About Wheat Beers

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.

Hefe Weizen
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.

Kristall Weizen
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.

Dunkel/Dark Weizen
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 Bock
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.

Wheat Ale
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?

White/Wit Beer
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 Weiss
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

Gose
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.
Top Picks for Wheat Beers
207980
LUCID Brewing
GOSLAR
Clear golden yellow color. Aromas of crushed coriander, lemon cake, orange peel, and tangerine with a tart, finely carbonated, light-to-medium body and a very long salt water taffy, lemon peel, root vegetables, and black pepper finish. A wonderful benchmark of the style that is sure to please at the table.
Date Tasted: 9/9/2014 in our Chicago tasting lab
211083
Revolver Brewing
Blood & Honey American Ale
Gold color. Aromas of pumpkin pie and carrot cake with a round, vibrant, finely carbonated, fruity medium-to-full body and a complex, long fresh bread and pepper finish. A great spicy, pumpkin style beer.
Date Tasted: 8/5/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab
211470
Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery
"Old Well" Belgian Wit
Gold color. Aromas of caramelized fruits and nuts, spice cake, and white blossoms with a satiny, lively, effervescent, fruity medium-to-full body and a tingling, elegant, long buttered toast and pepper finish. A fabulously rich and complex wit beer.
Date Tasted: 8/5/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab
198992
Brasserie Pietra
Colomba Blanche
Hazy golden straw color. Startling aromas of salami sandwich with a supple, dryish medium-to-full body and a savory, complex finish with layers of salty baguette, spice, herb, grassy. Amazing and unique. An incredible food beer.
Date Tasted: 7/11/2012 in our Chicago tasting lab
211463
Elevator Brewing Co.
"Big Vic" Imperial Mogabi Wheat IPA
Amber color. Aromas of roasted nuts and dark caramel with a supple, vibrant, finely carbonated, dry-yet-fruity medium-full body and a tingling, elegant, dried fruits, fig bread, and lemon pepper finish. A rich, malty British styled Imperial IPA, is such a thing exists and it apparently does now.
95 points $10.99 Best Buy
Date Tasted: 8/5/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab
211033
Epic Brewing Company
Wit Beer
Brilliant clear yellow straw color. Rich, hoppy, tropical herbal aromas of lemon basil and oregano, dried mango and papaya, cinnamon spice cake, and spruce with a satiny, lively, finely carbonated, fruity medium body and a tingling, layered, long lemon herb muffin, orange pepper, and sautéed garlic greens finish. A very snappy and spicy wit beer that is sure to please.
Date Tasted: 7/15/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab
202835
Adelbert’s Brewery
Barrel Aged Naked Nun
Hazy golden color. Sourish citrus, peach marmalade, and funky cheese aromas with a tangy, supple, and fruity medium-to-full body and a complex cornucopia of spicy, mushroom tart, tart nectarine, lime, and cheese notes on the long finish. A fantastic combination of spicy wit, bretty lambic, and umami tones that is super approachable and will be sensational with food.
Date Tasted: 7/10/2013 in our Chicago tasting lab
198393
Brasserie Dupont
Foret Blanche Organic White Beer
Fully hazy golden nickel color. Rich, elegant aromas soufflé, fresh brioche, and delicate peppery spices with a supple, dryish medium-to-full body and a long, kiwi, starfruit and grassy earth finish. A superb choice for the table and a wonderful example of the style.
Date Tasted: 5/2/2012 in our Chicago tasting lab
211252
August Schell Brewing Co.
Cypress Blanc Berliner Weisse
Minutely hazy light emerald straw color. Bright, funky, yeasty vinous aromas of lemon sourdough toast, peach vinaigrette, and barnyard hay with a soft, tart, finely carbonated, fruity sweet light-to-medium body and a smooth, stimulating, medium-long candied lemon peel and green apple finish. A highly drinkable Berliner Weisse with a pleasing level of sourness and attractive toastiness.
Date Tasted: 7/15/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab
211467
Ayinger
Brauweisse Hefeweizen
Hazy light gold color. Bright, attractive, fruity aromas of banana nut muffin, spiced nuts, and clay with a supple, bright, effervescent, off-dry light-to-medium body and a smooth, appealing, breezy grainy bread, banana custard, tall grass, and minerals finish. A delicious rich and grainy hefe.
Date Tasted: 7/7/2015 in our Chicago tasting lab