Welcome to the second installment of the DrinkFree Series, where I shed some light on the deep, often intimidating craft beer universe. This is where myths are debunked, truths are told, and consumer advice of the highest quality is given! Part of the DrinkFree motto that we have adopted is being able to make good purchasing decisions. To me, that means being empowered with the knowledge to increase the likelihood that you will love the beer you order or purchase, because we know two things:
- Good beer is rarely cheap.
- Just because a beer is expensive does not mean you will like it.
Wheat Beers Are Confusing – Here’s What You Need to Know:
These are words that give a clue that what you’re looking at is a wheat beer:
Wheat Beer Basics
Being a wheat beer does not mean it’s made with 100% wheat. Usually it means that there’s a considerable amount of wheat in the recipe, often around 50% or more, with the rest being made up of barley, corn, or oats. However, that higher percentage of wheat has a few effects on the beer. Most noticeably, they have a larger head and are more foamy in general. Other effects include generally being more hazy, and having a more silky mouthfeel. So, while wheat doesn’t add much in flavor, it adds to the texture and overall experience.
On average, wheat beers tend to be lower in alcohol, and that is due to a few reasons. Classic styles of wheat beers such as Hefeweizen and Belgian Wit were never brewed to a high alcohol level, and brewers today tend to make those styles similarly to how they were classically made. Further, wheat does not convert to sugar as efficiently as barley does, meaning for each pound of grain used in a recipe, less alcohol with result. Together, all of these things add up to a sessionable, refreshing yet flavorful beer!
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of the main styles of wheat beer:
Hefeweizen – A German Wheat beer averaging about 5% abv. In German, “Hefe” means yeast and “weizen” means wheat. So this is a much more yeast-driven derivative of the German Weisse/Weizen family of beers. This explains its flavors, which come from the yeast used. The common flavors are banana, clove, and sometimes bubblegum. They are light, crisp, and refreshing, while still being more substantial in body than a pilsner. Solidly in the lawn mower beer category.
Belgian Wit – Wit does not translate to wheat. It actually means white in this case. That’s because of all the Belgian beers, this was the lightest in color. It also averages about 5% abv, and is brewed with Belgian yeast, which is classically spicy. These are often brewed with coriander and bitter orange peel, which give a slight citrus flavor to pair with the spicy yeast in offsetting the sweetness from the grains. Think Blue Moon, a hugely popular Wit, and how well a fresh slice of orange compliments the spices and orange peel in the beer. This beer also has a creamy mouthfeel, but a light refreshing body.
Berliner-Weisse – This is some sour beer, and my personal favorite of the bunch. It’s highly carbonated, thin bodied, and usually in the low 3% abv range. Usually the head will be big when poured, and then disappear quickly, leaving no foam behind. The high carbonation is often compared to champagne, and makes for a very refreshing tart beer. The flavors tend to be lactic acid, grainy or doughy, with the acidity (rather than hops or spices) offsetting the sweetness of the grain. Often tastes like sour apples or lemon, and can sometimes be vinegary.
American Wheat Beers – This is referring to the plethora of wheat beers that are on the market today. As with nearly every They tend to blur the lines between styles, and rarely stick to the original authentic recipes. Often times, American breweries will take a classic style and add hops until it becomes something totally different. As a result, you have to read deeper into what a beer will be if it’s an American Wheat, otherwise you may end up with something other than you expected.
Here’s some specific commercial examples you should look out for:
- Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat – This is the quintessential wheat beer. Perfect starter for people who aren’t into craft beer yet. And if you like 312, I think you’ll love this.
- Widmer Hefeweizen – This beer is the classic American Craft Hefeweizen. Complete with the light banana and clove flavors that are trademark of Hefeweizen, this beer was one of the leaders in the initial craft movement, and is well worth looking out for.
- Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier – The classic, original Hefeweizen style beer. Use this as your North Star for wheat beers.
- Allagash White – My personal favorite witbier. This is like going from being an intern with Blue Moon to getting that full time, big boy job. It may not be any harder to drink, but the reward is much better. Try it with an orange slice if you must, but it’s amazing on its own.
- Dogfish Head Festina Peche – This is a delicious and refreshing Berliner Weisse. Tart without being sour, it has a peach background without being overbearing. Even if you don’t think you like sour beers, this beer might just change your mind…
- Revolution Sun Crusher – A true American craft take on a classic European style. They’ve made it hoppy enough to satisfy IPA drinkers, but not so much though that the average beer drinker can’t enjoy it. If you’re looking to be adventurous but don’t have much experience outside of 312 or Shock-Top, give this a try!
Scratching the Surface
This quick little reference on wheat beers was meant to be a crash course, not a deep dive. If you have any deeper questions, don’t hesitate to message me! I hope I provided you with some useful information that can aid you in your next trip to the store or your next meal out.
Thanks, and DrinkFree!