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What Is A Wheat Beer?

WRITTEN ON 27 February, 2022

A wheat beer is a beer style brewed using at least 50% wheat malt, with the remaining ingredient usually being malted barley. Wheat beers have a distinctive cloudy appearance, creamy texture, fuller mouthfeel, and often exhibit citrusy and bready notes.

Brewing wheat beers can be challenging due to the high protein and starch content in wheat, which tend to bind together. To overcome this, wheat is brewed in combination with malted barley, which provides husks for lautering, creating a foamy head and creamy texture. The high protein in wheat also contributes to the hazy appearance of the beer.

A Brief History Of Wheat Beer

Wheat beer has a rich history dating back at least 6,000 years to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait). Archaeological evidence shows that Sumerian people in Southwest Asia brewed wheat beer using wheat, yeast, and water.

Depictions from around 3400 BC show two women enjoying wheat beer through straws. The Code of Hammurabi, dating back to the 1700s BC, even featured regulations governing the production and distribution of wheat beer.

In the 16th century, the Degenberg family obtained an exclusive brewing privilege for wheat beer from the ruling Wittelsbach dynasty. Eventually, the Bavarian dukes reclaimed control over wheat beer production, creating a monopolistic venture that lasted for two centuries.

While wheat beer faced a decline in popularity during the 19th century, it experienced a remarkable resurgence in the 1960s. Today, wheat beer stands as one of the most sought-after beer styles among craft brewers, enjoying a significant market share worldwide.

Styles Of Wheat Beer

1. Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen (“Hefe” means yeast and “Weizen” means wheat in German) is a traditional wheat beer style brewed with top-fermenting yeast. It imparts signature banana and clove flavours and aromas to the beer. The suspended yeast and high protein content give Hefeweizen its hazy appearance. It typically ranges in colour from straw to amber and has low bitterness.

2. Dunkelweizen

Dunkelweizen (“Dunkel”means dark and “Weizen” means wheat in German) is a variation of Hefeweizen made using roasted malt, which gives it a darker colour. Like Hefeweizen, it also exhibits notes of clove and banana. The use of roasted malts adds bready, malty sweetness, and chocolate-like flavours to Dunkelweizen.

3. Witbier

Witbier is a Belgian-style wheat beer made with unmalted wheat and spiced with coriander seeds and orange peel. It has a pale and cloudy appearance due to the presence of unfiltered starch and yeast. Witbier showcases a fruity and spicy flavour profile, with low hop bitterness.

4. American Wheat Beer

American wheat beer is inspired by German-style hefeweizen but has a distinct flavour profile due to the use of neutral yeast strains and American hops. It is brewed with around 30% malted wheat and can be fermented using either lager or ale yeast. American wheat beers exhibit fruity notes, and the hop aroma and bitterness can vary from low to medium.