Everything You Need to Know About a Hefeweizen

Hazy and light, you might suspect the beer you’re about to consume is a mouth-inverting triple hopped IPA, especially if you’re drinking it on a hip patio bar in America. But if you aren’t a fan of hops, rest easy. That beer is a hefeweizen, and you’re about to experience an extremely refreshing, crisp, and highly carbonated wheat beer.

If you’ve been drinking hefeweizen for years, you know what to expect. A little spice, a little banana, and some mellow vanilla, just like any other weiss beer. These flavors blend perfectly in a balanced beer that is highly sessionable and classic.

If you’re new to the party, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about what this beer is, how it came to be, and what to expect when you sample it.

As always, the crew at TapRm will give you the best recommendations for the hefeweizens you should try right now. We’ll also clue you in on how our model works, so you’ll never miss an opportunity to sample a beer you want to try.

First, let’s talk about hefeweizen’s beer style and substyle. It’s important to understand where hefeweizen fits in the family of beers and what differentiates it from other substyles. As an aside, this is also an excellent way to impress your friends or win at trivia night.

Beer Style Families

There are essentially three major beer style families: ales, lagers, and sours/wilds. The difference is in how they are created. While there’s a debate about whether sours should have a category all their own, we feel that once you try them, you’ll agree: there’s nothing like a sour!

All beer starts off relatively the same. The beer brewing process is easily summarized in four steps: malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting.

Malting

Before beer becomes the liquid perfection you love, it starts as grain. Usually, barley is the grain of choice, although wheat and rye are sometimes used in different substyles of beer (like hefeweizen).

The grain is dried, cracked, and malted to create the toasty, malty flavor you experience in most beers. Hefeweizen is more than 50 percent wheat, classifying it as a wheat ale. Other grains are also used, but the flavor and aroma you’ll experience are bread-like and yeasty.

Mashing

Once the grains have been malted, they are mashed to release their full flavors.

Mashing is done with water, so the beer, at this point, would be a grainy sludge of cracked, malted material. This process is necessary to begin before boiling to ensure the proper release of the flavor of the grain and its essential phenols and esters. All beer enters the mashing process before boiling.

Boiling

Boiling is where the magic starts to happen. Once the malted grain has been mashed, it is boiled. Boiling further releases the flavors and sugars from the grain. This is important as the sugars in the grain will later be fermented, creating the alcoholic content of the beer.

The boiling sugar/water that results is called the wort. Into the wort, a brewer can add spices, syrups, fruit, and virtually any other adjunct (a non-malt ingredient) to shape the flavor and mouthfeel of the resulting beer.

Fermentation

Fermentation is the step that separates beer into the three different styles we mentioned earlier: ales, lagers, and sours.

During fermentation, yeast and/or bacteria are used to achieve these different styles. The type of yeast or bacteria used determines the fermentation process and the resulting style of the beer.

After fermentation, some beers (like pilsners) are filtered to remove hazy sediment from the grain and yeast. Hefeweizen is an unfiltered beer, which means its appearance is described as hazy or cloudy, much like an IPA.

Fermenting a Hefeweizen

Fermentation happens in three different ways: top fermentation, bottom fermentation, and wild fermentation. Top fermentation yields ales, bottom fermentation yields lagers, and wild fermentation yields sours. Hefeweissbier is an ale, a top fermented beer.

Top Fermentation

Ales are fermented through a process that uses a yeast called saccharomyces cerevisiae, or “S. cerevisiae.” This ale yeast is added to the wort when it is still hot, usually between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because the yeast is added when it is hot, it foams on the top of the wort and begins to activate and begin the fermentation process. This is why it’s called top fermenting. Ales ferment quickly and are the playground of craft brewers.

Bottom Fermentation

Lagers are created through the process of bottom fermentation. Using a yeast called saccharomyces pastorianus, or “S. pastorianus,” the wort is cooled to between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then, the yeast is added. Because the liquid is cooled, the yeast falls to the bottom and begins fermentation at the bottom of the wort. Thus, the process is called “bottom fermentation.”

