Wheat ales represent a diverse range of styles brewed with a portion of wheat in addition to malted barley. These beers are usually lighter in body, unfiltered and highly refreshing. Bavarian weizen beers are the better-known examples in this category, which also includes Berliner weisse and Belgian witbier. This category also features American style wheat beers, which may range from fairly neutral in flavor and aroma to highly-hopped.
Brewing with wheat instead of barley is an ancient tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of brewing. Although not an easy grain to work with, beers brewed with a proportion of wheat do not require maturation, as is the case with lagers, and can be drunk soon after brewing. Most importantly wheat ales are very refreshing. Traditionally they are cloudy or hazy, though with modern filtration they can easily be made clear. Bavarian "weizen" beers are the best known examples of wheat ales and are widely imitated.
Weizen bier is a top fermenting beer style that originates from southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, and is brewed with at least 50% wheat in the mash. Hefe weizens are refreshing, highly carbonated beers ideal for quenching summer thirsts. They undergo secondary fermentation, often in the bottle, and the yeast strains used for this purpose impart a spicy, clove-like flavor. Hefe (the German word for yeast) on the label denotes that the bottle contains yeast sediment. Alcohol content is typically 5-5.5% ABV, giving these beers a medium to medium-full body. Hop flavors play a very insignificant role in the flavor profile. The best examples to be found are still authentic Bavarian imports, although some good domestic examples are produced and are often available as a draft option.
A Kristal weizen is a non-hazy weizen ale. Kristall on the label of a weizen specifically denotes that a weizen has been filtered prior to bottling to remove the protein haze and yeast often suspended in such beers. Kristall weizens lack the yeasty and spicy complexity often associated with hefe weizen beers, and have a cleaner and more delicate flavor. Floral, fruity aromas are often noted in classic examples of this style, though healthy alcohol content of 5-5.5% will give a medium to medium-full bodied character.
These dark wheat beers derive their character from the use of darker malts in the non-wheat ingredients, so that a richer, darker colored beer can be achieved, along with fuller malt flavors. Dunkel weizens still display the floral, estery qualities of a pale weizen. Dark weizens are produced with or without a secondary fermentation in the bottle, with the corollary that these styles can be yeast sedimented or unsedimented depending upon the preference of the brewer.
Weizen bocks are essentially winter wheat beers, originally brewed in Bavaria. The color can be pale gold to brown. They are of higher alcoholic strength, as high as 7% ABV, showing a warming personality, though they should still have a significant ‘rocky head when poured. These beers combine the character of hefeweizens and dopplebocks and as such are rich and malty with estery, yeasty qualities and show a note of wheaty crispness through the finish.
As the name would suggest these are ales that use a proportion of wheat in the mash to add a protein haze. Wheat ales, inspired by the German weizen tradition were popular before prohibition in the US and are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. This generic category encapsulates the diverse interpretation of the classic German Weizen styles brewed in America and elsewhere. A host of variables ranging from the wheat/malt ratio, hopping and filtration/non filtration all contribute to wide variations on the theme. Generally US examples feature a more marked hop accent than classic German weizen styles and are often dryer.
Flavored Wheat Ales
Turning wheat beer into a cocktail has precedent in Europe where alcoholic cordials or fruit syrups can be used to help beer slide down more easily. Flavored wheat ales are an increasingly popular specialty category covering a number of flavoring options that brewers have adopted, particularly in the USA, the home of "throw-the-rule-book-away" hybrid beer styles. The two most significant additives are fruit and honey, usually employed separately. Raspberry is a common choice of fruit to flavor these styles and the best examples have faithful fruit essence and avoid any sweet cloying character. Honey can add richness to the palate and give a hint of sweetness. Herbs and spices are also encountered, but the possibilities are endless. Chocolate dunkel raspberry weisse anyone?
Wit beer is a style of flavored wheat. It is distinctly Belgian in origin and is still very closely associated with this low land country. Wits employ a proportion of unmalted wheat in the mash but also have flavor added in the form of curaçao, orange peel and coriander, among other ingredients. Their appearance is marked by a hazy white precipitate and these beers generally have some sedimentation. Typically these are very refreshing summer thirst quenchers. They are not widely produced in the US but some notable examples can be found.
Berliner weisse is pale straw to light gold in color and ranges from 3-4% in alcohol. These beers are unfiltered and are defined by their electric sourness. This distinctive sourness is the product of the addition of lactobacillus or lactic acid in the brewing process. This style originated in Berlin in the 1600’s and is still brewed in Germany today Though they had faded in popularity outside Bavaria the style has now been embraced by the craft brew movement as a refreshingly tart, sessionable sour style. These beers are commonly served with woodruff or raspberry syrup to help balance the acidity and tartness
Originally a specialty of Leipzig, Germany, this is another "ancient" beer style has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Gose is pale yellow to deep gold in color and ranges in alcohol from 4-5%. Brewed with at least half malted wheat, this unfiltered beer is characterized by a unique flavor profile that features a combination of coriander and a defining lactic sourness and strong salinity. Similar to Berliner Weisse, Gose is sometimes served with woodruff or raspberry syrup to help balance it’s acidity and tartness.
Wheat Beer Extra Credit:
Students of trivia may be interested to know that Germany’s famed purity law specifically forbade the use of wheat and other grains for producing beer. The reason? Wheat was too valuable in the production of bread to waste on beer.