Weissbier (Wheat Beer)

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Weissbier (Wheat Beer)


Overview

Wheat beer or Weissbier is the traditional wheat beer of Bavaria and one of Germany’s most popular and distinctive beer styles. Weissbier translates to “white beer” from German. This name comes from the yellowish-white tint which is provided by the inclusion of pale wheat and barley malts from which the beer is made. Outside Bavaria, most weissbier is usually referred to as hefeweizen, which translates to “yeast wheat” from German. This name stems from the fact that it is a wheat-based beer which is traditionally packaged unfiltered; meaning plenty of yeast turbidity is present in the final beer. German law states that for a beer to be labelled hefeweizen, Weizenbier, or Weissbier, it must contain a minimum of 50% malted wheat. Most weissbiers, however, use around 60-70% malted wheat, with the rest being malted barley.

Obviously, in other countries German law doesn’t apply and wheat beers can be brewed with any percentage of wheat, however, it would be rather challenging to produce a beer with the characteristics of a Weissbier from a mash with under 50% wheat. On the other hand, producing a beer with 100% wheat would be nearly impossible, due to wheat having no husks, meaning an all-wheat mash would clog up the brewing equipment in a sticky gloop. As such, beers made using 100% wheat are pretty much all confined to laboratories, although craft brewers will produce such a beer every now and again, often using rice hulls to allow for natural filtration of the gloop mentioned earlier.

As wheat contains a high amount of protein, modern weissbier brewing now includes long rests, allowing the breakdown of proteins to reduce the viscosity. Traditional weissbier is fermented using a family of closely related yeast strains which release most of the classical flavours associated with Weissbier, with the presence of wheat providing the unique lightness on the palate and a punch of acidity. The notes of clove, bubblegum and banana which characterise weissbier are all a result of fermentation using these specialized yeasts. Some breweries outside Germany, mainly in the United States, market and describe beers which are fermented using normal yeasts as “hefeweizen”; this is the incorrect use of the term, as these beers have no traditional hefeweizen character.

Primary fermentation is generally conducted at 20°C-22°C when brewing weissbiers and is typically finished within 2 to 4 days. Next is a short aging period in closed tanks, normally around 10–14 days, afterwards the beer is ready for bottling or kegging. Traditional weissbier is then refermented inside the bottle, using speise (speise is the unfermented beer, occasionally with fresh yeast added) as the priming sugar. Sadly, this second fermentation process in the bottle, known as conditioning has become very rare, particularly amongst the large corporations, with most weissbier outside Bavaria now being pasteurized instead, giving a lower quality beer and less carbonation.

In terms of the beer itself, it’s definitely unique and rising in popularity, good examples of weissbiers are pale, refreshing beers with high carbonation and fluffy mouthfeels. Alongside unique notes of cloves and banana, feint bubblegum and vanilla are not unknown either. The additional protein content from the wheat manifests as a haze in the beer along with a thick, mousey head. Hop presence is very low, this lack in bitterness is generally perceived as sweetness for most people.

 Wiessbier
BuzzwordsHazy, Banana, Clove
AppearancePale straw to golden in colour. Generally hazy with a large, thick head.
Alcohol Content4.2-5.6%
Aroma & FlavourPale and refreshing, not much hop presence which comes across as quite a sweet taste. Strong notes of banana and clove are often present and feint bubblegum or vanilla flavours are not uncommon.

Stats

  • (Not making sense? This will help.)

    SRM: 2-6

    ABV: 4.3–5.6%

    IBU: 8–15

     

  •  

    Gravity:

    OG: 1.044–1.052

    FG: 1.010–1.014

Popular Wiessbiers

  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

    A typical golden-yellow wheat beer, it pours with a rich, white head, has a strong aroma of cloves and impresses with a refreshing banana flavour. It is full bodied with a smooth yeast taste.

  • Schneider Weisse Unser Original

    An amber coloured wheat beer with a great, thick head and strong notes of ripe bananas, cloves and nuts. It is finished with a hint of acidity and a slight fruity aftertaste. One of the weissbiers which has stuck to the original style closely.

  • Ayinger Brau Weisse

    This brewery is over 130 years old, yet still producing delicious beers. With a score of 96/100 on RateBeer, this is a lemon and vanilla scented wheat beer. With the pale colour of mountain honey and tart refreshing palate, this is true to the original recipe in that bottle conditioning is still used. With such a creamy head, it is possible to sculpt miniature mountains with it.

Did you know?

The roots of wheat beer date back to the distant past, some 6,000 years ago, and probably even before that. The first wheat beer brewers were the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, brewing took place between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, in what is now southern Iraq. From archaeological discoveries in the region it is believed that they brewed with einkorn, emmer, and spelt, which are genetic ancestors to our modern wheat. Thus, the oldest known description of beer drinking, which dates to about 3400 BC, is one of wheat beer drinking.

Other Important Varieties

Weissbier now has various adaptations. There is the classic weissbier or hefeweizen, which is a pale beer with lots of yeast in suspension and topped with a tall, rich crown of white head. Next we have the terminological inconsistent dunkelweissbier or dunkelweizen (“dark white beer” or “dark wheat”), this is a weissbier brewed with the dark malts, including caramal, crystal or roasted malts.

Amber coloured weissbier is referred to as “bernsteinfarbenes weisse,” which translates to “amber white” from German. These beers are not considered traditional weissbiers because the colour predates the wide availability of pale malts. There is also low-alcohol version of wiessbier called leichtes weissbier. And finally there is the filtered kristallweizen (“crystal wheat”), which lacks the traditional haziness of wheat beers.

Nevertheless, all wiessbiers should be served in tall vase-like glasses which are chunky at the base, girding in to an elegant waist, and finally flaring in diameter at the lip. The high carbonation and protein content associated wheat beers combine to produce a rich, thick head which is vital for correct presentation of these beers. Bottles of hefeweizen are poured cautiously to attain this attractive mousse-like foam, and then the bottle is swirled with the remainder of the beer to gather the left over yeast, which is added to the glass as a finishing touch.

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