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The many faces of wheat

 

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 The oldest still surviving German wheat beer, once brewed exclusively at the Royal Bavarian Court brewery, is Schneider Weisse, from a brewery still in family hands.

By: Stephen Beaumont

 

The addition of wheat to barley malt in a top-fermented ale does two things: first, it lightens the character of the beer, making it more refreshing and creating a style that is the ideal 'first beer of the day,' and secondly, it gives the beer a slight to notably citrusy character. These twin characteristics have made wheat beers, sometimes known as white beers, popular the brewing world over. There exist many variations on the wheat theme, but three main types of wheat beer. 

 

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One of the first wheat beers in the Belgian style to be brewed outside of that country was Blanche de Chambly, still brewed today by the Quebec brewery, Unibroue.

The Bavarian-style wheat, known variously as weizen (meaning “wheat”), hefeweizen (“wheat with yeast”) or weissbier (“white beer”), is characterized by the use of large amounts of malted wheat, which creates a beer lighter than an all-barley-malt brew yet slightly heavier than a beer brewed using unmalted wheat. (Typically, at least 50% of the grains used to make a weissbier will be malted wheat, although that percentage can rise as much as to 80%.) More important, however, is the use of a yeast culled from a specific family of Bavarian wheat beer yeasts, which typically impart a spicy (clove, black pepper) and distinctively banana-ish aroma and flavour to the beer. Anything described as a hefeweizen or weissbier should boast these characteristics, although not all do.

 

The Belgian style of wheat beer, also known as white beer, bière blanche or wit, is brewed from unmalted wheat – usually up to a maximum of 35% of the grains – and barley malt. It is then spiced with coriander, sour orange peel and sometimes other herbs or spices, giving it even more of a citrusy, peppery character. At its best, the Belgian wit is a very light yet flavourful beer, slightly sweet but never cloying, and both refreshing and well-suited to brunch dishes and other light fare.


The final common style of wheat beer is the North American wheat. Crafted by early ale-focused microbreweries, this style uses malted wheat simply as a way of lightening the body of the beer to make it more accessible to the average consumer of major label lagers. These beers are generally light bodied and faintly lemony in flavour, without significant hoppiness or malty or fruity character.

 

 

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