Bottom fermentation takes longer, which explains why barrels of lager beer are “lagared” for several months before bottling. Most mass-marketed beers like Coors or Budweiser are lagers.

Wild Fermentation

Sours, also known as farmhouse ales, or wilds, use a different type of fermentation entirely. Creating a sour involves the use of bacteria called lactobacillus or pediococcus and yeast called Brettanomyces, usually referred to as “brett.”

The brewer can control the outcome of the sour by controlling the amount of bacteria and yeast in the beer. Otherwise, he can simply let the beer ferment with whatever bacteria already exists in the barrel or enters the barrel if it is left uncovered.

This type of wild fermentation produces beers generally described as funky, barnyard, and even “wet horse blanket.”

Hefeweizen in a Substyle

For every style of beer, there are numerous substyles — over 100, according to the Brewers Association. Hefeweizen is an ale, therefore top fermented. In German, hefe means yeast, and weizen means wheat, which is a pretty apt way to describe this beer.

Hefeweizen is a German wheat beer that is light on hops, malted with copious amounts of wheat instead of mostly barley. It also has a unique banana flavor with a bit of clove spice and slight vanilla and bubblegum taste. Hefeweizen features a slightly bready wheat malt aroma and higher than average carbonation as well. It’s incredibly approachable, drinkable, and sessionable, with an average ABV of between 4% to 5.5%.

If you are one of the (seemingly few) beer drinkers who isn’t a fan of high levels of IBUs, wheat beer and hefeweizen are for you. This beer is old-world with a new twist, and we’ll explain why.

The History of Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen dates back to the 1400s when it was brewed in small batches in Bavaria, Germany. It was well-loved and enjoyed by locals… until the Purity Law went into effect.

The introduction of the Reinheitsgetbot, the German Purity Law that governs the way beer is made and regulates the ingredients used, was adopted in 1487. The Reinheitsgetbot is still in effect today, although it is possible to be circumvented in some cases. Interestingly, the Reinheitsgetbot still dictates which particular breweries can brew certain styles and substyles of beer.

According to Reinheitsgetbot, the only allowable ingredients for beer were barley, hops, and water. These laws were established to protect the purity and quality of German beer during a time when foreign beer was being imported that was low quality and occasionally spoiled.

It also allowed breweries in Germany to produce a low ABV beer with simple ingredients that were, at the time, easier to find. This leveled the playing field among breweries, eliminating competition from brewers who did not have access to better grain or ingredients. Unfortunately, the result was beer that virtually all tasted the same and, in some cases, was a little less than desirable.

By 1516, Bavaria also adopted the Purity Law. Unfortunately for the makers of hefeweizen, which required wheat and yeast to make, their beer was now forbidden.

As you might imagine, this made the hefeweizen brewers angry. In an act of defiance and “sticking it to the man,” they began brewing their wheat and yeast-infused beer. Mixing malted wheat and barley, they created their beer and distributed it “underground,” similar to the bootlegging moonshine makers in the United States.

The Turn Towards Acceptance of Hefeweizen

As illegal hefeweizen production continued, a fortunate event occurred. The beer was placed into the cups of royal families living in Bavaria… and they loved it. As such, they simply passed a mandate stating that at least one brewery in Bavaria could brew hefeweizen. This win/win allowed hefeweizen brewers (at least at one brewery) to brew their beer lawfully.

As years passed, the law expanded to include more Bavarian breweries, and the production of hefeweizen was in full swing. This was the height of hefeweizen’s popularity before the reintroduction of dark lagers overshadowed the pale, light beers.

The Decline in Popularity of Hefeweizen

By the 1700s, dark lagers were regaining popularity, which shot down the demand for hefeweizen. The Bavarian dynasty that controlled the brewing of hefeweizen decided it was no longer profitable and sold the rights to brew it in 1856 to a family-owned brewery. By the early 1900s, only this brewery produced wheat beer.

