You think you are one of the true wheat beer connoisseurs? I believe that even professionals here can learn something new about their favorite drink. I invite you to an excursion into the world of wheat beer!
White beer or wheat beer? – The difference…
To anticipate the answer to one of the most common questions: “wheat beer” and “white beer” are – at least nowadays – two names for one and the same beer style. The most famous is probably the Bavarian wheat beer. But even in the Far North, wheat beer is brewing and drinking, as the beverage outside of Bavaria is often called. Depending on the region and recipe, there are other derivations of both names that create additional confusion. Time to explain what a wheat beer really is – and where the subtle differences lie.
Thanks to the unicellulars!
One of two criteria that turns a beer into wheat beer is the top-fermented brewing style. The name goes back to the top-fermented yeasts, which convert the sugar from the grain salt into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In addition to the wheat beer, there are many other top-fermented beers – famous examples are the English Pale Ales and Stouts, but also the Kölsch and the Altbier are popular especially in the Dusseldorf area.
Of course, when the first beers were brewed, it was not known that the yeast was responsible for the alcohol. The unicellular digestive aid had simply not been discovered. The fact that beer brewing worked well even several thousand years ago was due to the fact that yeasts occur everywhere in nature. On plants, on the ground, in the air – from all over the small creatures found their way unnoticed into the brewing kettle and made sure that the fermentation got going.
Whether it was a top or bottom fermented beer, was mainly dependent on the ambient temperature: While top-fermented yeast feels most comfortable at about 15 to 20° C, bottom-fermented yeast produces the alcohol at about 4 to 9° C. In the spring, summer and autumn, top-fermented yeasts usually gained the upper hand, while their bottom-fermented colleagues lay on their lazy skins and did not really get up to speed until the winter.
At the beginning of the 15th century, beer brewers already knew that beers could be fermented in two ways, and that the substance that settles on top of the beer or bottom of the vat when brewing can be reused for the next brew. The fermentation process could not yet be scientifically explained – only Louis Pasteur did it in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the yeast was already deliberately used for brewing.
It may come as a surprise that the bottom-fermented brewing style was first popular in Bavaria, of all places. The so-called “brown beer” made from darkly roasted malt was fermented cool and was therefore stable for a long time. Only in the course of the 15th century did the bright, top-fermented wheat beer from Bohemia reach Bavaria and found its way into the local beer culture. In its new home, it was to experience ups and downs through the centuries to come.
Incidentally, the history of Wheatbeer is only part of the fruitful cultural exchange between two beer regions. The Bavarians returned the favor in 1842, when a Bavarian master brewer gave his Bohemian colleagues a little tutoring in the bottom-fermented brewing method. From the dark, murky, warm fermented and up to this time a little successful beer from the city of Pilsen was using the old Bavarian brewing method to become a world success: The Pils was born.
Without wheat no wheat beer
In addition to the top-fermented brewing, there is another property that a beer must have in order to be considered white beer or wheat beer: unlike bottom-fermented beers, which may only be brewed with barley, the malt in wheat beer must be prepared with at least half wheat. It is supplemented by barley malt; other cereals such as rye or spelled may also be added.
However, these provisions for the production of white beer or wheat beer have come into this strict form only in recent history. The white beer was not always a wheat beer: the older term “white beer” was used quite simply for all beers that were not black, brown or reddish. One brewed them out of this, sometimes from that grain; time for this, sometimes for another recipe. The name “wheat beer”, which was similar to cereals, did not come to light until attempts were made to differentiate types of beer better and to set rules for their production. White beer and wheat beer are the same today.
The history of the “staple food”
What only a few know: Of all the Bavarian purity requirement of 1516, with which many white beer breweries advertise today, could well have meant the end of the traditional drink. When the law entered into force, which was enacted against the background of the Bavarian reunification, only “barley, hops and water alone” were permitted as beer ingredients throughout the country. In Munich, brewing wheat was banned in 1447. But how did come the change of mind?
The Bavarian Purity Law was an early attempt to better regulate and control beer production. An important reason for his decree was the protection of the population from adulterated beers. Instead of malt, inferior substitutes such as roots and bark were repeatedly added to the brewing kettle; In the past, herbs and other additives were often found in beer. They were intended to increase the intoxicating effect, but often caused severe poisoning.
