Article By: Andy Crouch
NOTHING MATCHES THE SPLENDORS OF SUMMER DRINKING.
Enveloped in warm evenings, with heavy breezes casting down upon you, surrounded by nature and friends, and accompanied by your favorite beverage companion, it can seem like the perfect moment. When it comes to choosing the right beer, global brewers invite you to enjoy their respective heritage offerings.
WHETHER IT BE A German Hefeweizen, a Belgian Witbier, or an American Wheat Ale, these styles share a slight cloudy character, off-centered by nature, and prepossessed with a touch of mystery. These beers are unquestionably chill, both in terms of temperature and style. In the best Hefeweizens, luminous golden hues give rise to immense white crests of foam, all poured in tall, curving glasses. Belgian Witbiers are similar in visage and are served in inviting, rotund tumblers. With their light and refreshing character, these beers define summer drinking in many parts of the world. They cast some of the most impressive and iconic figures in the world of beer, turning heads when served everywhere from the beer gardens of Munich to the beer halls of Tokyo. In the United States, the upstart American Wheat Ale style may seem like a pale comparison to its continental cousins. But there are charms to be found among this New World lot as well.
THE ULTIMATE EMBODIMENT of a cool and refreshing summer experience, German-style Hefeweizens cast a striking figure in the beer world. Best served in tall, shapely, and sloping weizen glasses, topped by a thick dollop of sustained white foam and boasting a brilliant mixture of cloudy yellow mixture hues, Hefeweizens rule the warmer months and call for outdoor enjoyment. Made with a healthy dose of wheat malt, often fifty-percent of the mash, Hefeweizens achieve a rare lightness of body without relinquishing flavor and character. A classic Hefeweizen’s aroma is a distinctive calculus of banana, bubble gum, and spicy clove phenols, dry wheat hints, and a distant and balancing tartness. The flavors generally mimic the aroma, often with subtler results. The banana flavors rarely play through, with only light fruit traces, and more often a drier, paler quenching character. Hop levels are low throughout and the beer exudes drinkability.
AYINGER BRÄU WEISSE
Alcohol Content 5.1% ABV
From one of the world’s most picturesque breweries comes a Hefeweizen beer to please all customers. With its residual cloudiness and slightly orange-yellow hue, the Ayinger offering boasts a frothy white head that holds to the glass. With a notable German malt character on the nose, mixed with phenols and mild banana notes, the beer coaxes you into the first sip. A lighter-than-expected body accompanies a mildly spicy and wheat forward flavor, with only touches of banana and fruit around the edges. A bit creamy and with a palate cleansing carbonation level, the Bräu Weisse is always worth seeking out.
Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Alcohol Content 5.4% ABV
One of the defining versions of the style from this centuries old brewery, the flagship Hefeweissbier is cloudy with orange hues and a substantial white head that leaves plenty of lacing. A strong underlying German malt character pervades the aroma, mixed with touches of banana, fruit, and other spicy phenolic notes. A medium-bodied offering, the beer possesses a mid-range level of carbonation that cleans the palate after packing in some tight malt, wheat, and fruit punches. Well-rounded and delivering strong flavor without overwhelming the palate, it’s easy to see why this beer has become an international standard bearer for the Hefeweizen style.
Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Company
North Conway, New Hampshire
Alcohol Content 5.7% ABV
While the picturesque Moat Mountain brewpub is perhaps best known for its lagers, its German-style Hefeweizen beer pays tribute to the traditions of southern Deutschland as well. Named after a restaurant formerly occupying its space, this wheat beer commences with a robust and gloriously hazy golden-orange color and its nose peaks with the customary traces of banana, phenolic clove spiciness, and a slight dry bite from yeast and wheat malt. In the glass, the first sip is mildly spicy, leading the way to some dry wheat notes, and followed by a quiet play of banana and tropical fruit flavors.
THE WONDERS OF WITBIER
HARDLY CONTENT to let southern Germany hog all the attention, the Belgian-style Witbier is another global contender for the summer beer drinking crown. Across the German border, the Belgian Witbier style rests resplendent in its wide tumbler glass, framed in luminous wheat yellow hues and crisp, white crowns. Witbiers are eye-catching and attention grabbing by nature. Brewed using high proportions of unmalted wheat, brewers employ a range of spices, coriander, and orange peel to achieve unusual and intricate aromas. Backed by a lively carbonation, resulting in a sustained head, the aroma is a mixture of dry, grainy wheat and citrusy, piquant touches. Witbiers start crisp and dry from the wheat, followed by interplay of the various spices, leaving the palate with faint dashes of fruit and even the occasional light acidic tang.
Allagash Brewing Company
Alcohol Content 5% ABV
If you are talking Witbier and you’re in the United States, the conversation will quickly turn, as it should, to this jewel of the Maine brewing scene. An early entry in the pantheon of Belgian-influenced craft beers, Allagash White helps define the Witbier style for many brewers in this country. Incredibly easy on the eyes, the White pours with a delightfully hazy golden blonde color and a substantial band of white foam. The aroma brightens your day with a pleasurable mixture of spices, including orange peel and coriander, with touches of lemon and a slight biting yeast note. Refreshing from the start, an effervescent carbonation ping helps bring structure to the softly spicy coriander and wheat elements, ending with a careful balance of sweeter malt. The White is easily one of the best witbiers produced today and serves as one of the great beers of New England.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisinal Ales
Alcohol Content 4.8% ABV
This unconventional Witbier entry showcases a cloudy yellow-apricot color with a tight carbonation level and a doughy white cloud of foam, with an aroma that masterfully mixes tart and sour notes, with some mild Belgian funk, light tropical fruit and clove spice notes, and a dry wheat component. The resulting flavor is light on the palate, alternating between clove spiciness, dry wheat, and a substantial yet soothing acidic tang that hits you in the cheeks towards the end. The substantial carbonation’s scrubbing bubbles clean your palate, leaving a bone dry impression in their wake.
