“Did you get your Wheaties today?” gains a
whole new connotation as summer rolls along. We hear more and more
about “Summer Brews”, often ales made with a combination of wheat and
barley. Of all the styles brewed in the world today, wheat beer is the
oldest going. A lot of it’s sold unfiltered, with a hazy and sometimes
downright creamy look.
Widmer Hefeweizen is a good example. If you’ve ever had the good
fortume to get a pint from a fresh Widmer keg, you’ve probably seen the
butterscotch color and thick, yeasty consistency of the the first few
draws. Hefe, by the way is German for “yeast’, and weizen means
“wheat”, giving rise to this name for an unfiltered wheat beer.
Filtering the spent yeast from wheat beer produces a sparkling,
bright, and sometimes delicately-flavored pint, giving it the
especially thirst-quenching qualities American brewers look for in a
hot-weather, summertime beer. Unfiltered, they have a soft, round,
mellow, mouth-filling character with very little hop on the
finish.Â The standard for many American brewers is to brew with 100%
malted barley, but most wheat beers, at least the American versions,
use about 40% malted wheat with the balance barley.
Anchor Summer Beer—the first American wheat beer brewed after
Prohibition—is almost 60% malted wheat resulting in a spectacularly
refreshing beer, golden, bright, with an exceptionally clean finish.
Brewers can’t use a higher proportion that 60% because the mash runs
through wheat kernels too fast, and has to be slowed down with bigger
barley kernels in order to extract all the sugars.
Since wheat was one of the principal cereals of antiquity, it may
have been part of the first beers ever produced. It’s quite possible a
hefeweizen like Widmer’s may closely resemble those originals.
Wheat beers are versatile and hard-working. Southern Germany
produces a version whose tang is cut with a slice of fresh lemon,
giving rise to the custom seen here of offering lemon slices with our
American style. German weizenbiers are often served in a large,
specially-shaped tall glass with a narrow middle and a wide mouth.
A special European wheat style called weisse, or Berliner weisse,
has a unique sour flavor deliberately induced during fermentation and
is tempered with the addition of raspberry syrup and extract of
woodruff when served. Belgian wheats are known as White Ales, and
incorporate spices like nutmeg and coriander into the brew.
Wheat beers were the beers of choice for hot weather until the 19th
Century, when lagers began their ascendancy and almost completely
replaced German ales, including wheat beer. The Reinheitsgebot also
literally outlawed using wheat in German brewing and only one brewery
was allowed the exception to brew with it. The Reinheitsgebot was later
relaxed and wheat beers began a well-deserved revival in Germany.
Their popularity has spread to America, and now’s the time of year to give them a try(but not for breakfast).