How To Make Wheat Beer

Wheat, it’s not just for bread! With flavors ranging from bread crust to an almost citrusy tart taste, wheat malt can be one of the brewer’s most versatile tools. This article will provide you with some information, insights, and recipes on four of the most popular styles of wheat beer that you can brew at home.

German Hefeweizen

I don’t think you would find many people to argue against the fact that one of the world’s most popular classic wheat beer styles is the German Hefeweizen or German wheat beer. While the Hefeweizen beer style has been around for over 3,000 years, the version we enjoy today is actually much closer to 500 years old. It’s crazy to think that this style was once almost wiped out due to the advent of the “German Purity” law in 1516 (known as Reinheitsgebot). 

One of the key signatures of the Hefeweizen style is its pronounced yeast-driven aromas and flavors. The yeast will create phenolic (spice and clove) and ester (banana) aromas and flavors during fermentation, which make a Hefeweizen immediately recognizable to most seasoned beer enthusiasts. Hefeweizen is one of the styles in which using a specific yeast strain is an absolute MUST if you want to try and brew a classic example.

Style Guidelines

  • Category 10A (Weissbier)
  • OG: 1.044 – 1.052 
  • IBU: 8 – 15
  • SRM: 2 – 6 
  • FG: 1.010 – 1.014

Malts

To make an authentic Hefeweizen, the malt bill must contain no less than 50% malted wheat. The remainder of the grain bill will often feature just one additional malt: 50% German Pilsner malt. Some traditionalists will say that you must maintain a 50/50 balance between the pilsner and wheat additions.

However, we have found that you can adjust the proportion of wheat upwards to as much as 66%. This will add more wheat character to the beer and offer some other subtle benefits regarding the yeast characteristics. 

These days, it’s not uncommon for brewers to add additional malts to try and provide a little more malt sweetness to their Hefeweizens. Reducing some of the pilsner malt in favor of a touch of Munich malt (7-10 lovibond) will add a hint of malt sweetness that drinkers tend to appreciate. Other light German malts such as Vienna or even a German caramel malt (such as Carahell) could also be used. No matter which you choose, you’ll want to keep them in the vicinity of 2.5% – 7.5% of the malt bill. 

Hops

Hops for a Hefeweizen are a standard affair considering its German beer style. The choices really shouldn’t surprise anyone here. Hops in the Hallertau family are the way to go for both of these additions. Try to stick with the more traditional noble versions, such as Tettnanger or Mittelfrau. As the beer calls for 8-15 IBU worth of hops, we really don’t need to throw a ton of them at this beer. For a Hefeweizen, we aim for 10 IBU of hops in a bittering charge at 60 minutes. Follow this up with 3 IBU of an aroma hop with 15 minutes to go. 

Yeast

Hefeweizen is one of the few styles that absolutely requires a specific yeast for it to be brewed to style correctly. Many Hefeweizen yeasts are available on the market, but our preference has always been the Weihenstephan 68 strain. We prefer this strain as it strikes a great balance between the banana and clove characters produced during fermentation. The yeast should be easy to find from White Labs (WLP300), Wyeast (3836), and Omega (OYL-021).

One cool thing about Hefeweizen yeast is that you can influence the amount of clove or banana characteristics in the final product by adjusting your fermentation temperature. Fermenting in the cooler end of the range will promote more of the clove flavor. While fermenting on the warmer side will encourage more of the banana.

Hefeweizen Recipe

Ingredients

  • 40% Pale Wheat Malt
  • 40% German Pilsner
  • 10% Flaked White Wheat
  • 5% Munich II (10 Lovibond)
  • 5% Rice Hulls
  • 10 IBU of Hallertau Mittelfrau at 60 minutes
  • 3 IBU of Hallertau Mittelfrau at 15 minutes.
  • Omega OYL-021 yeast

Vitals

  • Mash Temperature – 150 degrees
  • Pre-boil Gravity – 1.045
  • Boil length – 90 minutes
  • Original/Starting Gravity – 1.051
  • Fermentation – 68 degrees until fermentation is complete
  • FG – 1.011
  • ABV – 5.3%
  • Carbonate to 3.0 volumes of c02 and enjoy!