However, the sensible idea of protecting the population from such dangers did not justify the decision to only allow barley as a brewing crop. After all, wheat was a higher-quality grain and could therefore have been used without hesitation under cleanliness aspects. Crucial was another reason: In view of the food shortage, it was to be prevented that wheat, which in contrast to barley was well suited for baking, would be wasted for brewing.
Those were noble promises. But William IV from the noble family of Wittelsbach, who had issued the Purity Law together with his brother, pursued also own interests with the law. The Bavarian beer, which has become very popular in Bavaria, was an attractive source of income that the Duke did not want to do without. And so he and his descendants supplied strategically selected people with special permits for wheat beer brewing, until finally at the beginning of the 17th century the Wittelsbach Duke Maximilian I had the right to brew wheat beer all by himself.
Wittelsbacher’s wheat beer monopoly earned them good and much-needed money. The demand for the now strictly regulated good rose so much that one wheat beer brewery after another was built. One of the reasons for this was that the Duke pushed beer imports from other regions to a halt and taxed wine heavily. The original promise to use the wheat only for baking bread, of course, was now obsolete. But even though many complained about rising bread prices and the ducal control of the wheat beer breweries: The spread of the wheat beer was unstoppable.
For about 200 years, wheat beer remained the most-consumed beer in Bavaria. It was only at the end of the 18th century that the increasingly popular brown beer got more and more competition. Since the production was no longer lucrative, eventually the wheat beer monopoly was lifted. Although everyone was allowed to brew wheat beer again, the boom was over. In the 19th century, the Bavarian beer produced Pilsener beer which conquered the world and became the most popular beer in Bavaria.
Even though most of the old wheat beer breweries no longer exist today, the crisis-prone white beer has not been completely suppressed. The brewing style is and remains inextricably linked with the Bavarian tradition and history. The wheat beer has long since made a name for itself internationally as a figurehead of German beer culture; in this country it came from the 1960s to a real rebirth. Today, yeast wheat is especially hip again. This may be due to the current trend towards conscious nutrition and foods that are as natural as possible; however, this is certainly due to the fact that the craft beer boom has aroused the curiosity about the variety of beers in many people and has also rekindled the passion for traditional varieties.
According to a survey conducted in 2014, Bavarian wheat beer was the most popular type of beer among 45 percent of respondents, nearly matching the popularity Pils enjoyed by 52 percent of Bavarian respondents. Incidentally, white beer is also quite popular in Baden-Württemberg, where 38 percent of respondents named it their favorite variety at that time; as well as in Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, where a little less than a third of the participants enjoy white beer. Pils is also the most popular type of beer in all of these states: around 60 percent of respondents said that they like to drink it most of all.
Crystal wheat vs. yeast wheat
Even if nowadays all wheat beers are brewed and at least half brewed with wheat malt, there are some varieties of the popular beer style that provide variety. For example, the brewer can decide whether he wants to produce a naturally cloudy or crystal-clear beer. In the case of clear wheat beer, better known as “crystal wheat”, the yeast and other natural turbidities are filtered out after fermentation. On the other hand, when left in beer, it is called yeast wheat.
Perhaps because it looks a bit more elegant, crystal wheat used to be known as “champagne wheat” – meanwhile the protected name can no longer be used for the type of beer. Some beer drinkers prefer the clear wheat beer, as they tolerate it better because of the lower yeast content. Passionate yeast white beer fans would probably never get a filtered beer in the glass, because they are convinced: yeast makes you beautiful!
Pale- vs Dark Wheat Beer
Do not worry – even those who drink exclusively cloudy wheat beer, come with enough variety through the beer garden season. After all, there are many different types of yeast wheat in particular – from light to dark, from non-alcoholic wheat to strong beer. The pale wheat – not to be confused with the “Light”, a bottom-fermented beer – is a little lighter than the classic, amber yeast wheat. Dark roasted malt is used to brew a dark wheat. On the EBC scale – the unit of measure “EBC” (“European Brewery Convention”) expresses the colors of beers in numerical values – the bright wheat is at 8; the dark white beer at 39. Among the brightest beers is the Pils with EBC 4; the darkest is the Imperial Stout with EBC 79.
