Exploring the magic of wheat beer
A catch-all category encompassing several distinct styles, classic wheat beers typically have a grain bill containing 50 per cent or more wheat, with the balance comprised of malted barley.
The Belgian witbier is that country’s signature wheat beer, one of few beer styles that actually requires the addition of spices or botanicals to be considered the genuine article.
Ground coriander and orange peel are the most common additions, contributing perfumy, spicy aromatics and citrusy fruitiness.
Germany’s flagship wheat beer is the weissbier or hefeweizen, noteworthy for its banana and clove aroma, courtesy of a particular strain of ale yeast.
Hefe meaning ‘yeast’ denotes a beer that is unfiltered and presents as cloudy, while kristallweizen is filtered to remove the yeast, making for a beer that is bright and clear.
These German wheat beers are traditionally served in a special vase-shaped glass that tapers inward in order to hold its attractive foam head, aided in its stability by the increased protein content of the wheat.
Variations on the hefeweizen include the dunkelweizen, which features the addition of dark malts, as well as the weizenbock and weizen doppelbock; richer, stronger, darker expressions of the base style.
Also under the wheat umbrella is the Berliner weisse, a sour, low alcohol style that has been making a comeback in recent years.
Classic versions of the Berliner weisse were typically sweetened by the addition of fruit syrup at the point of service, but modern brewers often save us the trouble by releasing the beer with fruit already added.
Overall, wheat beers remain a niche affair in Australia, as evidenced by the limited number of local versions on the market.
“Wheat beers do seem to be polarising for people. I’m not exactly sure why – maybe it’s the spicy, fruity yeast characters that might be too much for some drinkers. Some Belgian wits contain coriander, which has its lovers and haters,” comments White Rabbit head brewer Jeremy Halse.
Wheat beer recently had a rare moment in the spotlight when White Rabbit White Ale was judged the overall Champion Australian Beer at the Australian International Beer Awards 2017.
According to Halse, White Rabbit White is a more approachable expression of a Belgian wit that is first and foremost a refreshing beer, ideal for the warmer months.
“The key is in making it drinkable and complex without letting any one thing dominate.We blend the coriander and juniper at a level that enhances the yeast, while ensuring it’snot in your face,” he says.
“I personally love wheat beers, both German-style hefeweizens and and Belgian wits. I particularly like the refreshing qualities of each and the interesting flavours contributed by yeast during fermentation or through the addition of herbs and spices.”
White Rabbit White Ale
The reigning overall AIBA Champion Beer is a Belgian wit featuring coriander, juniper berry and bitter orange. The additives are carefully integrated with the yeast character, ensuring it is a refreshing beer well suited to summer.
4 Pines Beer Hefeweizen
A true-to-style German wheat beer offering mild sweetness on the nose, preluded by a beautiful balance of banana and clove characters on a well-rounded palate.
Feral Brewing White
A Belgian wit that is cloudy and unfiltered with coriander and orange peel added during the boil to contribute a spicy citrus flavour.
Moo Brew Hefeweizen
Naturally cloudy with a vibrant yellow colour and strong foam head, this is another fine interpretation of a German wheat beer, offering signature banana and clove yeast character.
Wayward Brewing Company Sourpuss Raspberry Berliner Weisse
This tart and fruity wheat beer is Wayward’s take on the classic Berliner Weisse style. Fresh raspberries on the nose and a tartness on first sip gives way to a sweet, malty finish.