Belgian Witbier

Like most Belgian styles of beer, the Belgian Witbier has monastic roots that date back to the 14th century. Witbier was a very popular beer until the early 1900s when people’s beer tastes shifted towards more hop-forward beer styles. While Hoegaarden continued to hold the Witbier torch, they eventually abandoned the style in 1957. Thankfully the beer was brought back from the dead in the mid-1960s by Pierre Celis.

In many ways, the Belgian Witbier is very similar to a German Hefeweizen. Both are made up of large amounts of wheat malt and a very specific strain of yeast to create their classic examples. Where the Witbier splits off from the Hefeweizen is in the inclusion of spices to its boil. These spices provide a wonderful bouquet of aroma and flavor that truly makes the beer unique.

Style Guidelines

  • Category 24A
  • OG: 1.044 – 1.052 
  • IBU: 8 – 20 
  • SRM: 2 – 4
  • FG: 1.008 – 1.012
  • ABV: 4.5% – 5.5%

Malts

Like the Hefeweizen, the Belgian Witbier starts its malt bill with a heavy dose of wheat malt. From there, you will want to add an equally heavy dose of pilsner malt. You’ll want to aim for equal parts of both for a total of 90% of your recipe. One key difference in the Witbier’s malt bill is the inclusion of flaked oats. Adding the flaked oats will help add some additional body, roundness, and creaminess to the flavor profile. For the flaked oat addition, you will want to aim for around 10% of your malt bill.

Hops

Hopping is pretty straightforward and simple for a Belgian Witbier. Generally, you’ll just want to use a Saaz-based hop for bittering at 60 minutes. While it’s not inappropriate for a late boil addition for aroma, we feel it’s unnecessary as it may clash or detract from your spice additions. This is definitely a recipe where you just want to keep the hops simple.

Spices

The spices added to the boil of a Belgian Wit are truly what make this style of beer unique. While there are a plethora of additions that may be added, traditional recipes call for just two: coriander and bitter orange peel. The amount to use will vary from recipe to recipe, as well as batch size. If we are thinking in terms of a traditional 5-gallon homebrew batch, one ounce of coriander and half an ounce of bitter orange peel in the last five minutes of the boil are good places to start.

Other popular spice additions include grains of paradise and chamomile. While part of the fun of brewing is to experiment and, in some cases, “go wild,” we’d recommend restraint when it comes to adding spices to your wit. The goal here is to add a balanced addition of spices that compliment the beer, not detract from it.

Yeast 

Most Belgian Witbier yeast will feature a dry, tart, and crisp finish. These characteristics play nicely with the spice additions added to a Witbier. The standard yeast for this beer would be the Hoegaarden/Celis strain. This strain is widely available as White Labs WLP-400, Wyeast-3944, Omega OYL-030, Imperial B-44, and Mangrove Jack’s M21. It contains both fruity esters and warming spice phenolics which help provide a balanced wit profile. 

An alternative choice could be the Moortgat Brouwerij strain, available as White Labs WLP-410. This yeast produces a more residual malt character which helps balance any adjuncts, resulting in increased drinkability.

Belgian Wit Recipe

Ingredients

  • 40% Belgian pilsner
  • 35% Wheat malt
  • 10% Flaked Oats
  • 10% Flaked Wheat
  • 5% Rice Hulls
  • 15 IBU of Saaz at 60 minutes
  • Spice Additions at 5 minutes
    • Crushed coriander (1oz per 5 gallons)
    • Bitter Orange Peel (1/2oz per 5 gallons)
    • Chamomile Flower (1/4oz per 5 gallons)
  • Omega OYL-030 yeast.