Light and alcohol-free wheat beer
A light wheat is a wheat beer with reduced alcohol content. As a rule, this beer has a vol. between 2 to 3%. Thus, a light wheat has about half as much alcohol as the classic wheat beer. Of course, you can have it also completely alcohol-free – almost every wheat beer manufacturer offers such a variant these days. In Germany, beers may be designated as alcohol-free if they contain no more than 0.5% vol.. Anyone who wants to completely abstain from alcohol, for example, during pregnancy, can get non-alcoholic wheat with reported 0.0% vol. to fall back on.
In large breweries, the wheat beer is deprived of alcohol at the end of fermentation process; however, craft beer brewers rely more on the premature termination of the fermentation process – on the one hand for cost reasons, on the other hand because valuable aromas can be lost during the subsequent dealcoholization.
Wheat bock and wheat double bock
The opposite of the low-alcohol wheat beers are the wheat bock and wheat double bock beers: These are in strong beer with a high original wort of at least 16° P (“Grad Plato”, unit of measure for the original wort content) and have a correspondingly higher alcohol content of about 6 bis 7% vol. A wheat double can even reach a 10% vol. or even more. On top you can drive the alcohol content by brewing a so-called “ice bock”. In this case, a wheat double bock beer is cooled so much that it almost completely freezes. The remaining liquid, which is then extracted, contains a lot of alcohol. The currently strongest wheat beers are around 13% vol.
A special feature: the “Berliner Weiße”
“The Champagne of the North” – this name is said to have been preserved since the soldiers of Napoleon when they occupied Berlin at the beginning of the 19th century. Does the Berliner Weisse actually deserve such a nickname? Most people would probably refuse that despite all the love for the typical Berlin summer drink. But, you should definitely have tried it anyway!
The Berlin White Beer is a top-fermented, brewed with wheat and barley malt beer. However, it does not have much in common with traditional wheat beer, because whites are fermented not only with yeast but also with lactic acid bacteria, which provide the characteristic tart taste. Incidentally, the so-called malolactic fermentation actually has the “Berliner Weiße” in common with champagne. This is followed by bottle fermentation, using a yeast strain found on the skin of various types of fruit. The finished beer is very light, slightly cloudy and has a head of foam that is not as majestic as a wheat beer.
At Napoleon’s time, the Berlin White was still drank pure; in addition, the folks from Berlin also knows the “white with a stripe”, a place setting made of wheat beer and cumin brandy or grain booth. Today, the whites are usually served “with a dash”. This refers to a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup – this is how the names red whites and green whites come about. In the meantime, many other sorts of syrup are being combined to create Berlin Whites. You sip the drink from a hemispherical goblet.
Together with the wheat beer, the Berliner Weisse has been threatened with extinction by the triumph of the Pilsener beers. If there had been hundreds of wheat beer breweries and bars in Berlin from about 1700 until the early 19th century, they were completely destroyed by the triumphal procession of the Pilsener beers. Only in recent years, the white of Berlin was rediscovered, so that now a handful of small breweries restored this ancient specialty.
How does a wheat beer taste?
Yeast wheat or crystal wheat, pale or dark, light or strong beer: The characteristics of the wheat beer are varied. They differ mainly in terms of the original wort, which is crucial for the alcohol content; and the malt varieties used, which decisively influence the color and flavor of the final product. The choice of hop varieties also influences the character of the white beer, but hops play a subordinate role in wheat beer. Complex biochemical processes during the fermentation process provide for a variety of flavors.
While crystal wheat, as a filtered wheat beer, has a special flavor in terms of taste, one could describe the unfiltered wheat beers as having a clearly recognizable yeast note and containing, to varying degrees, both esters and phenols. I beg your pardon? Unless you happen to be a brewer yourself, this definition will not tell you too much about the taste of wheat beer. So let’s start from scratch:
That yeast wheat beers have a yeast note sounds logical. How strong the yeast character of each wheat beer is, depends on the other flavors that are in the beer. These can complement the yeast pleasantly, or just put it in the background. Anyhow a not too strong, but clearly perceptible yeast note is one of the central taste characteristics of a good wheat beer.
The esters in the wheat beer are aroma-active substances that arise during the fermentation process. They ensure that the drink gets a fruity yet spicy character. Of the many different esters that can be found in wheat beer, Isoamylacetat is probably the most famous. The substance with the complicated name brings a distinct banana flavor to the beer; other esters taste and smell of apples, pears, roses, pineapple or apricots.
