The Session 137: (My Primer on) German Wheat Beer

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Welcome to Beer Blogging Friday.  Thanks again to all who are involved in perpetuating this digital salon and to all who participate, by writing and/or reading.

Ironically, despite my regular assertion that wheat beers are the best choice for the desert clime in which I live, I realized that I had never made one.  I suppose that’s not strictly true.  Decades ago I did make what I called a dunkelweizen.  I clearly remember fermenting this cold, lagering it in an extra refrigerator.  I do not remember why I used that method.  The beer came out very good, but it was not a traditional method.

I knew hefeweizen was a cloudy wheat beer.  I remembered that it usually smelled of banana.  But I’d also heard of ‘Bavarian wheat beer’.  Is that not a hefeweizen?  Does calling it “Bavarian” mean something specific?  And then there was Weissbier and Hefe Weissbier; the above mentioned dunkelweizen, or dunkles Weissbier.  There is Berliner weisse and witbiers.  I realized that I’ve drifted away from style exploration, content with assuming I knew the basics and that was enough.  I just enjoyed drinking beer, really, in the past several years.  So it was time to clarify German wheat beers in my mind.

Therefore, the topic for this month’s Session.  Writing about

the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc.,  [and] the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history.

As specified in the theme, I am sticking to German wheat beers.  So, for example, the witbier I mentioned above is right being Belgian.  The beers written of here are those of Bavaria, the beloved state, for beer lovers, in Germany.

The Wheat Beer Categories

Weizen, or weizenbier, seems to be a comprehensive term that encompasses the wheat beer family.  The German word, weizen, does mean ‘wheat’ so this makes sense that it would apply to beers composed dominantly of wheat malt.  Barley is also included in the grist but for a beer to be a weizenbier it needs to have at least one-third of its grain bill to be wheat, and usually about fifty to seventy percent.  Of course, the other key component of weizenbier is the yeast strain.  The most well known strain would Weihenstiphan Weizen.  If the yeast you use is labelled German or Bavarian wheat that should do it.  The yeast contributes heavily to the spicy character of weizenbier.

Weissbier, too, is a comprehensive term for German wheat beers.  One article noted that the term ‘weissbier’ is the most widely used moniker in Bavaria.  The word Weiss means ‘white’ and indicates how much lighter in color the beer is from, say, a brown or a darker bock.    A Hefe Weissbier is what you may know more readily as a hefeweizen.  Hefe means ‘yeast’ so a hefeweizen describes a wheat beer with yeast still suspended in the body of the beer.  The light colored grains make the beer pale yellow and the suspended yeast makes it turbid or cloudy, also giving it a white-ish or milky appearance.

Therefore, if you go to your local brewery looking for a Bavarian wheat beer, a weizen, a weizenbier, a Weissbier or a hefeweizen know that those are all basically interchangeable terms for a cloudy, pale, refreshing, highly carbonated beer.  It will also be spicy, clovey, and possess hints of banana.  The phenolic, ester-y character is a style mark of this beer as is the high carbonation.  It contributes to its effervescent character which enhances its refreshing nature.

In his book German Wheat Beer, Eric Warner exposits it this way:

Smell the fruity, spicy aroma of the beer.  Roll a small sip onto the tongue and allow it to effervesce.  Your mouth should almost explode as the smooth Weissbier fills it.  The aftertaste should also be smooth, with only a slight hint of bitterness.

It is a quintessential session beer, which is what so many craft beer drinkers seem to be seeking these days.  The beer presents itself unpretentiously.  The alcohol is fairly low, ranging from three to five percent abv.  There doesn’t seem to be a great depth or complexity to it, yet when you stop and evaluate the drink it doesn’t lack sensations to explore, whether it’s the enticing interplay of banana and clove, or the search for another spice, or the ethereal and tingly carbonation.  It’s a beer to geek out over and yet it won’t overpower you.

But there are more versions than just the hefeweizen.

If you were to brew a hefeweizen and then filter it to remove the turbidity you have a kristall weizen.  It should be a limpid specimen, beautiful to look at, but I think it lacks some of the personality of the hefeweizen.

Then there are two styles that intrigue me.  First, the weizenbock, a wheat bock.  Take a hefeweizen recipe and increase the grain bill so that you’ve got an original gravity above the 1.065 range.  Use some dark Munich malt for a darker hefeweizen, or lighter base malt if you are aiming for a maibock influenced version.  Though it is nominally a bock, which indicates a bottom fermenting yeast, use a weissbier ale yeast and ale fermentation temps.  All the virtues of the hefeweizen will be engendered along with a firm malt presence.  Second, Berliner weisse, a tart wheat beer.  Its sharp sourness is derived from Lactobacillus delbrückii pitched with the yeast and it is the sourness that so appeals to me.  I can hear our local brewer groaning already.  But the spumy acerbity of a Berliner weisse is just grand.

