As patios fill up and days get longer and warmer, visions of summer beers begin to dance in one’s head. Among the many available beers for summertime quaffing, there is one style that becomes especially popular. We are talking about wheat ales, and they go by many names, Weizen, Weissbier, Witbier and more, depending on the beer style and its origin.
Wheat is the second most used grain in brewing (after barley), and is in more beers than you may think. Wheat has no outer husk and has unique proteins that form a great head on beer, which is why it composes between 1 and 5 percent of many beer recipes to aid in head retention and stability. It also is part of most Belgian beers, and is the base beer for countless fruit beers. However, let’s talk about just the true German-style wheat ales and their variants.
Wheat ales in Germany (the weizens) must consist of at least 50% wheat, and some go as high as 100%. Many are served unfiltered and still contain the yeast in the bottle (hefeweizen). Because this gives the beer a cloudy appearance, they are sometimes called white beers (weissbier). If they are filtered and appear clear, then they are kristallweizens. Finally, when the malt is roasted to produce a darker beer, they are then called dunkelweizens. Other styles exist, but those are the most common. Make sense?
While each style has their own distinct characteristics, they have several qualities in common. The most notable, obvious upon pouring, is the carbonation level of the beers. These beers create about three fingers of big, white, foamy head in the tallest, narrowest glass in beerdom. With no husk, wheat also has less tannins than barley, and in combination with the weizen yeast, produces a crisp, almost zesty beer, with the aromas of banana, clove, and yes, even bubblegum. This extra protein also contributes to the haze apparent in all the unfiltered versions, so pour carefully, and rouse the yeast at the bottom after about ¾ of the beer is in the glass.
What you will find is a thirst-quenching beer with a refreshing, somewhat citrusy flavour-perfectly suited for summer. The addition of lemon or orange garnishes on the side of the glass is overkill, and frowned upon in Europe. These beers pair great with lighter fare, like soups and salads, vegetarian dishes, sushi, all kinds of white cheeses, chicken, seafood, many Asian dishes, and any fruit flavoured dishes, including desserts and salad dressings.
The dunkelweizens are a bit more malty and caramely, and have less of the spiciness of the other weizens. They can stand up to more substantial dishes, including red meats and barbeque. Certainly try the German versions, but also sample those made by North American breweries, who have embraced this style of beer as well. Here are just a few of the wheat ales worth trying available in Alberta.
If you want to try classic versions from die vaterland, there are a couple of dozen available in Alberta. Erdinger Weissbier (CSPC +402230) is probably the best seller, but don’t overlook Brau-Weisse from Ayinger (CSPC +721421), Maisel Weiss (CSPC +747285), Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (CSPC +75291), and Schofferhofer Hefeweizen (CSPC +748129). Each of them is crisp, clean and full of the phenolic flavours of bananas and clove. They all come in 500 mL bottles (around $4-$5) and on tap.
In addition, look for the darker dunkel versions, which have a little more body, less of the fruity notes, and a touch of caramel and nutmeg. Still refreshing, but less tart. Available in 500 mL bottles and in draft. Maisel’s Weisse Dunkel (CSPC +747286), Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel (CSPC +574236), and Weihenstephaner Dunkel (CSPC +125435) sell for about the same price as the paler versions.
Granville Island Brewery Hey Day Hefeweizen, 6 Pack, $16- from the left coast comes this light, easy drinking, unfiltered wheat ale. Not quite the depth of true German ales, it nonetheless has the crisp flavour that will make it a patio favourite. CSPC +110700
Howe Sound King Heffy Imperial Hefeweize, 1L bottle, $11- From B.C. comesa hefeweizen with a bit more punch. Clicking in at 7.7% ABV and 25 IBUs, this is not a wheat ale for the shy. CSPC +127571
Grasshopper Wheat Ale, 6 Pack, $16- If you haven’t seen or tried this beer, you must have just moved to Calgary. A stalwart of Big Rock’s portfolio, this kristallweizen has less of the fruity esters than other weizens. It is proud to use local wheat and now also comes unfiltered under the name Hefehopper. Look for it in draft at most bars and restaurants as well. CSPC +761737
Day of The Dead Hefeweizen, 6 Pack, $21- Yes, there is craft beer from Mexico. From one of the two burgeoning Latin craft beer markets (the other being Brazil), Alberta gets beer from a couple of Mexican producers. This hefeweizen is made with white wheat and American hops, making it slightly different from its German cousins. CSPC +764605
Look also for the many varieties of wheat-based fruit beers. This includes radlers, commonly a 50/50 blend between a wheat ale and fruit juice, resulting in a 2.5% beer that tastes like it should, or could, be enjoyed at breakfast. While you know the halcyon days of summer will soon be over, you just might find yourself drinking these beers in all four seasons.