The opposite taste to the esters are the phenols. These important natural flavor carriers, which also include the tannins contained in the wine, give the yeast wheat a flavor reminiscent of cloves, sometimes the drink also exudes the aroma of nutmeg or pepper. In general, the wheat beer tends to either a fruity, ester-embossed taste or a phenolic spice flavor.
Depending on the malt used, the beer may also have a fine or very savory wheat flavor, reminiscent of fresh bread or nuts, or exude complex roasted aromas or sweet caramel notes, such as dark roasted or caramelised malt.
A perceptible hop flower is unusual in yeast wheat. Only with the crystal wheat and with seasonal white beers, which one drinks in the summer, the fresh-tart character of the hop is desired, since it makes the beer seem lighter and sparkling. Otherwise, the hops in wheat beer are more likely to be mild-bitter and smoky.
In the mouth, a yeast wheat should feel full-bodied and almost creamy, but at the same time being tingling and fresh. This combination makes the high content of CO2 possible. The carbon dioxide in the beer also produces the foam crown, which is also one of the hallmarks of yeast wheats: It should be fine-pored, stable and durable. Among them, the beer of golden yellow, honey, amber or ruby colors over deep brown to almost black take on all conceivable shades.
Which food goes well with which wheat beer?
The classic yeast wheat goes perfectly with fish and seafood, mountain cheese and of course white sausage. Incidentally, this can be enjoyed early in the day at the so-called white sausage breakfast, together with a pretzel and sweet mustard – here, too, of course, the classic wheat beer as accompaniment should not be missed. For heartier meals, such as roast meat and venison, a dark wheat is particularly good – even with chocolate desserts you can drink it well.
If you prefer light dishes or pay attention to the slender tallie, then a non-alcoholic or light wheat is recommended. Also perfect as a complement to light cuisine is a crystal wheat that goes well with fish and seafood, white meats or fruity desserts. Due to the lack of yeast and the stronger hopping, it tastes fresher and tarter than unfiltered wheat beers. Even as an aperitif, crystal wheat is sometimes recommended.
The alcohol content of wheat bock, but especially that of wheat double-bock and ice-bock, is almost equal to that of a wine. Therefore, the varieties are ideal for completing a delicious meal – a wine glass is a good orientation for the crowd. Wheat-bock beer is dark, full-bodied and intense and goes well with desserts such as crepe, tiramisu or dark chocolate mousse.
Incidentally, the wheat beer itself is already very nutritious: about 250 calories are in half a liter, slightly less in light or non-alcoholic wheat. The energy comes mainly from carbohydrates, but also from protein. The secondary plant substances from hops are said to have an extremely positive effect on health. Last but not least, minerals such as potassium and calcium and many B vitamins are contained in the wheat beer. Nevertheless, it should not be exaggerated with wheat beer drinking, after all, the positive health effects do not outweigh the damage to the body caused by too much alcohol. Enjoyed in moderation, the wheat is a true power elixir.
Traditional drink in a new guise: Craft Beer Wheat
As with all foods, the wheat beer also applies: the more carefully the raw materials are selected and the more carefully they are prepared, the healthier the end product. How convenient that the selection of artisan brewed wheat beer is just getting bigger in the wake of the craft beer trend. For example, many craft beer brewers rely on organically grown cereals. The renunciation of chemical pesticides and mineral fertilizers is good for the soil and for health. In the malting of malt, the sensitivity plays an important role in giving the wheat beer exactly the desired aromas.
Even though hops are less prominent in wheat beer, only the careful selection of hop varieties results in a round taste. In the craft beer scene, the aroma hops play a major role: They give the wheat beer particularly fine and varied flavors and are also particularly rich in health-promoting polyphenols, which are among the phytochemicals.
A traditional feature of wheat beer that industrially produced wheat beers do not always have is bottle fermentation. After the main fermentation, which lasts several days, the wheat beer is bottled; During fermentation, the residual sugar is fermented by the yeast. The wheat beer is naturally carbonated, so it receives its CO2 content. However, it can also create flavors that change the character of the beer. Therefore, industrial breweries who want to guarantee a consistent taste, often work with a trick: After the main fermentation, the beer is completely filtered and then added a bottom-fermented yeast, which leaves the taste of the drink largely unchanged. Here are the craft beer alternatives that are authentically fermented in the bottle, a real added value: Perhaps the result is not always predictable, but every wheat beer is a craft unique.
