How many times have you caught yourself staring at the golden hue of a glass of wheat beer with an elegant lemon slice sitting on the rim? Well, maybe it’s just us…
But have you ever wondered why the obligatory lemon addition to wheat beers? And where this deliciously special brew comes from exactly?
Big wheat Beer article coming up!
“Is wheat beer clean?”
In a legal sense we mean. Many of us know, and like to quote the famous Bavarian beer law of 1516 when the importance of barley enters the (slightly buzzed) beer conversation. The law states that beer must only consist of malts, hops, yeast and water.
It doesn’t, however, explicitly mention barley malt but malt in general and as such, wheat beer brewing aligns perfectly with the traditional methods. And current ones alike.
According to the latest beer brewing rules in Germany, wheat beers need to contain at least 50% wheat malts. Although, monks in the olden days didn’t add any barley into the brew, today it is considered common practice even with wheat beers.
A few words about fermentation
Even newbies know that beers can be classified into two categories according to their fermentation process: top- and bottom-fermented beers (there are plenty of other classification methods though, but let’s keep it simple for now). Concerning the classic Bavarian wheat beers, their top-fermented brews are added bottom-fermented yeast to create that special lactic flavor characterizing them.
The cradle and different types of wheat beer
After the information above it might not come as a surprise that wheat beer was born and bred in the land of today’s Germany. Namely, Bavaria. The Germans northwestern neighbors, the Belgians had plenty to do with the wheat beer tradition as well, however.
The Lambic version of wheat beers (made from famous Belgian yeast) is considered so exquisite that many compare the Belgian wheat beer experience to champagne. Berlin, Leipzig and the Belgian Hoegaarden és Leuven are the unofficial capitals of wheat beer in Europe.
These two regions even have their own names for wheat beer. In Germany, they call them weissbier (white beer) and in Dutch and Belgian areas witbier is the proper title, meaning the same thing in Dutch.
The color in the name refers to the manufacturing process as the malts of weissbier are dried in the open air and are not heat-treated unlike most barley malts, making them much lighter in color. Hefeweizens (meaning wheat yeast) on the other hand are treated with Bavarian yeast strains giving them their particular, darker color and potent taste comparable to banana, clove or even vanilla.
Wheat beers can also be distinguished by their filtered or unfiltered natures and as they contain fewer hops, they tend to be much smoother and more sour, citrusy than beers made with barley.
Lemon: should you or should you not?
If you are dealing with an attentive host, you’ll definitely be served a slice of lemon with your beer. Black-belt wheat beer drinkers, however, believe that lemon only distorts the beer’s original citrusy flavor. Today’s ever-growing experimental spirit surrounding wheat beers tend to reinforce the relevance of citrus: coriander, orange, lemon and other spices are added to the beer during production. With these beers an extra lemon slice can truly unbalance the tastes.
The wisest thing is serving the lemon separately and letting the guest decide whether it has a place in their beer.
Another ancient wheat beer-drinking and -serving tradition is slow tapping, as higher pressure accumulates in the bottles and kegs. A few grains of rice are also sometimes added to the pint so as to release unnecessary gases and build up a larger crown.
Mass production and the world
As market capitalism discovered wheat beers professional beer producers started experimenting with their own wheat beers. In Germany the four most important brands are Erdinger, Paulaner, Franziskaner and Maisel. In the “homeland” Bavaria’s regional brands, Hopf, Unertl and Plank are the ones worth trying out when in south Germany.
Over at the UK Oakleaf Eichenblatt Bitte, Hoskins White Dolphin, Fyfe Weiss Squad and Oakham White Dward are the most prominent brands.
Due to European (mainly German) immigration, wheat beers have also taken the United States by storm, although the first significant (and drinkable) local wheat beers didn’t arrive until the 80s when European breweries started producing their own styles in the Americas.
Craft wheat beers in Hungary
Following the Hungarian craft beer revolution, the local wheat beer scene grew into impressive heights thanks to local craft beer breweries. Mad Scientist Brewery’s Monkey Temple is a definitive original wheat beer type while their citrusy Tokyo Lemonde aims for those with a taste for the sour, bolder flavors.
Hella from Fehér Nyúl brewery boasts banana-clove aromas, heightening the wheat-experience. FIRST Craft Beer Brewery also went into the double direction with their classic Belgian Witbier and extremely fruity Belgian Cherry wheat beer specialty.