Monday, May 22, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #13: Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen: The best of summer beers

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

If you’re a beer person, you’ve probably noticed that some beers seem more seasonally appropriate than others. When you walk into the pub on a January night, fingers stiff and ears prickly from the icy wind, nothing is as comforting as a strong, dark imperial stout.

On a hot June day, however, it’s probably preferably to enjoy something lighter and more quenching. And we have Bavarian beer garden culture to thank for the most appropriate of all summer beer styles: Hefeweizen.

“Hefe” is German for “yeast,” and “Weizen” means wheat. That’s exactly what this is: a beer made with wheat instead of barley, and served unfiltered and cloudy with the standing yeast. The wheat base imparts a completely different, lighter character to the beer, and the methods used in brewing Hefeweizen result in a unique, delicious summer drink with a lot of visual appeal.

This style gets a special glass, and most bars who know their beer will have Hefeweizen glasses on hand. They’re really tall, curvy, and flared toward the top, amplifying the aroma of the beer. Very often, the filled glass is served with a lemon on the rim (Our advice: ditch the citrus. The Germans certainly would).

There should be a pleasant cloudiness from the yeast. As we said before, Hefeweizen is unfiltered, and that lack of clarity may put some people off at first. Rest assured it’s supposed to be like that.

A good Hefeweizen is slightly sweet, with good head retention and a characteristic banana and clove flavor combination. A bad one tastes like envelope glue. We decided to save ourselves the misery and review some good ones.

Paulaner Hefe-Weissebier is our favorite; the archetype of the style. On a summer afternoon, it’s absolutely sublime. It has a lush, apricot color and an intriguing, well-rounded flavor that really captures the spicy banana and clove essence. Sometimes you’ll see it on draft, but usually your best bet is to head down to Beers of the World for the bottled stuff.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse is the most available. If your bar has the style on draft, chances are it’s this one. That isn’t a bad thing; Franziskaner is very good. It sports the characteristic peach-to-orange color, with a nice thick head. The flavor is spicy-sweet, with a lot of citrus, and it’s very smooth.

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen is Paulaner’s regional rival for best Weizen. It’s a lot more dry, and will appeal to people who like the light wheat body and bite, but aren’t into sweeter beer. It’s also much paler than Paulaner or Franziskaner. Once again, you’ll be looking for the bottled version; we’ve never seen Erdinger distributed on draft in this region.

Hefeweizen is tricky to brew and few American examples are able to accurately hit the style guidelines, but we found a good one to compare with the old German standbys. Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat, from the Flying Dog Brewery of Denver, is a great domestic Hefe, with appealing cloudiness. It can’t stand with the Uber-hefes in terms of color or head retention. The flavor, though, is pretty much bang-on European. The guys who formulated In-Heat know their craft, and it pays off for the consumer. Enjoy this beer as fine American alternative to lager on a hot summer day.

If you’re buying Hefeweizen in bottles, remember to gently roll the bottle on the table before opening it. This circulates the yeast from the bottle’s bottom. If you skip this step, you’ll probably lose the signature cloudiness, as well as some of the flavor.

So pour yourself a nice big glass, sit outside in the sun and be thankful to the Bavarians for creating something as wonderful as Hefeweizen. Hell, they had to do something to atone for the invention of Lederhosen.

In other beers:
It is with great personal sadness that we lament the closing of MacGregor’s downtown location. For well over a decade, it has been a bastion of beer. With 85 taps, excellent, high-quality specials, and a friendly staff, MacGregor’s was as close to the perfect pub any we’ve visited.

The other MacGregor’s locations remain open and pouring; although none of the suburban spots can match the original Gregory Street bar for ambiance and conviviality. Still, they all have a huge variety of beer on draft, and they know their product.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

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