The Rebirth of Hefeweizen

For about fifty years, no one had hefeweizen on tap. It was brewed by small breweries and in small batches. It didn’t regain popularity until the mid-1900s, when light, malted wheat beer was once again the beer of choice.

Due to German immigration to America, brewers in the United States began creating American hefeweizen, and it’s now a staple in bars and pubs worldwide. Although the recipes have changed slightly, the general recipe is the same, allowing you to experience a classic hefeweizen in Germany or San Francisco. That said, an American-style hefeweizen is a bit more floral and a little citrusy.

The Difference Between Hefeweizen and Other Wheat Beers

If you’re thinking that hefeweizen sounds like any other weissbier (wheat beer or white beer), you’re right. It is a wheat beer, but its nuances are slightly different from other wheat beer styles, usually because of the yeast involved in the fermenting process and the addition of other adjuncts in other wheat beers.

German Hefeweizen vs. Belgian Witbier

Most wheat beer is brewed with at least 50% wheat (usually between 50%-70% wheat) in the grist. The remainder of the grist is typically barley. Hefeweizen is a substyle with cousins like kristallweizen, dunkelweizen, and weizenbock. Of these, hefeweizen is arguably the most popular and most easy drinking.

Kristallweizen, unlike hefeweizen, is filtered until it is virtually clear. Dunkelweizen, on the other hand, is dark, heavier, and bread-like. Hefeweizen is a middle-of-the-road option for wheat beer lovers.

Belgian witbier is also brewed with more than 50% wheat in the grist but is also traditionally flavored with coriander and orange peel. These spices are so characteristic of witbier you’ll even occasionally find your pint garnished with a curled orange rind.

American Hefeweizen vs. German Hefeweizen

The immigrants who came to America in the early 1900s brought their hefeweizen, and American craft brewers were quick to attempt to emulate those brews. Due to the availability of ingredients and different yeast strains, American hefeweizen usually has a different flavor than the traditional German hefeweizen.

American hefeweizen is generally maltier and (as almost expected) a lot hoppier. German brewers use much fewer hops than American brewers. German brewers avoid the extensive use of hops to help balance the esters, phenols, and wheat flavor. Additionally, their hefeweizen usually uses more wheat than American brewers.

Although the beers are slightly different in taste, it’s still possible to drink an American hefeweizen and get the same classic German wheat beer experience that was enjoyed long ago. This is why this old-world beer has a new world following.

Hefeweizen: What to Expect

Drinking a hefeweizen should be an experience. Traditionally, it is served in a glass called a weizenbeer. This tulip-shaped glass has a narrow base, a wide midsection, and a slight narrowing closure at the end.

Obviously, you can also enjoy hefeweizen straight from a bottle or can, although we’d argue you’re definitely going to miss out on the color, haze, and classic foamy head if you opt out of a glass.

Hefeweizen is also sometimes garnished with a lemon wedge, although whether or not a lemon wedge should be used is debatable. Some say it interferes with the flavor of the beer. The traditional service of a hefeweizen does not include a garnishment.

Color of a Hefeweizen

The color of most hefeweizens will be straw to amber. These are light beers but with enough color that it’s noticeable. Most hefeweizens are closer to amber, though not usually darker. If they’re darker, they’re likely American, not German.

Hefeweizen is an unfiltered beer, so it’s extremely hazy and cloudy, similar to the haze and cloud you’d see in an India Pale Ale.

The Aroma of a Hefeweizen

You’ll never really notice a strong hop bitterness or malt aroma on the nose when you experience a hefeweizen. Especially true of German hefeweizen, there is virtually no hops aroma, and the malt aroma is extremely low. Instead, you’ll get a light fruity scent and the scent of spicy clove.

You may also smell vanilla and, in rare cases, smoke or sulfur (as from a match).

The Bitterness of a Hefeweizen

This isn’t a bite-you-back style of beer. Unlike an IPA, you’ll never feel like your tongue has retreated into the back of your throat. Bitterness (and the inclusion of hops) is low in a hefeweizen.

