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


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.




Reminder for The Session 137: German Wheat Beers


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.


The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami

I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”

I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.   It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?”  Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.  So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.  

  • A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*.  (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)

As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days. 

I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.

Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer. 

History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local:  this will be out soon, Brewing Local.

To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers. 

*A cover, I know. Sweet.