In my first beer post I wrote that beer is usually made with barley malt. The major exception to that rule is wheat. Wheat beers are a Belgian and German specialty. Witbier (think Hoegaarden or Blanche du Chambly) and Hefeweizen are incredibly distinctive, approachable, and tasty(!) styles of beer. The focus this week, by special request, is hefeweizen.
Hefeweizen is a weissbier (wheat beer) from South Germany. The Hefe refers to the yeast that gives a unique flavour and cloudy appearance to these beers. These aren't the only type of German weissbier. The sour Berliner weisse, the malty Dunkelweizen and Weizenbock, and the clear Kristalweizen are all beers made with wheat. Hefes are typically made up of about 50% wheat. The yeast really defines this beer. The phenols come across as banana, cloves and other spice, and contribute to a neat bubblegum flavour.
There's a long and interesting history of weissbier in Germany related to the famous Reinheitsgebot beer purity law. I won't bore you to death with it, but if you're interested check out this entry by Ontario beer guru Greg Clow. Today's first beer, the Schneider Weisse, is a direct beneficiary of that history. The Schneiders purchased the rights to brew wheat beer in Bavaria from the Bavarian rulers in 1856. The result is one of the most respected, and oldest, wheat beer breweries in the world.
Let me finish by saying wheat beers were my entry to the world of good beer. More specifically, witbiers were, at first I actually wasn't a fan of Hefeweizen. However, over a couple trips to Germany I fell in love with the style. There is nothing better than a draught Hefeweizen in a Bavarian beer garden on a sunny day. Seriously.
G. Schneider & Sohn
I'm using a traditional hefeweizen glass, an Erdinger. They're tall, usually a half litre, with a skinny bottom and wide top. Once poured, the Hefeweizen is one of the most beautiful beers in existance. In this case, the dirty brown/copper beer fills up most of the glass, while the big marshmellow head expands to fit the top of the glass.
A bit of spiciness on the nose. Nice wheat aroma, usually comes across as a sort of barnyard smell, in a good way. There's also nice malt in there, in the Hefeweizen it usually comes across as a bit of brown sugar, or very subtle caramel. The standout aroma in this case is carmalized apple, which lurks behind everything else. Very nice.
I've always liked describing the hefe taste as "dusty", and this is no exception. This beer is lighter on the banana flavours than most, which is usually the flavour in Hefes. In this case there is a bit of spice to the taste (cloves), but mostly I get a lot of apple flavours, like a very light cider. Bit of nuttiness to the malt. The finish is juicy, with a yeast, or dusty as I said above, flavour.
Not a long review, but the Schneider Weisse is one of the more straightforward ones.
Other good examples of the style available in Ontario are the Weihenstaphener (we should also have their dunkelweizen at the moment) and the Waterloo Wheat. Also give the True North a shot at the Beer Store. Once in a while we'll get the Franziskaner, which is, some might say, one of the best in the world. For those of you in Southern Ontario, be on the lookout for Dennison's version, a fantastic Ontario take on the style.