For the longest time I was pretty sure I wasn’t a fan of wheat beer. All wheat beer. I know, that’s like saying, “I only drink red wine,” or “I only drive cars over emperor penguins,” but so goes my irrational mind sometimes. The point is, having tasted a few wheat beers over the past decade, I had come to the conclusion that they all had an unrefined bite and little more than summer trend status here in the US. Silly lemon wedge. So when the warmer months rolled around I generally avoided the slim, straight-sided glasses of cloudy blonde libation and stuck to my cloying brown ales instead.
About two weeks ago, however, I sat down at the bar of one of my favorite watering holes and was offered (without asking) a taste of a new Belgian ale on tap. I still don’t remember the name of it, but it do remember that it was a “Belgian white” and it was incredible. I’ve since tried (and quite enjoyed) a few others, and it led me to examine just what differentiates wheat beers from each other.
First off, almost every wheat beer on the market is an ale. That means it’s fermented warm with ale yeast which often results in a fuller and sweeter (if only in aroma) brew. There are rare wheat lagers out there, and they’re likely more crisp and light. Beyond that distinction, we have two major schools of wheat beer: the German “weissbier” or “weizen,” and the Belgian “witbier.”
Hefeweizen seems to be the big German player here in The States, and that’s basically an unfiltered wheat beer made from at least 50% malted wheat (as opposed to all barley). It’s usually quite carbonated to balance out the sweetness factor, and that may be what I don’t like too much about it. But it sure seemed to be a gateway drug to Beer Land for my wife and sister-in-law, so it can’t be all bad.
The Belgian witbier is often made with raw wheat (unmalted) and brewed with a spice/flavoring blend called “gruit” that is often made up of coriander, orange, and hops. This stuff is magical to my palate, and it’s the style of beer that I photographed – and later consumed – in my post last week (Ommegang is the brewery, and the beer was incredible).
I wish I had some witbier right now, actually. It’s hot and humid outside today, and it’s well past 5 o’clock at this somewhere.