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Wheat Beer – Your All-in-One Guide For This Fermented Ale

Sep 2023 | Last modified: November 13, 2023 | 10 min read | By Rick Weninger

Wheat beer has become quite popular in the past few years.

In this article, we’ll cover what it is, our top wheat beer recommendations, and everything in between.

Let’s get into it!

A glass of wheat beer

What is a wheat beer?

Wheat beer is an ale or lager with a substantial amount of wheat in the grain bill.

It will often have a white, hazy appearance and settle on the ABV scale’s low end. They are often called light and drinkable “session” ales.

History of wheat beers: How did they come about?

Wheat beer is an iconic craft beer with a long heritage. This type of beer hails from Germany, Belgium, and France. It is sometimes called “white wheat” due to its cloudy appearance.

There are other grains in the recipe as well. Malted or unmalted wheat, raw wheat, malted barley, and raw oats are common in traditional wheat ales.

With such a wide range, you can find everything from rich, aromatic blends to crystal-clear citrus versions. Orange peel or big tropical fruit accents are common, but brewers love placing light wheat beers into their patio favorites for those hot summer days.

Different types of wheat beers

There are a few different wheat beer styles. Some of the oldest examples and best wheat beers are the German wheat beer called Hefeweizen and the Belgian-style wheat beer or Witbier. No matter your preference, chances are good that you will find a wheat beer that suits your preference.

But with so many choices, where should you start? Witbier? Hefeweizen? American wheat beers? Let’s answer your questions and explore the different types of wheat beers on the market below.

Witbier

The Belgian Witbier is one of the best wheat beers. It is accented with spices and citrus fruits, often giving it distinctive tasting notes. Coriander is commonly found in the Belgian brewmaster’s spice cabinet.

Hefeweizen

The other wheat beer category is the Hefeweizen beer. This is the best wheat beer for having a more yeasty character. This craft beer often reflects banana flavor notes.

American Wheat beer

Another style is the American wheat beers. This type of ale has a reputation for being light and thirst-quenching.

American wheat beer brewers love letting the wheat flavors dominate. However, they are not exempt from experimenting with fruits, spices, and citrus notes. Cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns are found in some of the most popular blends.

Apart from the three abovementioned wheat beer styles, there are other wheat beer styles in the market, such as German Weißbier, Gose, and Lambic. These beers are made with a significant proportion of wheat.

What is the difference between a wheat beer and a regular beer?

The brewing process of white ales uses a high portion of wheat instead of the typical barley.

It is common to notice that it has a cloudy or hazy appearance. Even with the filtered, clear white versions, many will have heady aromas.

Yeasts used in brewing add to the uniqueness, creating a floral fizz due to the yeast’s natural creation of ferulic acid.

Brewing a wheat beer

Brewed with a large portion of malted wheat rather than a malted barley, the mash produces a smooth texture with very distinctive profiles. Both old and new world hops are common. Recipes use a wide variety of yeast strains, typically balancing suspended yeast techniques.

It’s not uncommon for brewers to finesse other strains of base malts into the mix, but always with a dominant base malt that is wheat-derived. Crisp citrus aromas are typical; the batches are often bottle-conditioned and naturally pasteurized.

What to expect and common tasting notes

You’ll notice the taste of lemon and orange peel, creating a lovely citrus blend. All manner of fruits have cajoled their way into recipes.

Some recipes even include exotic fruits like Curaçao oranges (used in Allagash White) and Italian Blood oranges. Banana is also a familiar flavor note, particularly in Belgian wheat beer styles, where it can contribute to strong, bready flavors.

Best wheat beers to drink

Given the wide variety of wheat beers available, any list of favorites can stir up debates. Various enthusiasts have strong opinions on what defines a “true” wheat beer. The truth is that there are supporters in all categories.

Here is a list of wheat beers that experts are calling their personal favorites:

Allagash White, Maine, USA. ABV: 5.2 %

Proudly belting out its refreshing citrus notes, the Allagash white has a loyal following with the summer patio crowd. They tend to focus on the Belgian style, so it’s not surprising to find their American spin on Belgian Witbier named so frequently on the fan list.

Part of the draw is that no ordinary orange was chosen to accentuate the brew. Allagash incorporates the especially flavorful Curaçao orange peel in their prized recipe.

Paulaner Hefe-weizen, Germany. ABV: 5.5%

Paulaner may be a global brewery, but the company’s heart remains in Germany. Proof of this is that their brewery and iconic Hefe-Weizen is billed as the #1 beer in Munich and is sometimes taken for granted due to its long legacy, but it still has beer experts crowning it as near perfection.

If you crave a very light-bodied example brewed in the Berliner Weisse tradition, Paulaner is a good choice.

Boulevard Brewing Unfiltered Wheat Ale, Missouri, USA. ABV: 4.4%

The Boulevard brewers crafted this wheat-forward with citrus notes and a hint of spice. Reviews show overwhelmingly that Boulevard hit the mark, with tasters describing it as apricot-colored in appearance while sheltering a delicate balance of bright citrus flavors.

More than one reviewer called this dangerously drinkable, saying that it gives beers like Allagash White some stiff competition.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale, Boston, USA. ABV: 5.3 %

Sam Adams features this as a citrus wheat beer, calling it one of their “lightest and brightest.” Loyal followers of this Massachusetts entry rave about the hoppier notes in this light staple. Broadcasting crisp citrus and hoppy notes, it is labeled a deliciously drinkable session ale.