Vitals

  • Mash Temperature – 150 degrees
  • Pre-boil Gravity – 1.045
  • Boil length – 90 minutes
  • Original/Starting Gravity – 1.051
  • Fermentation – 68 degrees until fermentation is complete
  • FG – 1.011
  • ABV – 5.3%
  • Carbonate to 3.0 volumes of c02 and enjoy!

American Wheat

Of the styles of wheat beer we are covering in this post, the American Wheat beer could likely be considered the outlier of the bunch. Since it’s an “American” style of beer, there will be more freedom and leniency with the recipe approach. While most would consider Anchor’s “Summer Wheat” as the originator of the American Wheat beer, we also can’t overlook what Widmer has done with their “American Hefeweizen.” Even these two are a bit different from one another, albeit the yeast is really what sets them apart. Anchor uses an ale strain of yeast, while Widmer uses a more subdued version of the German Hefeweizen strain.  

While the two examples above could be considered classic examples, more often than not, your local craft breweries are not serving a “plain Jane” American Wheat. These days, we find that breweries are using the American Wheat style more as a base beer that acts as the backbone for a flavored beer. Most commonly, this will include some sort of fruit addition. However, the secondary additions are certainly not limited to just fruits.

Style Guidelines

  • Category 1D
  • OG: 1.040 – 1.055 
  • IBU: 15 – 30
  • SRM: 3 – 6
  • FG: 1.008 – 1.013
  • ABV: 4.0% – 5.5%

Malts

Like the other recipes in this article, the primary contributing malt should be wheat malt. To maintain consistency, you’ll want it to be somewhere close to 50% of your grain bill. From here, it gets a little more open to interpretation. While the former recipes see large additions of pilsner, the American Wheat style opens up the entire base malt playbook. Malts such as two-row pale, pilsner, Maris Otter, and Golden Promise are all fair game. Really, any light-colored base malt is appropriate. Just keep in mind your end goal for the beer as you decide which malts you would like to add.

Additionally, character malts such as Crystal/Caramel, Munich, Victory, or even Honey malt aren’t out of the question for this style. If you do plan to use these types of malts, be sure to keep your gravity levels in mind, as the additional sugar in these malts may cause your beer to fall out of style. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep their use between 5% – 10% so that they come across more as a character malt and not as the star of the show.

Hops

Hops are probably the most significant departure from the previous examples in this article. If we’ve come to know the “American” style of beers as anything, it generally means the beer will be hop forward. With upwards of 30 IBU to play with, the doors are wide open for the hops to shine. It is not uncommon for American Wheat beers to feature classic citrus-forward hops, such as Cascade, Citra, Amarillo, or Azacca. Since the hops are allowed to shine more in this style, you can add additional complexity by adjusting the hop schedules and adding late addition hops (or even whirlpool additions) to the recipe.

Yeast

Yeast is another area that uses a different approach than the other styles we’ve discussed to this point. Gone are the very style-specific yeast choices. Instead, we’re essentially left with a blank canvas to paint with as there really aren’t any rules regarding what yeast to use. When considering what yeast you should use, choose the yeast based on the brewed beer’s desired end result. Some things you should consider when selecting your yeast for the style are:

  • Should the beer finish dry or sweet?
  • Should the beer have a yeast-driven character with esters and/or phenols, or should it be more neutral?
  • Will there be any adjuncts or fruits added to the beer?

American Wheat Recipe (Mixed Berry Wheat)

Ingredients

  • 40% Wheat Malt
  • 40% 2 Row Pale malt
  • 10% Flaked Wheat
  • 5% Munich Malt (10 lovibond)
  • 5% Rice Hulls
  • 15 IBU of CTZ at 60 minutes
  • 7.5 IBU of Amarillo and 7.5 IBU of Mozaic at 15 minutes
  • US-05 yeast
  • 5# of Frozen Mixed Berry in Secondary for 3 weeks

Vitals

  • Mash Temperature – 150 degrees
  • Pre-boil Gravity – 1.045
  • Boil length – 90 minutes
  • Original/Starting Gravity – 1.051
  • Fermentation – 68 degrees until fermentation is complete
  • FG – 1.011
  • ABV – 5.3%
  • Rack to a secondary fermenter on top of 5 pounds of frozen mixed berry for 3 weeks.
  • Transfer and Carbonate to 3.0 volumes of c02. Enjoy!

