Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #10 – Weizenbier

For this edition, let’s take a look at another European style of beer. Wheat beers are beers that are top-fermented (like ale) and, unsurprisingly, contain a high proportion of wheat to malted barley (usually about 50:50). There are two main types of wheat beer – Weizenbier and Witbier. This time, we are going to look at Weizenbier.

Weizenbier (“wheat beer” in German), is also called Weißbier (“white beer”) in parts of its native Bavaria. The style is said to be known as white beer, as it is paler in colour than Munich’s traditional brown beer, being a pale and hazy gold or yellow colour. That said, “wheat” has the same etymological root as “white” in most West Germanic languages, including English, which explains the link between the different names.

It was the Bavarian Royal family, the House of Wittelsbach, who first drank wheat beer. They were determined that no one would join them, so they drew up the famous Reinheitsgebot, the world’s oldest beer law, which only permitted their subjects to drink beer made from barley, water and yeast. As the royals held the monopoly to grow both wheat and barley, they could ensure that no one got their hands on wheat for brewing.

Eventually, wheat beer became available for the masses in 1859 when a Munich brewer, Georg Schneider, was licensed to brew it. Special strains of yeast are used to produce the beer, which create banana and clove overtones as by-products of fermentation. It is therefore reasonably easy to recognise a Weizenbier when you taste (or even smell) one!

A blend of barley malt and wheat malt is required, rather than just wheat malt, as barley malt has a greater level of enzymes that turn starch into fermentable sugars. Barley also has a husk that acts as a filter during mashing, which means that the grain is prevented from becoming mushy and clogging up the brewing vessels.

To complicate the style family tree further, Weizenbier itself can be split into two sub-categories – Hefeweizen (“yeast wheat”) or Hefeweiß (“yeast white”) and Kristallweizen (“crystal wheat”) or Kristall Weißbier (“crystal white”). The Hefewiezen is the traditional, unfiltered (i.e. cloudy) form and the Kristallweizen is the filtered version, where the yeast and wheat proteins are removed to eliminate the cloudy appearance. The Hefeweizen is noted for its low hop bitterness and high carbonation, which is considered a requirement to balance the beer’s malty sweetness. Weizenbier is also available in order sub-styles, such as Dunkelweizen (“dark wheat”) and Weizenstarkbier (“strong wheat beer”) or Weizenbock. These darker versions are made with more highly kilned malts (both wheat and barley) and usually have higher alcohol content.

Another minor variety of German wheat beer is Berliner Weiße (“Berlin White”), which is usually between 2.5% and 3% ABV and tart in flavour. Sweetened syrups, such as lemon, raspberry or woodruff herb are often added before drinking. The most famous brands of Weizenbier are Erdinger, Paulaner, Franziskaner, Augustiner, Weihenstephaner, Schneider, Maisel and Andescher. In the UK, Weizenbier is very much considered a European beer, but many UK brewers are now having a go at producing one – usually as a seasonal or one-off “special”.

Regional examples that I have had the pleasure of supping are Half Moon Triticum (4.8%), Bad Seed Hefeweizen (5.1%), Samuel Smith’s Organic Wheat Beer (5%), Great Heck Amish Mash (4.7%), Leeds Leodis Wheat (4.6%) and Cathead Hefeweizen (5.8%). An interesting new brewery appeared on our local scene last year – Eyes Brewing. Eyes are very relevant to this article as they are believed to be the UK’s first wheat brewery and the first wheat-focused brewery to  open since the mid-20th century. Their aim is to create a range of wheat beers inspired by German tradition, modern innovation and long-forgotten English ale styles. They are currently brewing at Ainsty Ales’ new brewery at Acaster Malbis, just outside York. So, if you fancy a change from the usual barley beer, why not take a wander over to wheat?

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