Live Oak Hefeweizen, Austin, Texas. ABV: 5.3 %

Hailing from Austin means that the brewers at Live Oak have the city slogan of “Keep Austin Weird” to defend any questionable flavor combinations they might dream up, but they didn’t need to worry about that.

Tasting notes of vanilla, clove, and banana might raise your eyebrows a little, possibly making you assume it’s a banana bread we are discussing instead of an award-winning brew. But the traditional yeast flavors, malted wheat, and hoppy background close off a very distinctive smooth finish, so there’s no doubt that you are in the presence of a winner.

Dogfish Head Namaste, Delaware, USA. ABV: 4.8 %

Picking a name like Dogfish Head shows the brand’s playfulness, and the creative side of this Delaware icon is packaged nicely in its Namaste blend. Whenever peppercorn pops up in a beer description, it tends to draw curiosity, and the spice notes don’t stop at peppercorn either.

With clove, coriander, citrus, lemongrass, and malts all named in the profile, you can anticipate Namaste White Ale will indeed leave you feeling peaceful.

Lewis and Clark Co. Miners Gold Hefeweizen, Montana, USA ABV: 5 %

Winning gold at the American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup shot this refreshing light Hefeweizen to a place of prestige. Often referenced as one of the “golden” wheat ales, it’s a German wheat blend featuring traditional German hops, but it can easily sneak into the pint glass of your typical light beer lover.

4 Pines Aussie Wheat Ale, Manly, Australia. ABV: 4.7

If you are pining for a wheat beer but are also hoping for a pint from the land down under, 4 Pines has you covered. Hailing from a family of surfers, a laid-back attitude is apparent in this ale. The brewers at 4 Pines call this one “light, lively, and fresh.”

Combining stone fruits makes it a decidedly interesting but very delicious patio beer. Its tasting notes list raspberry and grapefruit accents, and the exotic “Yuzu peel” is listed in the recipe, which fits nicely with its groovy Aussie surfer roots. I’m unsure what a Yuzu fruit is, but I like just leaving it to my imagination.

Parish Canebrake Classic Wheat Ale, Louisiana, USA. ABV: 5 %

Parish Brewing might label this one as being modeled on Berliner Weisse, but experts quickly point out some pleasant surprises in its flavor profile.

Perhaps it’s the use of Louisiana cane syrup, or maybe a result of specifically selected Cascade hops, but something in the light and bubbly finish has customers loving it. This has been Parish Brewery’s best-selling beer since 2010, so it is no longer a Bayou secret.

Alternatives to the top wheat beers

Do you feel like trying one of the eclectic blends on the market but are feeling a bit intimidated?

Here are a few more fan favorites that over a smooth introduction.

Blue Moon Belgian White, Denver, Colorado, USA. 5.4% ABV

Reviewers call this brew from Blue Moon a gateway beer for wheat ales, and its loyal following attests to that. It is all about citrus and spice on the nose, but at the same time, it doesn’t overpower the palette.

Blue Moon uses Valencia oranges for distinct orange rind notes and spices using just a hint of coriander. It’s so easy-drinking that it is just as at home on the ballpark paired with bubble gum as on that fancy corporate retreat. Many sippers find a lemon wedge an excellent addition to this one.

Alaskan Brewing Company White, Juneau, Alaska USA. ABV: 5.3%

A refreshing, witbier-inspired contribution, Alaskan White has created a tsunami of fany down the Pacific Northwest.

The brewmaster utilizes a blend of Pacific Northwest and European hops to create a more complex citrus flavor without being overpowering. It pours with a distinct white head and a hazy profile, thanks to the wheat proteins. Effervescent but not too fruity, the Alaskan White is a great choice for sampling your first wheat ale.

FAQ on Wheat Beers

Here are some of the frequently asked questions about wheat beers.

Will I need to worry about a shorter shelf life?

A lot of chatter develops around the topic of shelf life. “Will my beer go “off” over time?” is a common question. Should you be afraid that your cherished batch is losing its flavor or changing on you?

According to the experts at Allagash Brewing, the short answer is yes. All beers, especially fresh ones, will change over time. Tight controls on yeast strains in the brewing do create a natural form of pasteurization. Keeping it out of direct light at cool temperatures will extend the shelf life.

Brewers of the Allagash White point out that aromatic aromas, hoppiness, and bitterness will all tend to dissipate with age no matter how well it is stored, though. Of course, if you are brewing your own batches or filling up your Growler, it’s a different story.

Primarily due to contact with oxygen and re-bottling, shelf life will drop substantially depending on the type. The “drink it while it’s fresh” rule certainly applies in these cases.

Is Blue Moon a wheat beer?

Absolutely, say experts. It hits all the marks for a refreshing wheat beer and is a dominating patio favorite.

What does a wheat beer pair well with?

The family of wheat ales are typically low-alcohol, with a crisp finish. Yeast or hops are not typically overwhelming, so don’t expect them to stand up against any spicy or powerful rich food flavors.

Instead, look for a match with cream pasta, cheese, zesty salad, sushi, and seafood. It’s a great beer to have for summer BBQs. Wheat ale may be punching high in citrus or spice and be highly carbonated. This means you will find a wheat ale right at home with a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.

Conclusion

Fueled with the expert’s top picks and guidance over the far-reaching field, it should be no problem to find a new addition to your own list. The wide world of wheat beer awaits.

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