Those of us who enjoy dark beers won’t completely shut them out during the spring and summer months, of course. But there’s something to be said about the experience of a light, refreshing brew while enjoying a sunny day outdoors.
With that in mind, wheat beer is May’s Style of the Month at Craft Beer Cellar.
Just like barley, wheat has been used to make beer for millennia. Unlike barley, wheat generally cannot serve as the sole grain in the brewing process. The same qualities that make wheat so desirable in making dough for bread are, understandably, not so great for making beer.
Thus, wheat beers use varying amounts of the grain in combination with barley. Wheat malt naturally makes for a lighter-bodied beer, making beers with wheat a perfect thirst-quencher on a hot day.
The two most common wheat beers are hefeweizen and witbier. “Hefe” meaning “yeast” in German and weizen meaning, yup, “wheat,” hefeweizen is known for its distinct banana and clove notes that come from its unique yeast. A couple of our favorites from Germany include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier and Julius Echter from Wurzburger Hofbrau.
Witbier, a style originated in Belgium, is traditionally made with orange peel and coriander. Compared to a hefeweizen, witbier tends to be hazier in appearance and has a more sharp, crisp finish. Some of our favorite examples include Allagash White, Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, and du Bocq Blanche de Namur.
Hefeweizens made in Germany are made with at least 50 percent wheat in the malt bill, as mandated by law. In witbiers, it can range from 15 to 40 percent. In the case of both styles, the wheat malt’s subtle qualities provide a great platform for the aromas and flavors brought out by the other ingredients.
Wheat is also used in sour styles berliner weisse and gose, both also delightful on a warm day. American wheat beers have the same refreshing characteristics of their European brethren, but usually without the notes of banana or citrus. Bell’s Oberon Ale, the Michigan brewery’s summer seasonal, and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat are two good representations of the style.
Whatever your tastes are, now is as good a time as any to pick up some wheat beer, relax, and enjoy one of brewing’s most historic ingredients.