A dunkleweizen, or dunkles weissbier, is a dark version of a hefeweizen.  The esters and spice can still be there but conflated and slightly muted by the darker roasted malts, either wheat or barley.

Notes on Brewing German Wheat Beers

Brewing a weissbier at home can obviously, then, be as difficult or as simple as you would like it to be.  As already noted, it is recommended that you use fifty to seventy percent wheat in your grain bill.  The remainder should be pale malt of your choice.  In German Wheat Beer the author notes that using more than seventy percent wheat may cause lautering difficulty and can cause an amino acid deficiency which can result in poor fermentation and resultant problems.

The mash is where this beer can get complicated, if you so desire.  In my recent home brew of a weissbier I did just a simple single infusion mash.  I think my mash temperature was a little high at 154 degrees but the beer seemed to be all right.  So far.  From everything I’ve read, modern well-modified malts will perform perfectly well in a single infusion mash (and maybe prevent some of the lautering problems referred to in German Wheat Beer).  But if you are adventurous there are several protein rests and single and double decoctions that can be performed on this mash.  I know there is debate over the value or necessity of decoction, but the procedure is out there if you feel like spending a few hours extra on your brew.  It might add some color or extra breadiness which would be valuable in a weizenbock.

The American Homebrewers Association noted that a mash rest at 110 degrees will promote ferulic acid, which converts to 4-vinyl guaiacol.  It is that compound that results the phenolic characteristics so important to this beer.  Ideally you should also do open fermentation in a shallow vessel, but not all home brewers will be able to swing that.  So the mash rest and warmer fermentation temperatures will be the route most of us take to get that clove/vanilla/spicy/et cetera magic.  And if you really want to have some fun, look into using some bottom fermenting Speise for carbonation.

A hefeweizen can be completed at home within two to four weeks.  Fermentation can be complete in just four or five days if temperatures are maintained.  Warm storage (if you bottle) is about a week and then two to three weeks in cold storage.  And, of course, tasting during the entire process will let you know when your beer is ready for you.

For a seemingly simple beer there is a great amount of variation and work that can be put into it. Isn’t that the way with all art though? What writer has not put hours and hours into an essay, or spent years writing a novel?  What brewer doesn’t spend weeks researching and hours brewing and years practicing?  The end product is a sleek, polished, fascinating thing to be savored.  Only those hours and months of work make it such.

Cheers to German wheat beers.

 

 

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Reminder for The Session 137: German Wheat Beers

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The title for this blog post says it all.  Next week, Friday July 6, is the time to post your words on German Wheat Beers,

the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc.  I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history.  Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

Please leave your comments and links to your articles on the original announcement post.  I’ll also check this post for them.

Cheers and thanks in advance for all your enlightenment.

The Session #137 Announcement: German Wheat Beers

IMG_0953On July 6, 2018 this blog will have the pleasure of hosting The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday.   The founders of the event, Jay Brooks and Stan Hieronymous, state that it is “an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.”

The topic for July will be:  German Wheat Beers.  I would like to clarify for myself the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc.  I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history.  Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

Post a link to your essay in a comment to this post or my topical post on July 6. The roundup will be posted that weekend. Thanks to everyone for participating.

Brown Beers Matter

IMG_0953The Session this month is a brown study; participants have been in ‘a state of deep absorption or thoughtfulness’ about the color brown and maybe even induced a moody daydream about brown beers.

In my limited experience a color divide remains in beer audiences, light versus dark.  Of course, brown beers fall right in the middle of this divide – darker than a pale ale but not yet donning the black.  One of my friends who accompanies me to Kingman’s local brewery, Black Bridge, was at first ambivalent about this craft beer experience on which I was leading him. He only knew the macro’s. He drank some a cream ale that they offered at the time and was still on the fence. It was K-Town Brown that converted him.  It wasn’t overpowering but it had actual flavor and nuance.  Now he tells me that he’s been “ruined,” he can only drink real beer. I smile knowingly. Brown beers are good gateway beers. Well, in this instance, at least.

In the beer world we have brown ales, brown porters, altbiers, schwarzbiers and rauchbiers, perhaps; mild ales and barley wines sometimes have a solid brown color; to me, some reds seem to border on brown but maybe it’s just the school I attended.  There are certainly more. They are not all suited to the gateway experience as noted above; it would be a dubious experiment to introduce a beer novice to the woody smokiness of a rauchbier.

