See also: Berliner Weisse, Gose, Grodziškie, Lambic, Lichtenhainer

Hefeweizen (or Hefeweißen)

The Schneider & Sohn brewery of Kelheim can be seen as the origin of modern German wheat beers (photo: André Brunnsberg)

This distinctive style of virtually hop-free, cloudy wheat beer (4.4-5.6% ABV) is memorable for its banana, clove and nutmeg character, which comes from special yeast.  Wheat beers have existed in Bavaria for at least 500 years, the Bavarian Beer Purity Order (or Reinheitsgebot) of 1516 being prompted by brewers and bakers squabbling over wheat supplies.  At what point the specialist yeast were developed is less clear.  The modern forms of wheat beer owe their origins to the Schneider brewery of Kelheim, which began as a specialist producer in 1856 and now leads the world in creating new forms.  This cloudy version started to gain popularity in the 1960s.  In German, Weizen means wheat and Weiss (or Weiß) means white, the latter referring to its hazy appearance.  An interesting French variation is emerging that adds saison-like notes to the character.

Kristallweizen (or Kristall Weiß)

If you filter Hefeweizen you will remove its flour suspension, proteins and, many would argue, much of its character.  It looks a lot nicer though. 

Dunkelweizen (or Dunkles Weissbier)

German wheat beers are typically loaded with banana-like esters and clove-like phenolic edges, the darker ones carrying some light caramel or bread crust but roasted flavours should be absent.  The same strength as Hefeweizen (4.4-5.6% ABV) but likely more typical in colour to wheat beers of old, the colour being determined by the 50% or more the grain bill that is made up of barley.  Some German brewers distinguish between amber and brown varieties but we are not convinced this distinction helps.

Witbier (or Bière Blanche, Tarwebier, Bière de Froment)

Wit and Blanche mean white, while Tarwe and Froment mean wheat.  This simple quaffing ale (4.0-5.5% ABV) is made hazy by wheat flour and spicy by additions from the spice cabinet.  Common spices include dried citrus peel and coriander, though beers can be found in Belgium and elsewhere that contain many others in some degree.  Its revival came in 1966, when brewer Pierre Celis of Hoegaarden, east of Brussels, recreated a beer he recalled from his childhood.

American Wheat Beer

While German wheat beers are yeast led and Belgian ones a mix of doughy and spicy, an American wheat beer should be simple and light (4.0-5.5% ABV) with great drinkability, offering a platform for low-dose but nonetheless noticeable and delicate hopping.  There should be no banana, clove, coriander or citrus peel character.

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