T.J.’s Quick Guide to Hefeweizens, and Why You Should Love Them!
AKA: Weissbier, Weizenbier, Weizen, or Wheat Ale
Ever had a white beer? A lot of breweries label their beers as “white,” which is actually a description of both its color and of what you’re drinking. A “white” beer is made predominately with wheat, as opposed to only containing malted barley – the words white and wheat have the same etymological root. Before pale lagers and pale ales came along, most beers were dark, which made these new wheat beers appear white by comparison. In actuality, they are a vibrant, straw yellow to golden color, a result of the lower content of malt. Also, the Hefe in Hefeweizen means yeast in German. Much like the yeast used to help bread rise in an oven, the special yeasts used for this style create a top-fermenting brew, which produce aromas of banana and cloves in both the smell and the taste. Unlike IPAs, Hefeweizens are lightly hopped, which make this a more refreshing alternative and a very session-able drink.
Hefeweizens are light in taste and alcohol, which make them ideal in the summer. Capitalizing on the popularity of placing a lime in your Corona (the jury is still out on this marketing ploy), many bars have started garnishing their wheat beers with a lime or an orange. The orange has been appropriated to help enhance the natural overtones of orange peel and citrus from wheat beers. On the other hand, most believe that the lime slices used in Corona bottles actually help mask the skunky taste that is caused from clear bottles exposing the beer to sunlight. While the fruit might make it look pretty, don’t buy into the hype! Squeezing or dropping fruit into your beer will mask the taste and waste the craftsmanship behind these products.
Now, it’s become the norm in the beer sphere to go to great lengths to find that top-rated beer and follow-up with a picture of it sitting on an oven in the kitchen. Bloggers write about and take pictures of beers that excite them – usually something so rare that most readers can’t find it locally. I’m not going to lie, it’s fun to share a picture of that barrel-aged, limited release, privately imported brew! So while I like reading those reviews as much as the next beer geek, I would like to instead praise a style of beer as a whole, and present a few good options out there. I’ll be reviewing samples from Quebec, Germany, and one from the U.S. to cover a wide range of what’s available on the market. Most of these are readily available in Quebec and Ontario (except for the Sierra Nevada).
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Paulaner’s Hefeweizen is what first turned me on to good beer. Alhough I had always tried to find alternatives to the macro-brewed pilsners and lagers, Paulaner made me really appreciate a well-crafted beer and want to seek out more like it. If you take anything away from this article, know that Hefeweizens are a great style worthy of your attention. Rather than just choosing the “white” version of the super-market, macro-corporate beer, why not drink the real stuff. To help you decide, here’s what you should look out for.
* The Quick and Dirty *
What to expect from Hefeweizens: At their most basic, they are pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing, wheat-based ales. The Bavarian yeasts in traditional recipes often create a spicy, clove-like flavour, while the esters (the chemicals produced by the yeast) produce banana and vanilla flavours, and something that resembles bubblegum. These beers are smooth, sometimes with a round, creamy feel or sometimes slightly crisp and dry. They are low in alcohol content and strike a refreshing balance between wheat, malt, and hop flavours.
Pour your Hefeweizens into a tilted glass until about one quarter is left in the bottle. Swirl what’s left in the bottle to mix in the yeast sediment, then pour the rest in to activate the yeast into a nice bouquet and to increase the cloudy, unfiltered appearance. The best glasses to use are tall, narrow ones.
Quebec, Canada, & U.S.A
Belle Gueule Hefeweizen (QC)
The aroma is fruity with a nice orange character, and light wheat undertones. I find the flavour pleasant, fruity, and lightly bitter, with little to no hop character. It has nice orange citrus and orange peel notes, making it almost juicy. It is full bodied on the palate, with good carbonation. The taste is full and creamy, with a strong wheat malt flavour.
Farnham Hefeweizen (NEW) (QC)
This beer is rich and creamy, without much bitterness. It has clove and cinnamon notes that reminded me of banana bread, but with a pinch of lemon zest. It has an almost buttery taste, with an excellent balance of light pepper spiciness and sweet citrus flavour. This is the only offering in a can, which is the first I’ve seen.
Broadway Pub: Sein D’Esprit Hefeweizen (QC)
The body is not as creamy and fluffy as the typical Weizen style. The yeasty spiciness is somewhere between the usual Hefeweizen character and that of a Belgian Witbier. This is the only filtered beer of the bunch, with light wheat with citrus notes, and a dry finish. It isn’t as complex as the others, but its light-bodied style is refreshing. This is a good transition beer for those nervous to try something new.
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, Hefeweizen (California U.S.A)
The only American Hefeweizen reviewed is cloudy, straw yellow in color with a billowy white head. Like a classic Hefe, Kellerweis has fantastic retention and moderate lacing down the glass. I detect musty earthiness with undercurrents of ripe banana, and a pinch of lemon peel. This beer is velvety smooth with a slightly dry finish. It wasn’t quite as fragrant as some of the classic German Hefeweizens, but very drinkable.
Hofbräu München Hefe Weizen
This beer is light and refreshing with a pleasant golden-marigold color – perfect for drinking by the pitcher on a hot day. There are hints of orange zest and lime, but only traces of the delicate banana and nutmeg flavours typical of Bavarian yeast. Its wheat flavour is faint, but it has a clean and fresh taste.
Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
Stick your nose right in the glass for this one! The smell is intoxicating – you won’t believe that this is actually beer. On the palate, it starts off smooth with grassy, wheat flavours leading into sweet banana and lemon. You’ll be able to perceive a spiciness and a slight tingle of hops. It has a medium to light body with a crisp, dry, lingering finish. There is magic here, a perfect balance between sweet, soft, and tart flavours. But don’t take my word for it – it has a 98 rating on Beer Advocate with over 4,000 reviews!
Paulaner pours a cloudy, golden honey color with a white, frothy two finger head. The foam sticks around until about half way done. The nose is of light cinnamon followed by big banana, vanilla, and toasted bready wheat malts. The taste is nice, with some orange citrus notes upfront and an unexpected, light bitterness for the finish. Some vanilla notes give it a pleasant, sweet and round character that feels almost chewy. The sweetness and hop content are perfectly complex and balanced.
So, there you have it. If any of these descriptions pique your interest, you should pick up this style on your next trip to the store. Impress your friends with the proper pronunciation, please your taste buds with a smooth, lively ale, and venture out of the new, big, bold flavours for something more light and traditional. As mentioned above, over 4,000 people praise the awesomeness of Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. Personally though, I will always have a bias for Paulaner. I admit it – it was my first love (in craft beer) and will always have a place in my heart and in my fridge. This is my go-to beer when I want a light beer with enough complexity to satisfy this incessant need to analyze everything in my glass. Whether you’re new to the beer scene or are a seasoned expert, Hefeweizen is word and a style that you need to remember.
An Article by T.J. Blinn