Wheatwine

The origins of Wheatwine are thought to be attributed to Rubicon Brewing Company out of San Francisco in the 1980s. Some consider Wheatwine to be a cousin to the more well-known Barleywine style of beer. Those who perceive that a Wheatwine is made by simply replacing barley malt for wheat would be sorely mistaken. Doing so wouldn’t really be worth dedicating a style to because the Wheatwine malt bill really wouldn’t have a distinguishably different taste compared to the Barelywine. 

Instead, brewers should consider a Wheatwine as an amped-up American Wheat beer. However, one thing it does share with a Barleywine is a hefty ABV. As when Rubicon Brewing created theirs, Wheatwine is most often brewed as a winter seasonal offering.

Style Guidelines

  • Category 22D
  • OG: 1.080 – 1.120 
  • IBU: 30 – 60
  • SRM:  8 – 15
  • FG: 1.016 – 1.030
  • ABV: 8.0% – 12%

Malts

Like the other styles discussed in this article, the base malt of a Wheatwine recipe will put the wheat malt usage at a rate of at least 50%. Wheatwine does forge its own path here. However, many recipes call for a much higher portion of wheat, with some going as high as 70-80%. 

From here, you will want to add a touch more base malt to help round out the wheat character of the beer. Most literature calls for some two-row pale malt, but you could also consider other bases such as Pilsner, Maris Otter, or even some Golden Promise. 

Finally, you will want to add a character malt or two to help add a little bit of complexity. In building your recipe, you will want to aim for lower lovibond malts to help keep the beer’s color in the appropriate SRM range. Vienna, Munich, Honey, or low lovibond crystal malts can add just a touch of complexity without darkening up the color. You will want to limit specialty grains to under 10% of the grail bill.

Hops

With a bitterness range of 30-60, we have a lot of options for hopping. With Wheatwine, we think it’s more important to ensure the hops bitterness is properly balanced with the malt. As such, we would recommend that you aim to keep your bitterness ratio somewhere in the .500 range. The hop used for the bittering charge shouldn’t matter too much, so use any high alpha acid hop to achieve the desired IBU target from the bittering hops.

As we’ve been comparing Wheatwine with a Barleywine, you should have a less prominent hop aroma in Wheatwine than Barleywine. This will ensure that the bready wheat character you expect for the style has a chance to shine. Classic examples use lighter, floral aroma hops rather than harsh or assertive hops. 

Yeast

Like an American Wheat, yeast choice for the style is less about providing a unique character. As such, you will want to avoid using yeasts that provide any phenolic flavors. Rather, you should use a cleaner, more neutral yeast. What exact yeast you should choose will likely revolve mostly around whether your beer falls in the lower vs. higher range of ABV and just how well you want the yeast to attenuate. If you plan to keep the ABV under 10%, US-05 will make a fine choice.

Wheatwine Recipe

Ingredients

  • 55% Wheat Malt
  • 12.5% Golden Promise
  • 12.5% Vienna Malt
  • 10% Flaked Wheat
  • 5% Honey Malt
  • 5% Rice Hulls
  • 30 IBU of German Magnum hops at 60 minutes
  • 15 IBU of Cascade hops at 15 minutes
  • US-05 Dry yeast

Vitals

  • Mash Temperature – 152 degrees
  • Pre-boil Gravity – 1.073
  • Boil length – 60 minutes
  • Original/Starting Gravity – 1.087
  • Fermentation – 65 degrees until fermentation is complete
  • FG – 1.019
  • ABV – 9.2%
  • Carbonate to 3.0 volumes of c02 and enjoy!