Beer Style 10A: Weissbier
There are dozens of beer styles and we know it can get a little confusing, so each week we profile a particular style of beer in the Devil’s Peak Beer Guide. We’ll outline beer styles from the 2015 BJCP guidelines, offering both a technical and somewhat anecdotal overview of the dozens of beer offerings from around the world.
Weissbier, or “white beer,” is a pale German wheat beer which has captured the hearts of many a first-time craft beer drinkers. When asked which beer got you hooked on the good stuff, there’s a pretty good chance the answer will be weissbier. But why?
It’s simple really. The flavours presented in this historic style are familiar to most people. Notes of banana, clove and bubblegum derived from the particular strain of yeast used in the fermentation process tend to sit well with newcomers. Add to that the fact that it’s pale, quite fizzy and has a fluffy, smooth mouthfeel, and you’ve got what many consider the ultimate gateway beer. Squeeze a slice of orange or lemon (just don’t let the Bavarians see you do it) and we’re bordering on some kind of magical elixir that can turn even the most die-hard beer hater into a, “Well that’s okay I guess.”
Now the Germans have been brewing with wheat for almost 3,000 years, but it has been a bit of a love/hate relationship. Wheat that goes into making beer can’t go into making bread, and you can imagine (or maybe you can’t) which one was more important to most people. This fear of a “bread shortage” helped bring about our dear old friend – the Beer Purity Law. But thanks to some dodgy Bavarian politicians in the early 1500s and the money-hungry Duke Maximilian I, Weissbier was spared the rod. You see, old Maximilian inherited the exclusive brewing rights to brew the style when he came to power and quickly went about cashing in. As with all monopolies, it was a lucrative trade. Breweries sprung up everywhere, paying their due to the new ruler. This wave carried on for over a century before the white beer slumped in popularity and the dark lagers started gaining ground.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that weissbier regained all of its former popularity. It’s now made by breweries all over the world, but most will say the best examples still come from the source.
So let’s get down to drinking. Expect a crisp, effervescent and refreshing ale with notes of clove and banana. Esters and phenols should be balanced, and a nice bready, wheat flavour will bring the whole thing together. There are some great local and international examples of the style, so get to the bottle store and start buying.
Here are the gritty details, straight from the BJCP Style Guidelines.
Overall Impression: A pale, refreshing German wheat beer with high carbonation, dry finish, a fluffy mouthfeel, and a distinctive banana-and-clove yeast character.
Aroma: Moderate to strong phenols (usually clove) and fruity esters (typically banana). The balance and intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. The hop character ranges from low to none. A light to moderate wheat aroma (which might be perceived as bready or grainy) may be present but other malt characteristics should not. Optional, but acceptable, aromatics can include a light to moderate vanilla character, and/or a faint bubblegum aroma. None of these optional characteristics should be high or dominant, but often can add to the complexity and balance.
Appearance: Pale straw to gold in color. A very thick, moussy, long-lasting white head is characteristic. The high protein content of wheat impairs clarity in an unfiltered beer, although the level of haze is somewhat variable.
Flavor: Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor. The balance and intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. Optionally, a very light to moderate vanilla character and/or faint bubblegum notes can accentuate the banana flavor, sweetness and roundness; neither should be dominant if present. The soft, somewhat bready or grainy flavor of wheat is complementary, as is a slightly grainy-sweet malt character. Hop flavor is very low to none, and hop bitterness is very low to moderately low. Well-rounded, flavorful palate with a relatively dry finish. The perception of sweetness is more due to the absence of hop bitterness than actual residual sweetness; a sweet or heavy finish would significantly impair drinkability.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body; never heavy. Suspended yeast may increase the perception of body. The texture of wheat imparts the sensation of a fluffy, creamy fullness that may progress to a light, spritzy finish aided by high to very high carbonation. Always effervescent.
Comments: These are refreshing, fast-maturing beers that are lightly hopped and show a unique banana-and-clove yeast character. These beers often don’t age well and are best enjoyed while young and fresh. The version mit hefe is served with suspended yeast; the krystal version is filtered for excellent clarity. The character of a krystal weizen is generally fruitier and less phenolic than that of the weissbier mit hefe. May be known as hefeweizen, particularly in the United States.
History: While Bavaria has a wheat beer tradition dating back hundreds of years, brewing wheat beer used to be a monopoly reserved for Bavarian royalty. Modern weissbier dates from 1872 when Schneider began production. However, pale weissbier only became popular since the 1960s. It is quite popular today, particularly in southern Germany.
Characteristic Ingredients: By German brewing tradition, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is typically Pilsner malt. A decoction mash is traditional, although modern brewers typically don’t follow this practice. Weizen ale yeast produces the typical spicy and fruity character, although high fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and produce off-flavors.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.044 – 1.052
IBUs: 8 – 15 FG: 1.010 – 1.014
SRM: 2 – 6 ABV: 4.3 – 5.6%