An Introduction to Wheat Beers

Posted by BeerMaven | Wheat Ale | Posted on April 23rd

Not all wheat beers are the same by any means. Wheat beer is generally divided into two different subcultures however, which makes it a little easier to understand where the particular wheat beer of the month that your beer club is talking about comes from. “Witbiers” are the Belgian variety, and the name literally means “white beer” as a description of its lighter color. Meanwhile, German wheat beers are called hefeweizens and don’t contain the hints of coriander or citrus that Belgian wheat beers do because of the Bavarian purity law that prevents the adding of any adjuncts to beer produced in Germany.

Belgian witbier recipes are prided on their use of coriander and orange peel at the right stages of the brewing process and these additions leave the beer tasting crisp; with very subtle notes of orange, lemon, honey and spice. Very light and drinkable, these beers are great during hot days as a session beer to drink while you are out in the sun or after a day of hard work when you want to relax. Witbiers also go well with seafood and are generally very champagne-like in appearance and mouth feel, unlike their German counterparts.

Due to the Bavarian purity law of 1516, the use of any additives such as coriander or orange peel to a German wheat brew is strictly prohibited. The only ingredients that may be used in the German hefeweizen are malt, hops and water. As a result, a hefeweizen has differences that are very noticeable when compared to a witbier. A lack of citrus notes and spice is replaced by the presence of banana and clove and the beer is much heavier, making it a beer that can be enjoyed on cooling fall days as well as the warming days of spring.

Each style of wheat beer has its own purpose and when they are brewed properly, I find enjoyment in both witbiers and hefeweizens. Beer clubs have taken more interest in wheat beers lately as well; due to the recent wheat beer movement that has been slowly gaining momentum since the 1960s. Just be sure to never drink a wheat beer with rich or spicy foods so that the citrus or banana notes have a chance to come out in the beer. Next time you have the opportunity to order a witbier or a hefeweizen, try them out to taste the difference for yourself. Neither style is bad at all— each one is just a different kind of good.

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