Weisse, weizen and whatnot!
Wheat beers can have many monikers: weisse, weissbier, hefeweizen, white beer-witbier. What they all have in common is an abundance of wheat in place of malted barley in the brewing process. So, why all the different, strange names? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. In German, hefe means yeast and weizen means wheat. Weisse translates to white in English. Prior to the invention of lighter ales and lagers beer was predominantly darker in color except for wheat heavy beers, which naturally came with a cloudy, brighter color, thus they were named the “white” beer. Mostly seen as a seasonal brew, wheat beers have grown in popularity over the past 15 years to the point where they can be found year-long in most pubs and restaurants primarily because of their sweet, fruity and full-bodied nature.
To fruit, or not to fruit? As much a matter of taste as it is a social squabble, placing a slice of citrus fruit on the rim of wheat beer-filled glass has become a standard practice to most consumers. Blame the custom’s increased popularity on Blue Moon Brewing Company, which actively promoted their Belgian-style (as opposed to German) white beer with an orange slice, but the practice of adding fruit to beer goes farther back. Whether it is socially acceptable is a matter for a much bigger conversation, but I say go with what you enjoy! Rob Widmer, one of the first American brewers to make a wheat beer (a really good wheat beer), sees no problem in putting a squeeze of fresh lemon juice in his flagship Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen. Their marketing even includes a wedge of lemon as garnish.
Whether garnished or not, the best way to enjoy a wheat beer is out in the sunshine, where the aromas of the brew waft from the glass into the warm air and the sunlight illuminates the cloudy, golden hue of the beverage in hand. Over the weekend I stopped in at the General Sutter Inn to enjoy some time on the patio and a selection of wheat beers from the Bulls Head. Surrounded by other patrons enjoying the wonderful weather, I decided to start with a draft. Known simply as Paulaner, Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier Naturtrüb is one of the top-selling imported wheat beers and is found in bottle form in most establishments with a serious beer list. For my second beer I wanted something I never tried before and picked the Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier from the bottle list. Wouldn’t you know, just hours after I left, servers at Bulls Head tapped a keg of Weihenstephan, a rarity of a beer in these parts. As I suspected, the two beers were quite similar. Traditional German wheat beers follow a rigid brewing guide, so it is natural for them to have similar tastes. For more local versions of wheat beers try Appalachian Brewing Company’s Hinterland Hefe Weizen, which just hit taps on June 6.
Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure, covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.