At its heart, beer is a simple thing. Made from only a small number of necessary ingredients, composed mostly of water, the essence of beer is not complex – but the ways in which those ingredients can be manipulated and adjusted have created endless varieties and styles of beer over the centuries. One such variety is the German-style hefeweizen, which is named for its two most notable characteristics: yeast and wheat.
It’s worth noting that both German-style and Belgian-style hefeweizen varieties can be found, and while they often have very different characteristics, they both have pretty similar concepts behind how they are made. In some ways, the hefeweizen is responsible for the modern landscape of beers in America and how breweries have developed over the last couple decades, even though it is not as popular in the US as a lot of other beers out there. While pale ales may make up most of the modern craft beer market here in the states, the hefeweizen remains pretty popular and easy to find.
But what makes hefeweizen so unique and how can you tell it apart from similar beers on the market? Its characteristics are noteworthy and almost immediately apparent to anyone who tastes one. From its golden color to its fruity flavor, a good hefeweizen is a thing of beauty.
The Secret is the Wheat
What truly sets hefeweizen of any style apart from a lot of other beers out there is right in the name: the wheat. In German, “weizen” means “wheat,” while “hefe” refers to the use of yeast, which is typical of any beer out there. In other words, “hefeweizen” essentially translates as “yeast wheat” beer, so it should come as no surprise that wheat is an important part of it.
In fact, for a German beer to be labeled a hefeweizen (in Germany these beers are often referred to as “weissbier,” which means “white beer” and stems from their light color and the fact that “white” and “wheat” have similar linguistic roots) at least half of its source grain must be wheat of some type. This is usually combined with barley, which is what most types of beer use, but the high amount of wheat is what sets a hefeweizen apart from other types of beer out there. Breweries in the US are not required to use a certain percentage of wheat in their mash, but a high amount is required to make a hefeweizen look and taste properly.
Flavor and Aroma
As you might expect, the high percentage of wheat that goes into making a hefeweizen has an impact on the overall flavor and aroma of the beer. Of course, the yeast used in making a hefeweizen also dictates a lot of its final flavor and aroma, so even though two breweries might use the same amount of wheat, they can produce very different beers. One thing you will probably notice right away with a hefeweizen is that it does not usually have the hoppy smell of a lot of similar pale beers due to the focus on wheat and yeast over hops.
A good hefeweizen is often appreciated for its fruity characteristics – particularly a taste and aroma that resembles banana. In some brands, there is also a distinct “bubblegum” note to this type of beer, which many people enjoy. There is also a phenolic quality to hefeweizen, which is often picked up as notes of clove. This is one of the more distinguishing aspects of this beer and something that a lot of people enjoy while others do not – so keep this in mind before ordering a hefeweizen.
Visually, a good hefeweizen is one of the most stunning types of beer you can find. They are typically highly-carbonated and naturally produce a very pronounced head – and they continue to bubble and foam well after pouring. A hefeweizen is usually straw-colored or amber in appearance. Due to their pale golden color and the effervescence of their bubbling, these types of beer often seem to almost glow when they are served.
It is worth noting that a hefeweizen can have a somewhat cloudy appearance. This is not an indication that it has spoiled or is bad, but is a characteristic of the type of yeast used in these beers. So if your hefeweizen seems a bit cloudy compared to other beers you are used to, do not be concerned – that is normal for this type of beer.
Since the focus of a good hefeweizen is on its namesake ingredients – wheat and yeast – rather than hops, they are typically not very bitter. This can vary from one brewer to another but in general a good hefeweizen falls somewhere between 10 and 15 IBU. You might find a hefeweizen brewed here in the states labeled as an “American Wheat” or with a similar description, which will often have a more pronounced hoppiness to it.
Alcohol by Volume
While the amount of alcohol can vary from one brand to another, a hefeweizen is typically pretty low in terms of alcohol by volume. In general, a hefeweizen will fall somewhere between about 5% and 7% ABV. This is one of the reasons a lot of people enjoy hefeweizen so much: the light color and playful aroma and flavor make it easy to enjoy without it feeling heavy or hitting you right away as you take your first sip.
Serving a hefeweizen
In general, a hefeweizen should be served in a type of glass referred to as a “vase” glass. These glasses can be narrow or wide at the base, but swoop inward to be narrower in the middle, and then open wide at the top. The wide mouth of a vase glass makes it ideal for serving a hefeweizen since it will naturally produce so much foam and bubbling. As you tip the glass back to enjoy it, the wide opening lets air easily move in, which lets you enjoy the aromatic nature of the beer while making it easier to drink.
The fruity flavor and hints of clove found in hefeweizen make it ideal to serve with certain types of foods, especially seafood. A good hefeweizen is also a great accompaniment to cheese and salads, which compliment the flavor of the beer while still letting it stand out. A particularly “clove-y” variety can also be good with dessert, as the fruity sweetness and intense aroma lets a citrusy dessert shine. Some places in the US serve hefeweizen with a slice of orange on the rim, which is not traditional but can bring out the citrusy notes in some varieties.
Come Taste the Grey Eagle
At Fort Brewery and Pizza we believe in one simple thing: serving the best pizza and beer in the area. Our roots in Fort Worth go back over 150 years, so our focus is on feeding the community and creating a great restaurant that you’ll want to come back to again and again. All of our beers are crafted to the highest standard of quality and we serve them with pride.
Whether you simply need refreshment on a hot day or want a feast for your whole family, we have you covered. From salads and pizzas to starters and sandwiches, we have the perfect accompaniment to every beer we serve. Come to Fort Brewery and Pizza today to try the Grey Eagle hefeweizen, or one of our other carefully crafted and brewed beers.