by Brian Cullen
There exists an unfortunate movement among craft beer enthusiasts (besides awkward Brooklyn hipster dancing). In recent years, there has been no end of American zeal for the over-hopped, overpowering, high alcohol nuclear bombers that crowd bottle shops everywhere. But with names like “Ruination” and “Palate Wrecker,” these monsters sound more like dental rinses than happy hour brews.
Now, is there a time and a place for the Double Imperial American IPA? Of course! They’re delicious! But then, there’s a time and a place for Slayer, too (or Motörhead, for that matter). But what if I’ve had a long day, and, I just want something light to relax with? And more importantly, what to pair with the fish?
Enter wheat beers. Today, wheat beers enjoy something of a contentious status, as some craft beer bros insist that they’re “chick beers” (which is both untrue, and also, who gives a rat’s ass?). To this day, I have a friend (who’s otherwise incredibly well-versed in beer) who refuses to dabble in wheat beers, and I myself once claimed in a former life, whilst drunk on Lagunitas IPA, that “I’ll always be sad!” And also “Wheat beers are the bland, table chardonnay of the beer world!”
Wrong wrong wrong.
Let me tell you something about wheat beers. Are they light in flavor? Sometimes. But they can also carry some of the most interesting tasting notes in all of brewing (the usual suspects are: cloves, banana, green apple, smoke, and bubble gum). Plus, with ABVs often around 4.5%, you can drink a whole slew of ‘em and still be ok. Also, come on, like you really want a 12% IPA while sitting on your porch in the summertime?
Now, if you remember nothing else about wheat beers, remember this: their versatility in food pairing is unmatched. See, wheat produces more carbonation than barley. With carbonation comes carbonic acid, which you get more of with every sip of a wheat beer. So what’s the big deal? Well, carbonic acid literally burns fat layers off of your tongue, refreshing your taste buds between every bite. (This is the same reason, by the way, that you drink red wine with beef. More fat requires more tannic acid to continually burn the fat off of your tongue, to keep your dinner tasting just as amazing as the first bite). This means that wheat beers can hold its own with everything from more robust fare like fish and chips all the way to a light summer salad. Let’s see your double IPAs match up to anything besides only the sharpest cheddars and the stinkiest roqueforts.
So today, we’d like to raise our glass to all things light and bubbly. Here are our favorite wheat beers.
Holding the claim to the oldest continually operating brewery in the world, Weihenstephaner is something of a legend in the wheat beer world. And deservedly so. A clean-finishing, lightly-bodied beer with a nice balance of banana and clove, this Founding Father of German brews can hold its own with anything out there.
Originally a brewer for the Hofbrauhaus in Germany, George Schneider struck out on his own and founded a company that remains owned and operated by the Schneider family today. (A quick aside: I was originally going to include Hofbrauhaus in this list, because how cool would it have been to have both a brewer and his employer on here? But I found out that apparently Hofbrauhaus is something of a chain restaurant, and the Hofbrauhaus beers you’ve been drinking in the United States come from Newport, Kentucky! So if you want to stay authentic, steer clear of Hofbrauhaus. Unless you’re in Munich.)
Schneider-Weisse is darker than your average wheat (without trespassing upon “dunkel” territory) and packs a spicy, yeasty punch. Not as much banana in this one, so if you’re a clove fan, drink up!
Some will claim foul that I’m running a “White” in a wheat beer article, but if I may: 1) Belgian Wits (like Blue Moon, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of trying them before) are just wheat beers with curacao orange peel, coriander, and, sometimes, white pepper. The body is more or less the same. And 2) I don’t love wits, since some breweries have the tendency to make them essentially taste like mimosas (all well and good. But I like just a hint of orange, not a big citrus blast). This means I couldn’t make an entire list. So Allagash sneaks in here.
This fluffy, frothy brew is a perfect blend of hearty spiciness balanced out with just the right amount of citrus. A little lemongrass in there too, if you’re looking for it. Considering that this is a US brewery (Maine), this beer is especially remarkable since we don’t typically do well with more delicate styles here. Still, if you’re on a wheat kick, Allagash is a “must try.”
Live Oak Hefeweizen
I write this entry on Live Oak utterly heartbroken. I live in New York City, and Live Oak doesn’t distribute outside of Texas (I don’t think. If they do, they don’t go very far). Even worse? You just know if they decided to mass-produce, there would be a loss of quality. That’s not a cut against them. That’s just the nature of the yeast (a heh heh hehhhhhhh).
Simply put, Live Oak Hefeweizen is the best wheat beer — and arguably the best beer — I’ve ever had. It maintains all the correct balance of flavors, but everything is turned up to 11. I don’t mean that in the typical, American, “bash you over the head” style. I mean it like…imagine an old painting that was suddenly restored and the colors are brighter than they were before. It’s the same DNA. It’s just more expressive.
Because words won’t serve to tell you how good this beer is, I’ll only say this: the reasons one should visit Austin, TX are legion, and chief among them is the chance to sample a Live Oak Hefeweizen. Then, sample 12 more. It’s that good.
So, we hope we’ve inspired you to break down some old stereotypes today and try one of the truly great styles out there. And remember, the best part about German beers like hefes is that you’re supposed to drink them out of novelty-sized steins! So drink up, friends. And we’ll see you next time.