Back to Basics – Wheat

By Madeline Stefan

Welcome back to the third week of our Back to Basics series. So far, we’ve covered what’s behind those nostalgic beer flavors that make Pilsners such a classic, and explored the profiles behind that bright tartness of Sour beers.

Today we’re digging into Wheat beers.

Wheat beers are generally categorized based on their origin. Those originating in Germany, or using german wheats, are known as Weissbiers, while those of Belgian heritage are known as Witbiers. Both names are translated to mean “white-beer” because of the linguistic root white shares with wheat in both German and Dutch. You may also be familiar with American Wheat Beers, the third — and relatively newer (when compared to their European cousins) — style of Wheat Beer.

In general, American Wheat Beers tend to display a more hoppy character and a less yeasty character than Weissbiers or Witbiers.

The bready, wheat flavors obviously associated with Wheat beers are often accompanied by bitter orange peel or a citrus fruity zest and refreshing spice flavor. The light, grainy and layered sweetness in these beers have been largely associated with the summer season. 

The general flavor profile of a Wheat Beer is a wheat or bready taste accompanied by fruity or spicy notes. Banana and clove are also common flavors associated with this style, and are the result of the yeast in the brew. Even hints of honey and bubble gum can be detected in some Wheat Beers.

It’s worth noting that the light sweetness associated with Wheat Beers is more due to the absence of hop bitterness than actual residual sweetness within the beer.

The higher carbonation in some Wheat Beers gives this style an effervescent feeling, and suspended yeast give Wheat Beers a smooth, creamy mouthfeel while still allowing the beer to finish fairly dry. Even though American Wheat Beers are hoppier than Weissbiers and Witbiers, hop bitterness in Wheat Beers should never interfere with the refreshing flavors of fruit and spice.

We have two fantastic Wheat Beers on our roster here at Legion. Crease Monkey, a German Weissbier, is brewed with authentic hefeweizen yeasts that yield those notes of banana, spice and bubble gum. Appalachian Wheat and Pilsner Malt from Riverbend Malthouse are also central features of this beer. When you sip a glass of Crease Monkey, you’ll notice the light effervescence that comes from its high carbonation in addition to those traditional Wheat Beer flavor.

Another recent American Wheat Beer that we just finished up in the Legion tap room was “Tonic The Hedgehog”- which featured an herbal tonic known as Malabar. This tonic contained ginger, turmeric, black peppercorn, lemongrass, and licorice root. Where did we get this amazing adjunct? From our new neighbors in Plaza Midwood – Undercurrent Coffee. The spicy and refreshing flavors in the tonic are a wonderful complement to the beer’s classic wheat/bread notes.

So, when you taste a Wheat Beer, look for those surprising banana, clove and bubble-gummy notes that come with the expected bready/wheat flavor. And be sure to ask your bartender for the beer’s origin – you can tell a lot about a beer based on where it’s from.

Until next week.