(photo courtesy of Caleb Chancey)
As summer sets in, my ultra-sensitivity to heat begins to rear its ugly head. This truly is my Achilles heel and most Alabama summers are positively unbearable for me. As a result, I’m always on the search for something new to beat the heat.
This year, I’ve found wheat beer. In today’s modern beer world, wheat beers carry a stigma of girly, fruity drinks. You’ve seen it before, a bottle of Blue Moon with a big slice of orange sticking out of it. A sad sight, indeed, but there’s more to wheat than sweetened, boring beer swilling.
Wheat beers have been brewed for longer than recorded history can trace. Where there’s beer, there’s barley and where there’s barley, there’s wheat. Since brewers have been using whichever grains have been on hand since beer brewing began, wheat’s introduction to the beer world was inevitable. Wheat is actually used in a lot of different beers, but the category of “Wheat Beer” contains several distinct styles.
Hefeweizen: This Bavarian brew is quite possibly the best known style of wheat beer. A host of delicious flavors and a storied history make Hefeweizens a beguiling choice. You may also come across a Dunkleweizen, which is simply a Hefeweizen brewed with a darker malt. Notable Hefeweizen brewers include Gordon Biersch, Weihenstephaner and Paulaner among others.
Witbier: Oh, Belgium…This particularly flavorful and diverse brewing region has also given us one of the distinct styles of wheat beer. Very similar in appearance to Hefeweizen, Witbier is normally spiced with coriander and bitter orange peel, though many different spices may be used as part of the brewers secret recipe. Belgian yeast strains and this unique spicing give these brews a flavor profile that’s very distinct from it’s Bavarian cousin.
Other Varieties: Wheat beer actually represents a pretty large family of beer. Some others include Kristall Weizen, a sparkling, filtered Hefeweizen, Berliner Weisse, a sharply sour wheat beer often sweetened with flavored syrups, and Weizenbock, a wheat beer brewed in the bock beer tradition. In America, craft brewers have applied their own creativity to wheat beers creating a rather broad style known as American Wheat Beer.
Some of these other styles are easy to find, but some are nearly extinct. We may pop a review or two in when we can find one of these rarer styles. Over the next month, however, we’ll dive into wheat beers sticking mainly to Hefeweizens and Witbiers.
Stay tuned for a refreshing look at summer’s quenching brews!