Incidentally, you should drink the classic, unfiltered wheat beer as fresh as possible. This applies to a beer that has already been poured, but also to bottles that you store at home. Only wheat beers with high alcohol content are longer lasting. The label tells you when you should have drunk it at the latest. Keep the bottles dark, dry and at about 5 to 10° C, ideally standing.
How do you properly pour a wheat beer?
To make sure that the wheat looks really good in the glass and that the foam does not overflow, you should perfect your pouring technique. Some say that the best way is to hold the wheat glass at an angle, place the neck of the bottle inside the glass below, and slowly bring the bottle and glass back together into the vertical position. While emptying them, the bottle is pulled upwards.
The disadvantage of this procedure: The bottleneck dips into the beer – so dirt that may be on the bottle, enter the drink. This has bad consequences – not for our stomach, but for the fine-pored foam on the wheat. Impurities endanger its stability and cause the pretty white crown to collapse.
If you do not want to risk it and want to prevent it from looking like a bloody beginner when pouring it, you should look at a video of the Bavarian method online on Youtube.
Rinsing the wheat glass with cold water prevents the foam from overshooting the glass rim. Whoever comes to enjoy taping a wheat beer on tap should also take this tip to heart.
Incidentally, the tall, slender shape of the wheat beer glass ensures that the beer tastes fresh and tingling for a long time, as the carbon dioxide only rises slowly.
Wheat beer as mixed drink
Some manufacturers offer finished wheat beer mixed drinks. But you can also put together your favorite mix yourself. How about, for example, with these combinations?
The wheat-diesel: For one too sweet, for the other a tasty pick-me-up. Cherry cola and Co. from well-known manufacturers show that fruity aromas, as found in wheat beer, harmonize quite well with coke.
Speaking of cherry cola: can of course also be used with the wheat beer. However, oneday one of the most festive open-minded contemporaries was of the opinion that cola and cherry liqueur are an even better combination for wheat beer. This mixture is known as Goaß Maß.
Banana juice in wheat beer is a perfectly obvious combination, as the banana is the predominant fruit note in many wheat beers. The viscous juice makes the full-bodied wheat beer even more velvety with “banana wheat”.
Like the Pils, the white beer can be combined well with clear lemon lemonade. Such a wheat cyclist is also known in Bavaria as the “Russ’n Maß” – it should have been the favorite drink of Russian workers in the first half of the 20th century.
What is floating in the wheat beer?
One or the other wheat drinker has certainly experienced it: The wheat glass in the hand and full of anticipation for the first, refreshing sip, you stop suddenly. Something is swimming in the glass! Looking closer, you can see that one, two or three raw rice grains have lost their way into the wheat beer.
Who now complains to the waiter, which may be taught that the rice grains have landed quite deliberately in the wheat. The explanation: One of the quality characteristics of a wheat beer is that it forms a beautiful, stable head of foam when poured. Depending on the temperature and pressure of the beer and the surrounding air that works better, sometimes worse. To help with the formation of foam, some wheat-glass manufacturers put their hands on the trick box and put a so-called “Moussier point” into the bottom of the jar. This sparkling or raised point on the glass bottom, which is actually known for champagne glasses, should ensure that the carbon dioxide contained in the beer remains dissolves and creates a pretty head of foam on the way up. You want to achieve the same effect with rice grains.
However, the Bavarian Brewing Association has a clear attitude:
Rice grains do not belong in wheat beer. Although they actually ensure that the carbon dioxide escapes from the beer, this is by no means a desirable effect. The refreshing liveliness, which gives the CO2 to the wheat beer, is lost in a very short time by the forced mousse and the beer tastes just scarf after serving. Another no-go according to the brewers association: lemon slices in crystal wheat.
You should not whitewash the taste of a delicious wheat beer with citrus flavor, nor should you risk the essential oils in the lemon peel collapsing the foam.
And what do we learn from all this? A really good wheat beer is simply best when nothing is added!
What are your experiences on the wheat beer subject? Share them in the comment box below and continue to enjoy your wheat beer – cheers.