For quite a while now, the craft beer scene has been dominated by strong, mega hoppy beers along with oak aged, high alcohol barley wines. With summer finally here, it is time to switch gears. We need a refreshing style that is crisp, has a bit of fruit notes and light. A beer that can truly cool us off on those humid days as well as pair with the lighter foods we tend to eat in the summertime. We need a beer that can do all of this yet still have some actual flavor! What is a beer connoisseur to do? A simple answer to the question is drink wheat beers.
Wheat beer is just what it sounds like, a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat relative to the amount of malted barley found in typical beers. The tastes of this style can vary depending on the style of wheat beer made. The main styles are Weiss bier and wit bier. There are also sour styles, the most popular of which is Lambic – usually flavored with fruit.
The two most common varieties of wheat beer are wit bier or white beer. It gets this name due to yeast and wheat still left in the beer that gives it a hazy or white appearance when cold. These typically follow the Belgian tradition of using additives such as coriander and orange peel. This is a tradition carried over from medieval beers which did not use hops, but used spices and plants as flavoring and preservatives. These beers are typically made with raw unmalted wheat as opposed to malted wheat used more often in other styles. These beers are typically very light in hops making these easy drinking and refreshing. In the past, these beers were somewhat sour, but modern styles are far less sour and feature more of the grain and fruit tastes. Great examples of this style are Alaskan White, Unibroue Blanche de Chambly and Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat.
The other common variety of wheat beer is Weiss bier or simply Weiss. Hefeweizen also falls into this classification. Hefe is German for yeast so Hefeweizen beers are typically unfiltered and possess a cloudy appearance. Filtered beers are called Kristallweizen. This are clean and crisp and don’t have as much of the wheat and fruit flavors. By German law these beers must be top-fermented and they use specialized strains of yeast that produce notes of banana and a touch of clove during the brewing process. You can even get flavors such as bubble gum and vanilla, especially in Hefe’s. Hefe’s are also especially light on the hops and have a more carbonated style which makes this a near perfect beer for the steamy months. Great examples of these are Erdinger, Weihenstephan and Paulaner. Also if you are looking for stronger darker styles, don’t forget bock beer. Typically found in the spring. Celebrator Bock is a great example.