Wheat beer is a top-fermented beer which is brewed with a large proportion of wheat relative to the amount of malted barley. The two main varieties are German Weizenbier and Belgian witbier; other types include Lambic (made with wild yeast), Berliner Weisse (a cloudy, sour beer), and Gose (a sour, salty beer).
Weißbier (German – "white beer") uses at least 52% wheat to barley malt to make a light-coloured top-fermenting beer. Witbier (Dutch – "white beer") uses flavorings such as coriander and orange peel. Belgian white beers are often made with raw unmalted wheat.
Weizenbier (German: [ˈvaɪ̯t͡sn̩ˌbiːɐ̯] ⓘ) or Hefeweizen, in the southern parts of Bavaria usually called Weißbier (German pronunciation: [ˈvaɪ̯sˌbiːɐ̯] ⓘ, literally "white beer", referring to the pale air-dried malt, as opposed to "brown beer" made from dark malt dried over a hot kiln), is a beer, traditionally from Bavaria, in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. Wheat beer was introduced in Bavaria in the 15th century from neighbouring Bohemia. Because of reinheitsgebot only beer made from barley was allowed to be brewed in Bavaria up until 1548, when William IV, Duke of Bavaria, gave Baron Hans VI von Degenberg a special privilege to brew and sell wheat beer. By law, Weißbiers brewed in Germany must use a "top-fermenting" yeast. Specialized strains of yeast are used which produce overtones of banana and clove as by-products of fermentation. Historically, Bavarian Weißbier was either brewed with a large share of wheat malt (which was a ducal privilege in Bavaria) or from air-dried pale barley malt only (which was a common drink amongst poor people). It is well known throughout Germany, though better known as Weizen ("Wheat") outside Bavaria. The terms Hefeweizen ("yeast wheat") or Hefeweißbier refer to wheat beer in its traditional, unfiltered form. The term Kristallweizen (crystal wheat), or Kristallweißbier (crystal white beer), refers to a wheat beer that is filtered to remove the yeast and wheat proteins which contribute to its cloudy appearance.
The Hefeweizen style is particularly noted for its low hop bitterness (about 15 IBUs) and relatively high carbonation (approaching four volumes), considered important to balance the beer's relatively malty sweetness. Another balancing flavor note unique to Hefeweizen beer is its phenolic character; its signature phenol is 4-vinyl guaiacol, a metabolite of ferulic acid, the result of fermentation by top-fermenting yeast appropriate for the style. Hefeweizen's phenolic character has been described as "clove" and "medicinal" ("Band-aid") but also smoky. Other more typical but less assertive flavour notes produced by Weißbier yeast include "banana" (amyl acetate), "bubble gum", and sometimes "vanilla" (vanillin).
Weißbier is available in a number of other forms, including Dunkelweizen (dark wheat) and Weizenstarkbier (strong wheat beer), commonly referred to as Weizenbock. The dark wheat varieties are made with darker, more highly kilned malts (both wheat and barley). Weizenbocks typically have a much higher alcohol content than their lighter cousins.
The four largest brands in Germany are Erdinger, Paulaner, Franziskaner, and Maisel. Other renowned brands are Augustiner, Weihenstephaner, Schneider (a bronze-coloured specialty), and Andechser. Regional brands in Bavaria are Hopf, Unertl, Ayinger, Schweiger and Plank. Aventinus is an example of Weizen Doppelbock, stronger and darker version of Weizenbock, made by the G. Schneider & Sohn brewery in Kelheim.
Witbier, white beer, bière blanche, or simply witte is a barley/wheat, top-fermented beer brewed mainly in Belgium and the Netherlands. It gets its name due to suspended yeast and wheat proteins, which cause the beer to look hazy, or white, when cold. Today, along with hops it usually contains a blend of spices, such as coriander, orange, and bitter orange.
As early as the 16th and 17th century, the white beers of Hoegaarden and Leuven were renowned. Along with barley malt and unmalted barley it contained some oats, though apart from hops no other spices were used. The barley was usually not kilned but left to dry on attics where the wind was allowed to blow past it, in order to obtain a light colour.
The style was revived by Pierre Celis at the Hoegaarden Brewery in Belgium and the Celis Brewery in the United States and is traditionally made with up to 50% raw wheat rather than wheat malt. It probably was Celis who started adding the various spices. The beers have a somewhat sour taste due to the presence of lactic acid or acetic acid, much more pronounced in the past than today. Also, the suspended yeast in the beer causes some continuing fermentation in the bottle.
A minor variety of wheat beer is represented by Berliner Weiße (Berlin White), which is low in alcohol (2.5% to 3% ABV) and intentionally tart. Sweetened syrups of lemon, raspberry, or woodruff herb are often added before drinking.
Leipziger Gose is similar to Berliner Weiße, but slightly stronger at around 4% ABV. Its ingredients include coriander and salt, which are unusual for German beers, but are traditional for that style of beer.
A variation on the barley wine style involves adding a large quantity of wheat to the mash bill, resulting in what is referred to as wheat wine. This style originated in the United States in the 1980s.
Names and types
Wheat beers vary in name according to where they are brewed and small variations in the recipe. Among those used are: