Wheat beer began like a medieval fairy tale in the Bavarian state of Germany. Usually light in color and low on bitterness, wheat beer is a popular category in the craft beer department. The most popular imported style is called a German Hefeweizen. They are easy drinking with a sweet bready flavor. The bright citrusy orange flavors have won many non-beer drinkers over to the the delicious world of wheat ale and other wheat beer styles.
A German wheat beer must contain at least 50% wheat to be called a wheat beer. In the US, the range of wheat in a typical American style is approximately 30-50%. Wheat beer is similar to lager in lightness and drinkability but they're also very different.
Lager uses yeast that gathers and ferments at the bottom in a cooler temperature. The different fermentation process along with the different grain, gives wheat beer fruity flavors and a creamier mouthfeel. By comparison, lager tastes crisper and more bitter. Also, the alcohol level (ABV) of wheat beer comes in between 3.5-5.6%, which is much lower than many other varieties of beer.
The entire category of wheat beer can be very confusing because of the different names it's known by. We have Weißbier in Bavaria and Austria. The northwest of Germany calls it Weizenbeier, Weizen, or Weizenbock. In Belgium, you'd order a Witbier. And in France, where even beer sounds beautiful, ask for Bière Blanche.
In addition to having different names, wheat beer is also brewed in many different styles, giving the homebrewing world endless possibilities. These are the main brewing styles you need to know.
"Hefe" translates to yeast in German. Hefeweizen has a cloudy look and a slight carbonation to it. As weird as it sounds, it's filled with a delicious banana-like fruitiness.
American Wheat Beer
Made with at least 30 percent wheat malt, American wheat beer is light and easy to drink. It's not quite as creamy as a German-style but it's a great crossover style in the imported section. Its slightly hoppy wheat taste has been a hit in the American market.
Berliner Weisse is an unfiltered wheat beer flavored with fruit syrups like raspberry, peach, and grapefruit. With its slight fizziness, this stuff would be dangerous if the alcohol content weren't so low.
Belgian-style witbier or "white beer" is a refreshing style brewed using unmalted wheat. The best part is the subtle spiced notes of coriander and orange peel.
Dunkelweizen is darker in color and has a sweet vanilla malty flavor. It can even be considered a dessert beer! It is that delicious.
Wheat Beers To Look For
1. Allagash White
Allagash White has a loyal fan club. This slightly cloudy American version of a Belgian wheat beer is spiced with coriander and orange peel. Fruity and refreshing.
2. Avery White Rascal
Avery White Rascal is a hazy white wheat ale with a distinct bubblegum aroma in addition to the more standard banana, coriander, and orange peel.
3. Blue Moon Belgian White
Blue Moon is easily the most popular of this list. The fancy way to drink Blue Moon is with an orange slice garnish, but if you don't have an orange handy, this beer already screams tangy citrus without the additional help.
4. Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
Franziskaner Hefe-Weisseis from the birthplace of Weissbier. This Bavarian beer is foamy and big on flavor. This one is as authentic as it gets with that unique citrus and banana aroma. Lederhosen not included.
5. Hoegaarden White Ale
Hoegaarden has an earthy coriander note in addition to the citrus. It's a real foodie beer with slightly sweet and savory flavors.
6. Bell's Oberon Ale
Oberon is fermented with Bell's house ale yeast that makes any beer from Bell's Brewery a hot bottle. Naturally spicy hops instead of added spices make this a nice light and smooth wheat beer with fruity aromas.
7. Samuel Adams Summer Ale
Sam Summer is a popular seasonal beer. Impress your drinking buddies with this trivia: The secret ingredient is a rare African pepper called "grains of paradise" originally used as a brewing spice in the 13th century!
8. Shock Top Belgian White
Shock Top is brewed with real orange, lemon peels, lime peels, and coriander. This unfiltered cloudy wheat beer is easy to spot in the beer aisle. Look for the guy with orange mohawk on the box.
9. Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Kellerweis is an American wheat beer made in a Belgian style. You'll taste clove and yeasty banana bread. Kellerweis is made using the traditional Bavarian method of open fermentation. This fermenting style adds complexity. Pro serving tip: pour two-thirds into a glass, swirl the bottle and then add the rest.
10. Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier (Hefeweisen)
Full-bodied and smooth. Heavy on the clove aromas but the banana balances it out. This is a great beer for German sausage meals.