Wheat Beers

It has been quite some time since we wrote an actual blog post. And even longer since we last participated in The Session. This month’s session is all about Wheat Beers. This should be a good subject since I’ve just put a homebrewed wheat beer on tap recently and have been reading about wheat beers, too.

The latest homebrew — Hump’s Five Grain Ale — is vaguely in the style of an “American Wheat” which is a rather broad style. It features the use of not just Barley and Wheat but also Rye, Oats, and Corn (hence the name). It is cloudy like so many wheat beers, but is a little deeper in color, grainier but rich in flavor, full-bodied, and surprisingly citrusy (from a decent-sized punch of Tettnanger hops). Despite the exotic sound of all that, it isn’t particularly adventurous. I think a lot of fizzy-yellow-beer drinkers get their feet wet in the craft beer world with wheat beers. That would certainly explain why Blue Moon is so popular, wouldn’t it?

The Obligatory Anecdote

On a recent team-building outing with my co-workers, I was tasked with refreshments. In addition to water, sodas, pretzels, and chips, I also brought along beer. I nabbed a fairly random selection of singles from the basement and then also got a few six-packs at the store. I had a request for something approachable (so I ended up taking along Miller Lite). But I also grabbed some Sierra Nevada Kellerweis. Several of us drank the interesting brew (Oskar Blues Gordon and the random assortment of picks from the cellar). Those not so keen on bold craft beer knocked out the fizzy yellow stuff. When no more Miller Lite remained, I suggested the Kellerweis, and both of my co-workers that ventured into craft beer with it said they really liked it.

So its approachability and ability to refresh (particularly on hot days) combined with all malt flavor and a wide range of interesting and bold flavors (whether it be a punch of hops like in some American versions, the phenol notes of clove and banana in traditional southern German brews, or the fragrant bitter orange and coriander of Witbier) make it a wonderful niche in the world of beer.

No, I wasn’t asked to promote this book…

Coincidentally, I just finished reading a book on the subject: Brewing With Wheat by Stan Hieronymus. The topic didn’t seem particularly interesting at first glance (at least not enough so to warrant an entire book on the subject), but I really liked one of his other books, Brew Like a Monk. So I bought this one, expecting it would be a good read solely on the author’s reputation. I was not disappointed.

The histories of wheat beer in Belgium and Germany make for very interesting chapters as do the discussions of newer takes on wheat beer, like wheat wine and a few uniquely American wheat beers. There isn’t really any discussion of Lambic — one of the most unique (and perhaps most famous?) styles from Belgium that happens to be made with generous portions of wheat — but there is a lot of great info on Belgian Wits (particularly their history and how and why they’ve changed since a century ago) and German Weizen, and a lot of facts on now-extinct and nearly-extinct styles of wheat beer from Germany, like Berliner Weisse, Gose, and Grätzer. I have yet to try authentic (i.e. from Germany) examples of any of these. In fact, aside from Berliner Weisse, I have yet to try anything even resembling these ales of yore. Gose — sour and salty? Grätzer — sour and smokey? They sound intriguing. I’m not sure if they’d be to my liking, but I would most certainly be willing to try.

Like in Brew Like a Monk, the blend of history, stories, technical brewing details, and interviews with brewers keeps it a quick pace and fascinating all the while. I consider both books valuable tools for recipe formulation, too – lots of eye-opening details behind how the famous commercial brews are made.

A Departure

Brother Joshua, the monastic brewer, toting a glass of RoggendoppelbockI find myself brewing wheat beers frequently. I know the topic for this session is wheat, but I often use rye instead of wheat in classic wheat beer styles and have found this angle much to my liking. My current batch, Five Grain Ale, to which rye imparts its distinct character, is a fine brew, but it still contains a good bit of wheat. But I’m now thinking more about beers that use rye instead of wheat – not unlike German Roggenbier: basically a Weizenbier but made with rye instead of wheat.

For example, another brew I have on tap right now is Hump’s Roggendoppelbock. The intent behind this was not a regular Doppelbock lager made with rye, but an über-strong Weizenbock made with rye instead of wheat. A doppelbock-strength Roggenbier, if you will. It turned out very tasty. Another similar experiment this year was a Belgian Witbier, but made with rye (including generous amounts of unmalted flaked rye) instead of wheat. I called it Wry Wit because I have a lame sense of humor. I was rather generous with both coriander and orange peel, and the result was very pleasant: the citrus and strong spice character melded well with the almost-spicy grainy rye character.

If I try this experiment again, it may be with a sour brew – like Berliner Weisse. Sour + rye sound to me like they would work quite nicely together. I’ll let you know how it turns out.