Stouts and porters are my favorites but a brown beer is just as tantalizing and neither drab nor boring. I have a home brew recipe for a dark mild which I have made several times; perhaps that’s why I’m partial to British browns, dark mild ales and the American brown. These beers all seem to have a sunset at their edges, orange and calming. Generally they have a faux ivory collar that’s a little sticky. It is as sugary at commencement as it is dry at denouement, like a Stirling engine of taste. Sometimes walnut flavors arrive. K-Town Brown noted above was enjoyable and Wagonwheel, also offered occasionally at Black Bridge, is one of my all-time favorite brown ales.  Ask for them when on tap, you will not be disappointed.

Brown ales also pair well with food. Pretty much any food. It is a beer for all ages, for all tastes, for all occasions.  I used to drink Pete’s Wicked with every dinner.  Well, it seems so in memory.  Pete’s was a wickedly delightful brown … .  Newcastle is overrated.  I hope that does not cause a ruckus.  It’s just my opinion and can be dismissed if you disagree.  Cheers.  Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale is a good choice for a brown.  Oh, and Oak Creek Brewing in Sedona, Arizona has a Nut Brown Ale, too, that’s worth a pint.

For more discussion of brown beers and Black Bridge’s contributions, listen to  the first half of the first episode of the Cartoon Casual podcast.  It’s produced by two locals, Joe Fellers and Paul Gaines.  And as both Joe and Paul will tell you, the show could be offensive to some so use discernment.

The color brown is a study in contrast. It is the hue and tincture of earth and soil, wood and bark, hair and flesh. Earth is our source and home, the surface upon which our diverse temples are built. These bodies are our avatars in this reality allowing concourse and conversation. Logic would indicate we hold these things in high regard.

Therefore, brown can represent quality. The best food, the best drink, the best friends. “Some browns can show a degree of sophistication or elegance, depending on other colors associated with the brown. For example, brown with a soft white or ivory can appear stylish and classy,” states the website Empowered By Color.  Not convinced?  Here …

iu-2Hepburn.  The epitome of stylish and classy.  In a brown hat.

Yet, … “According to public opinion surveys in Europe and the United States, brown is the least favorite color of the public; the color most often associated with plainness, the rustic, and poverty.” Brown can be perceived as drab and boring and even as stingy or cheap. Quite a contrast!

Maybe browns just seem common, wonted.  I mean, they were pretty much the only kind of a beer for a time.  Isn’t that one of the reasons pilsner became such a thing?  People were all, “hey,  it’s …. yellow.”  Indeed, there is an everyman motif to the brown beer.  There is no creative flair associated with them, peradventure. In other words, no awesome hops bouquet or astronomical IBU rating. No heavily roasted grain profile. No eccentric ingredients.  I have nothing against the aforementioned qualities; they all have their rightful place in the beer pantheon.  Browns are honest, straightforward beer.  Of course, that does not mean none of those things can be added to the brown.

Oh, another aspect of brown – people with brown eyes “are the greatest kissers of all.”

Pretend that glass of brown beer is a kiss from your favorite brown-eyed girl … or guy.  And introduce them to a possibly overlooked beer style.


Sources:

My First Belgian: The Session Number Ninety-One

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The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.

The topic that Elisa and I have chosen for this month’s Session is ‘My First Belgian.’

My first Belgian home brew I named Clawed. Herein lies the recipe:

2 lbs Belgian Pale malt
7 lbs 6 row
2 oz Sterling hops (boil)
1 lb candi sugar
Wyeast 1214

I do not recall any of the mash particulars. It was a five gallon batch. This was about five years ago.

It was a good beer, close to what I supposed a Belgian beer should be – orange and mysterious. There are two beers that I want to brew again – this one and a barley wine I made fifteen years ago. Maybe some day …

Clawed was well received, by me and those to whom I gave a bottle or two. I don’t think this beer was terribly Belgiany otherwise many of the beer recipients would have been terrified by it. However, it had just the right amount of citrusy spice to make it appealing. It was made during a summer, so it was refreshing, too.

The Belgian beers I’ve had possess an intangible quality that appeals to me yet is hard to convey. Certainly there’s the spice, the earthiness, the venerable moth-eaten pall of long storage; but there’s also the tastual juxtaposition of this libation. It’s a beer, but it’s not a beer. These Belgian creations are never what you expect. That sense of discovery, experimentation and surprise.

I do not think I crafted that essence. But, it was a shadowy homage to the beer legends. At some point, I shall go forth and attempt it once more.