American hefeweizen is more hop-heavy than German but still not high enough to deliver a bitter taste.

The Body of a Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen has a medium to full body and a highly carbonated, tingly mouthfeel. Hefeweizen is extremely heady, presenting with a thick, foamy white head when poured.

The Flavor of a Hefeweizen

When drinking a hefeweizen, you’ll definitely get banana ester and spicy clove. These are the two most notable and classic flavors present in a hefeweizen. In an American hefeweizen, you’ll get a more malt-forward flavor due to the strains of yeast used.

You can also perceive smoke, vanilla, and nutmeg in a hefeweizen. They have a slight bread-like flavor due to the inclusion of yeast.

What To Pair With a Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen is a very unassuming beer that pairs well with virtually everything. Some say the spicy notes make this beer the perfect pairing for seafood or salad. Hefeweizen also pairs perfectly with meats, both grilled and fried, and cookout-style food.

Because hefeweizen is a lighter beer, you can easily drink it with everything from charcuterie to sandwiches, filet mignon to hot dogs.

Hefeweizens To Try Right Now

You know the team at TapRm has the latest and most exciting hefeweizens. Our selection is always changing, and sometimes our offerings are only available seasonally or for limited times. Because of this, it’s important to grab a great beer you want when you see it. Because we work with smaller breweries, our supplies of these beers are sometimes limited.

Right now, we’re loving the hefeweizen brewed by Tivoli Brewing Company. Colorado’s oldest brewery, dating back to 1859, is known for creating new, incredibly impressive, and detailed beers based on old-world style recipes.

Their Mile Hi Hefe is a traditional German hefeweizen with an incredibly modern twist.

This lighter, drier version of hefeweizen is exclusive to TapRm. We start with our traditional German Hefeweizen recipe and put a modern twist on it. It makes a lighter and drier version, focused on spicy aromas and minimal bitterness. It has a clean finish that pairs perfectly with virtually anything. The ABV of 6% makes it just the perfect weight for dinner or drinks on the patio.

We also love Sea Dog Brewing’s Blue Paw Wild Blueberry. Although this isn’t a hefeweizen, it’s a great twist on traditional wheat beer that features the addition of fresh Maine blueberries. What better way to cool off in the summer months than with a light, fruity beer?

The TapRm Difference

When you want to try a different beer, you have a couple of options. You could head to the local pub and hope they have the substyle you’d like to try on tap. Or, you could shop the local markets or liquor store shelves to see what they have available. However, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you still have options.

That’s where TapRm comes in. By connecting small craft breweries to passionate beer drinkers, we’re building a better beer infrastructure and changing how you drink beer. We make the craft brewer in Colorado accessible to the beer lover in Florida by cutting through the excessive shipping fees and practices that many small breweries simply can’t afford.

Hefeweizen: The Wheat Beer You Love, at TapRm

Hefeweizen is a traditional German wheat beer that almost reached extinction due to strict German purity laws and an overall lack of popularity in the late 1800s. Thankfully, through immigration and a surge in interest in malted wheat brews, hefeweizen survived, and we’ve got dozens of new “old style” hefeweizens to try today.

You can expect a hefeweizen to be light, crisp, and refreshingly carbonated. You’ll love the spicy, fruity notes that are perfectly balanced against the backdrop of the wheat. While German hefeweizen and American hefeweizen differ, it’s only slightly, and usually in the amount of maltiness you experience upon taste and smell.

You can grab your favorite hefeweizen from TapRm by logging on to our site and clicking your way to craft beer delivered directly to your door. No need to travel to a craft brewery across the nation, although we wouldn’t frown on a beer tasting trip.

This summer, grab a hefeweizen while you fire up the grill, and hit up TapRm regularly to see the ever-changing inventory of exciting new beers we have to offer. Cheers!

Sources:

Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines | Brewers Association

All About Wheat Beer | Wheat Foundation.org

Is A 500-Year-Old German Beer Law Heritage Worth Honoring? : The Salt | NPR

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