Where did Australian wheat beer go?

The Australian craft beer palate has come a long way since the lager-soaked 1980s and 90s, but has it developed too much?

While Pale Ales, IPAs and even NEIPAs seem to be craft core range staples, more traditional brews like German-style wheat beers are disappearing.

The 2017 and 2018 Craft Beer Surveys by Beer Cartel have Pale Ales as the most consumed craft beer style at 92 per cent. Second, were IPAs and IIPAs at 84 per cent, while in last place were German wheat beers at 56 per cent.

It’s no surprise, then, that those breweries that have historically brewed wheat beers have more recently opted to relinquish their wheat beer offering from their core range.

Following a brand refresh in April this year, Victorian brewery Hargreaves Hill announced it had dropped its hefeweizen from its core range.

Brewer and Director of Hargreaves Hill Simon Walkenhorst said his decision to drop the hefeweizen had come after the beer had ended up in the smallest tank in the brewery.

“We were really pushed to move it on unfortunately.”

“One of the things that sort of took them out of favour was maybe the word ‘wheat’ in the name.”

“We actually went to market with hefeweizen, so it was often that we’d get customers and retailers struggling to even say the word.”

Walkenhorst said that when he was doing tastings, he found that people either loved the hefeweizen flavour or they hated it.

Another brewery to drop its hefeweizen from its core range in the last few months is south-east Queensland brewery Burleigh Brewing, which has discontinued its hefeweizen that won gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup.

Burleigh Brewing Head Brewer Brennan Fielding said that while the decision to discontinue the hefeweizen in its core range, the beer would “most likely” return annually.

Fielding told Brews News that consumers apparently shying away from hefeweizens could be due to the fact that it’s more of an “unknown” or “underappreciated” style here in Australia.

“A lot of people try a German wheat beer and they either love it or hate it sometimes,” Fielding said.

While he admitted that there are always going to be trending beers, “I think the styles that are going to stay around are the styles that have been around”.

“The traditional styles of beers that have been around for centuries, and really have a stake in the ground, those beer styles will hang around.”

Fielding said that a brewery in Germany is still considered young, even when it’s over two hundred years old.

“In their terms of breweries being around a long time, it’s five or six hundred years,” he said.“That’s a brewery that’s been around.”

Australia’s best known Wheat Beer, Matilda Bay Redback, is still produced in both bottles and on draught, but is challenging to find, even in major retailers.

So, what is going to happen to German wheat beers in Australia?

Burnley Brewing Head Brewer Michael Stanzel suggested that the lack of good German wheat beer in Australia could be because of brewing equipment.

Stanzel, who is the first Australian to attain the Brewer and Maltster apprenticeship accreditation exclusive to Germany, said that it’s a real shame Australians aren’t really drinking or producing many German wheat beers. In his opinion, Australian breweries haven’t been able to replicate that true Bavarian hefeweizen.

Stanzel, who had been gypsy brewing around Victoria before Burnley’s Richmond and Dandenong production facilities were up and running, said most of the breweries he’d seen in that time could only do a single-infusion mash.

“There’s absolutely no way to build the right wort for a really good wheat beer.”

“For me a hefeweizen has to have that cloudiness and it needs to have that youthful clove banana that comes from the acid rest.”

“The ferulic acid rest sits between 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, and is the building block for 4-vinyl guaiacol, which gives Weizenbier the spicy clove-nutmeg aroma.”

“A brewer would need to step mash in order to release this acid in the wort.”

“Some brewers could try a decoction mash, but it’s not ideal as the mash, when its taken out to boil, will build Maillard product.”

“I personally think this would not create the perfect example of a Bavarian wheat beer.”

“If a brewer isn’t able to do a step mash like this that starts at really low temperatures, the yeast won’t have the building blocks to create that amazing aroma,” he said.

“Also very important is banana ester (isoamyl acetate), which is achieved with the right yeast choice, cell count and ferment temperature.”

“Most brewhouses in Australia that I’ve seen don’t have that ability,” he said.

“In my opinion, I think it just comes down to the limitations of the brewing equipment.”

Stanzel said that all breweries in Germany have a hefeweizen, except for the big ones that concentrate on export.

For a German brewhouse, “its wheat beer is its bread and butter”.

Stanzel hasn’t tried a wheat beer at Burnley Brewing’s Dandenong brewhouse because it too, cannot do a step mash. He said he’s been trying his luck on the Spark brewhouse at Burnley’s Richmond brewpub.

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