Wheat beer is a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat in addition to malted barley. Wheat beers are usually top-fermented (as required by law in Germany). The best known and original wheat beer is hefeweizen. Using wheat as an ingredient in beer was the first exception made to the famous beer purity law, Rheinheitsgebot, and that exception was made specifically so the nobility could continue to enjoy this style. This Bavarian style of wheat beer is pale and cloudy. It is bottled and served unfiltered so the yeast used during fermentation is still present. This special strain of yeast contributes banana and clove notes to the aroma and flavor of the beer. Wheat beer is an ale so it is heavier and doesn’t provide the smack of a lager. But served cold, with or without a slice of lemon, it is no less refreshing.
The hefeweizen style is particularly noted for its low hop bitterness (about 15 IBUs) and relatively high carbonation (approaching four volumes), considered important to balance the beer’s relatively malty sweetness. Another balancing flavour note unique to hefeweizen beer is its phenolic character; its signature phenol is 4-vinyl guaiacol, a metabolite of ferulic acid, the result of fermentation by top-fermenting yeast appropriate for the style. Hefeweizen’s phenolic character has been described as “clove” and “medicinal” (Band-aid) but also smoky. Other more typical but less assertive flavour notes produced by Weissbier yeast include “banana” (amyl acetate), “bubble gum”, and sometimes “vanilla” (vanillin).
Hefeweizen should be poured smoothly into a tilted, rinsed glass. Pause when there’s about a quarter of the bottle left, swirl the bottle to lift the sediment, then pour the rest into the glass to give a big, fragrant head and release the yeast into the beer to give it its cloudy appearance. The glass should be like the Franziskaner glass shown on the right — tall and graceful, with a narrow base widening toward the top before narrowing slightly again.
Although Germany has many excellent beers, the one I have pictured here is the Granville Island Robson Street Hefeweizen from Vancouver, which was a Silver medal winner in the World Beer Championships in it’s category in 2010 & 2012.