Alcohol Content 5.7% ABV
The once-flagship beer from the upstart Bruery exhibits a timidly hazy light golden cast with tinges of amber in the right light and capped by a well-sustained house of fluffy white foam. The aroma swirls with a complicated floral cabaret of lemon zest and grapefruit mixed with earthy and mineral yeast, a little farmhouse funk, and even a touch of European malt character that tastes a bit like artificial purple candy. The concentrated yet smooth flavors range from the aforementioned earth and minerals to lavender, wheat, and a mild band-aid character, all coming to a dry, tight finish. Orchard White is a supremely complex Witbier that remains drinkable.
DOUBLE WHITE ALE
Southampton Brewing Company
Southampton, New York
Alcohol Content 6.6% ABV
Tumbling into the glass with deep, bright, and luminous golden yellow radiant hues and a pure white foam swirl, the tight carbonation levels suggest a clean and refreshing experience to follow. The unconventional aroma catches you off guard with lactic sour notes and a touch of funk mixing with the more typical dry wheat notes and citrus esters. Labeled as a double Witbier, it shouldn’t surprise you to find that the body boasts an elevated taste character, with strong malt and wheat flavors competing with citrus flairs, all wrapped up with a light citric and wheat tang that cleanses the palate. Escaping the dangers of imperialization, the mouthfeel possesses a medium-body and the Double White Ale remains eminently drinkable, true to the style.
THE AMERICAN WHEAT ALE UPSTARTS
THE AMERICAN CRAFT BEER SCENE is split on the topic of wheat beers. Some purists adamantly prefer the traditional Hefeweizen style, while many craft breweries prefer to strike their own path, resulting in the American Wheat Ale. A bit of a hybrid, beers in the American Wheat Ale style range from pale to gold in color, and often remain hazy and unfiltered but sometimes pour bright. Depending upon how much the brewer borrows from Germany, aromatics can range from mild Hefeweizen-esque bananas to cloves but the American Wheat Ale is more likely to possess subtle, wheat notes with some papery yeast hints. Hop bitterness and flavor are generally low and the flavor in better versions is a touch grainy and mildly wheaty, possibly with some citrus notes, all with a smooth, clean, and crisp flavor profile. The often-offered lemon wedge is optional but may result in overpowering the beer’s subtle flavor and aroma.
312 URBAN WHEAT ALE
Goose Island Brewing Company
Alcohol Content 4.2% ABV
Named after the city’s area code, this Goose Island standard starts with a pale gold color, some residual haziness, and a slight off-white head that showcases a deep wheat aroma similar to breathing in whole grain cereal. Modest tart flecks zing with acidity in the nose, which previews the light-bodied and refreshing drink to follow. A lemony citrus fruit flavor starts things off, trailed by zesty and dry wheat notes, and a touch of malt character that leaves 312 very drinkable and far above average for beers of this style. Some bottles and cans maybe be brewed in Anheuser-Busch InBev facilities throughout the country.
Boulevard Brewing Company
Kansas City, Missouri
Alcohol Content 3.5% ABV
The flagship brand from this Midwestern brewery unveils a pale, hazy yellow lemon color with a respectable boost of off-white foam, all encapsulating a grainy wheat malt aroma that mixes in acidic citrus touches. Clean in its flavor profile as the style should be, Unfiltered Wheat gains points in terms of complexity from its adherence to a strict regiment of balancing grainy wheat malts with a mildly tangy fruit tartness that leaves a crisp and clean impression throughout the highly drinkable and quenching beer.
Troegs Brewing Company
Alcohol Content 4.8% ABV
Opening with a gentle straw golden base coat over a bright, shiny white foam crest, the regal looking Dreamweaver treats its guests to a nuanced performance of clove, banana, and even baked Rice Crispy like wheat quality in the aroma. After a few swirls, the initial flavor continues with a modest but dry wheat base that lays the groundwork for the interplay of light fruits, including banana, all with a snappy phenolic quality that neatly ends each round. A bit of a hybrid between the American Wheat Ale and Hefeweizen styles, Dreamweaver remains decidedly in the former’s camp, while showing that it learned a few tricks from its Bavarian relative.
SWEATY BETTY BLONDE
Boulder Beer Company
Alcohol Content 5.9% ABV
Getting past its rather unappealing name, this Boulder offering presents with a hazy, unfiltered blond amber appearance and simple, soft white head, giving way to notes of citrus, coriander, and a lightly sour and tart quality. In its medium-body, a granular malt quality meshes with the yeast to create a touch of tart tanginess that nicely accents the modest nimble clove and banana traces. Well-balanced and very drinkable, this American Wheat Ale steps up the flavor while managing a measured approach to the style.
Magic Hat Brewing Company
Alcohol Content 4.4% ABV
A bit of a late entrant to Magic Hat’s portfolio of beers, Circus Boy quickly grew to become one of the brewery’s most popular brands. Tipping more towards pale yellow than orange and with a frothy white cap of foam, the clean aroma boasts an herbal mixture of lemon, dry wheat, and earthy hops. Almost tending towards lemongrass in nature, the residual fruitiness plays against the grainier elements of the wheat malt and the herbal, grassy hop qualities to spark a tartness that reels in any over-reaching in this medium bodied offering.