NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Weizenbier weissbier has been reclassified as Category 10 German Wheat Beer which contains vollbier- and starkbier-strength German wheat beers without sourness, in light and dark colors.
Weizenbier-Weissbier are German wheat beers and by law must be made with at least 50% malted wheat. You will find, however, that most Bavarian Wheat beers contain between 60 and 70% malted wheat with the balance malted barley.
The term Weissbier means “white beer” in German and comes from the “white-ish” color that the pale malted wheat gives these beers.
Hefeweizen is the name used most often in North America for these beers because they are not commonly filtered as the yeast stays in suspension, causing the beer to look slightly hazy.
There are filtered Weizenbier-Weissbiers and these are called Kristallweizen (or “crystal wheat”).
You will also find dark wheat beers called Dunkelweizens (or “dark wheat”). Besides the common Weissbier, you may find these beers labeled Weizenbier (or “wheat beer”)
Weizenbier-Weissbiers typically have a banana or clove-like flavor attributed to the special Weizen-Weissbier ale yeasts used in their fermentation.
When you add the flavors from the large portion of malted wheat to the mix, the whole flavor profile is also called phelolic, sour, spicy and sometimes bubblegum-like.
With so much flavor going on, these beers are most often only mildly hopped. This is one of the main details that set this beer apart from the other light colored beers in Germany, typically the blond lagers like Pilsener which have a big bold hop profile.
Most Weizenbier-Weissbiers are bottle conditioned to add another dimension to the complex flavors. The fine carbonation is attributed to Krausening, or adding fresh fermenting beer to the green Weizenbier-Weissbier and allowing them to finish fermenting in the bottle or keg.
This bottle conditioning allows the yeast to clean-up the byproducts of the original fermentation and leaves the beer with a clean fresh flavor and lots of “effervescence”, typical of the style.
Another of the details which make Weizenbier-Weissbiers special is the impressive head. It should always be tall, white and creamy. Wheat has more proteins than barley which add to the head formation and retention. The extra effervescence from bottle conditioning helps head formation as well.
There is a special way of handling a Weizenbier-Weissbier. Keep the bottle upright while in the refrigerator to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom.
If you lay the beer on its side, the yeast and sediment will collect along the length of the beer. When you turn the beer upright to open it, the yeast can slide down the bottle causing the beer to release a lot of foam.
The beer should be kept somewhere between 41° and 45°F (5-7°C).
Here is how to properly pour a beer that has been properly chilled:
- Serve your Weissbier in a tall, slender glass with lots of room for the head. Always hand wash your Weizenbier-Weissbier glasses and rinse well with cold water but don’t dry it.
You may see pictures of Hefeweizens or Weissbiers being served with a slice of lemon, but this is not customary in Bavaria. They feel that not only will the lemon flavors obscure the complex banana and clove-like flavors of these beers, the oils will destroy the head as well.
- Hold your glass at a slight angle and pour the Weizenbier-Weissbier slowly into the side of the glass. Leave about a finger or two of beer in the bottom of the bottle.
- To get the full flavor from the beer, you need to get the yeast from the bottom of the bottle. So, swirl the bottle around to arouse the yeast or you can lay the bottle flat and roll it to loosen the sediment. Then pour this remaining beer into your glass all at once.
- The yeast is now distributed evenly throughout your glass and is helping to form that big frothy head that Weizenbier-Weissbiers are famous for.
- Lastly, enjoy! If you prefer a less turbid beer, pour all but the last bit of sediment into your glass and discard the yeast with the bottle.
Brewing Tips for Weizenbier-Weissbier:
To brew this beer yourself, use the freshest malted wheat (at least 50%) and continental Pilsner malt.
Ferment with a lot of healthy Weizenbier-Weissbier yeast at around 62°F (17°C). This temperature will give you the best balance of fermentation flavors with less unpleasant flavors usually produced from higher fermentation temps.
Hops are usually lightly done with only a single bittering addition of a German Noble hop variety.
Weizenbier Weissbier Description
- Aroma: You should notice moderate to strong phenols (usually clove) and fruity esters (usually banana). The balance and intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. Noble hop character ranges from low to none. A light to moderate wheat aroma (which might be perceived as bready or grainy) may be present but other malt characteristics should not. No diacetyl or DMS. Optional, but acceptable, aromatics can include a light, citrusy tartness, a light to moderate vanilla character, and/or a low bubblegum aroma. None of these optional characteristics should be high or dominant, but often can add to the complexity and balance.
- Appearance: The beers are pale straw to very dark gold in color. A very thick, moussy, long-lasting white head is characteristic. The high protein content of wheat impairs clarity in an unfiltered beer, although the level of haze is somewhat variable. A beer “mit hefe” (with yeast) is also cloudy from suspended yeast sediment (which should be roused before drinking). The filtered Krystal version has no yeast and is brilliantly clear.
- Flavor: There is usually a low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor from the special ale yeast used. The balance and intensity of the phenol and ester components can vary but the best examples are reasonably balanced and fairly prominent. Optionally, a very light to moderate vanilla character and/or low bubblegum notes can accentuate the banana flavor, sweetness and roundness; neither should be dominant if present. The soft, somewhat bready or grainy flavor of wheat is complementary, as is a slightly sweet Pils malt character. Hop flavor is very low to none, and hop bitterness is very low to moderately low. A tart, citrusy character from yeast and high carbonation is often present. Well rounded, flavorful palate with a relatively dry finish. No diacetyl or DMS.
- Mouthfeel: The Weissbier should have a medium-light to medium body. It should never be heavy. Suspended yeast may increase the perception of body. The texture of wheat imparts the sensation of a fluffy, creamy fullness that may progress to a light, spritzy finish aided by high carbonation. Weizenbiers are always effervescent.
- Overall Impression: Weizenbier-Weissbiers are pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing wheat-based ales.
- Comments: These are refreshing, fast-maturing beers that are lightly hopped and show a unique banana-and-clove yeast character. These beers often don’t age well and are best enjoyed while young and fresh. The version “mit hefe” is served with yeast sediment stirred in; the krystal version is filtered for excellent clarity. Bottles with yeast are traditionally swirled or gently rolled prior to serving. The character of a krystal weizen is generally fruitier and less phenolic than that of the hefe-weizen.
- History: A traditional wheat-based ale originating in Southern Germany that is a specialty for summer consumption, but generally produced year-round.
- Ingredients: By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is Pilsner malt. A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness. Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character, although extreme fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and produce off-flavors. A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.
- Vital Statistics: OG: 1.044 – 1.052 FG: 1.010 – 1.014 IBUs: 8 – 15 SRM: 2 – 8 ABV: 4.3 – 5.6%.
- Commercial Examples: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Schneider Weisse Weizenhell, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, Plank Bavarian Hefeweizen, Ayinger Bräu Weisse, Ettaler Weissbier Hell, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Andechser Weissbier Hefetrüb, Kapuziner Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier, Penn Weizen, Barrelhouse Hocking Hills HefeWeizen, Eisenbahn Weizenbier.
References Information for this page was adapted from the website Germanbeerinstitute.com, The German Beer Portal for North America, the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.