special wheat yeasts; however, other varieties of wheat beer are also brewed with ordinary ale yeast, which produces a less fruity taste than the Bavarian styles.
Sour ales such as Berliner Weisse, gose, and lambic are made with a significant proportion of wheat.
In Britain, wheat beer is not considered traditional, but several brewers produce cask-conditioned varieties, such as Fuller's Discovery,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.
Weissbier (Weißbier in German) refers to several different types of wheat beer. The term "hefeweizen" refers 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 filteredto remove the yeast from suspension. Additionally, the filtration process removes wheat proteins present in the beer which contribute to its cloudy appearance.
Weissbier is available in a number of other stronger forms including dunkelweizen (dark wheat) and weizenstarkbier (strong wheat beer), commonly referred to as weizenbock. The dark wheat varieties typically have a much higher alcohol content than their lighter cousins.
Alternative terms for hefeweizen include hefeweissbier, weissbier, hefeweisse, dunkelweizen, weizenbock, and weizenstarkbier. A weizenbock is not necessarily considered a hefeweizen unless it is left unfiltered.
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 ale 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 ale flavour notes include "banana" (amyl acetate), "bubble gum", and sometimes "vanilla" (vanillin).
Some prominent commercial examples of hefeweizen are produced by Paulaner, Boston Beer Company, Erdinger, Schneider Weisse(original amber only), Franziskaner, Schweiger, Hacker-Pschorr, Ayinger (Bräu Weisse), Weihenstephaner, Magic Hat (Circus Boy), and Widmer Brothers. The style is nowadays drunk throughout Germany, but is especially popular in its Southern German homeland.
Witbier, white beer, (French: la bière blanche), or simply witte is a barley/wheat, top-fermented beer brewed mainly in Belgium, although there are also examples in the Netherlands and elsewhere. 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 withhops, but instead flavoured and preserved with a blend of spices and other plants referred to as "gruit". It therefore still uses gruit, although nowadays the gruit consists mainly of coriander, orange, bitter orange, and hops. The taste is therefore only slightly hoppish, and is very refreshing in summer. The beers have a somewhat sour taste due to the presence of lactic acid. 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 (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 means it does not comply with the Reinheitsgebot. Both Gose and Berliner Weisse acquire their sourness through the use of lactic acid bacteria in the fermentation in addition to yeast.
The Belgian lambic is also made with wheat and barley, but differs from witbier in its yeast. Lambic is a brew of spontaneousfermentation.
Serving wheat beer
Bavarian-style wheat beer is usually served in 500 ml, vase-shaped glasses. In Belgium, witbier is usually served in a 25cl glass, although there is no standard shape. 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. Another mixture popular during the summer is a 50-50 mix of Weissbier with lemonade, called "Russe" (Russian), usually served in 1 litre beer mugs.
In different parts of Germany bananenweizen (wheat beer with banana nectar mixed in) is very popular, as well as cola-weizen which consists of equal parts of wheat beer and some sort of cola.