First, allow me to roll out the figurative red carpet to those of you who found me on the Black Dude White Dude Podcast posted over the weekend: Welcome! If you haven’t heard the podcast, check it out on iTunes here:
I also appeared on the podcast in January 2017, and the link to that show is here:
The topic today is the same one we had on the podcast, which is beers to drink in the summertime. For me, there’s no match for wheat beers, in all their many forms, when it’s hot out and you need refreshment. I want to take you through the different iterations here, tell you a little bit about each one, and give you some examples, so you’re ready for your next visit to the store before you get to that backyard barbecue, or, if you must, start mowing your lawn.
All of these styles pair great with eggs and salads and brunch in general, but their greatest quality in the summer is that they are refreshing, go down easy, and won’t knock you out after a couple rounds. They also go great with just about anything you’d put on the grill, as long as it isn’t overly spicy or rich, and even then they’ll still go down easy and quench your thirst.
American Wheat Beer
The Americanized cousin of the German hefeweizen (and often incorrectly called hefeweizen on the label!), American wheat beer is light, fruity, low in bitterness with moderate carbonation, and generally on the lower end of ABV (alcohol by volume). A fluffy white head of foam in your glass is a signature of these beers, though you’ll of course miss out on that if you drink it straight from the can (which, given the setting you may be drinking in, you might be doing).
My favorite widely available examples of American Wheats include Bell’s Oberon, Boulevard Wheat, and Goose Island 312. Lots of local breweries will have their own examples, since these beers have a wide appeal among beer drinkers.
Fruited American Wheat
As you might guess, these beers are similar to the basic American Wheat beers, but with the addition of fruit, sometimes in very moderate amounts, and sometimes taking over the beer. Two local examples in central Arkansas are Flyway’s Bluewing, a blueberry wheat that has become one of Arkansas’s best-selling craft beers, and Lost Forty’s Blackberry Bramble, a seasonal offering that, well, DEFINITELY has blackberries in it. Both are fantastic summertime brews.
The beverage that inspired every American Wheat Beer, German Hefeweizen may be the perfect summertime beer, assuming you can find it fresh. Similar in build to the American versions, with low bitterness and hop levels and a ton of fruity flavor, unfiltered German Hefeweizens use a specific yeast strain that imparts flavors of banana, bubble gum, and cloves, the signature of the style. This profile is usually removed in American versions. German Hefeweizens are almost always low in ABV, and it’s easy to put away a few without realizing it.
My favorite version of this beer is Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier, but there are many examples that are usually available at any respectable beer store. Lost Forty’s Look-See Hefeweizen is more in the tradition of the German Hefeweizen than the American Wheat, and earns its moniker.
Be sure and check the dates, if you can find them, or at least look for dust on the bottle when buying. An old hefeweizen typically doesn’t hold up well, but a fresher example can be life-changing. Also be on the lookout for Kristalweizens, which are simply the filtered, lighter versions of the Hefeweizens.
Berliner Weiss and Gose
Sticking to our German roots here, these two styles of wheat beer have the added benefit of being tart and sour, adding to the summertime refreshment. And, though it’s nearly impossible to get native examples in the States (these styles lose freshness pretty quickly as well), many American breweries have taken up the mantle to produce these beers, with their own take on them of course.
Berliner Weiss tends to be very tart and acidic, though more moderately so in American versions, golden in color, and citrusy or fruity in flavor profile. Traditional versions are EXTREMELY sour, and are often served with raspberry or woodruff syrup to soften the blow, but American versions dial it back a bit on the acidity and puckering sensation. Though you can find Professor Fritz Briem’s 1809 Berliner Weiss pretty regularly, one of my favorites is Evil Twin’s Nomader Weiss, which I consider one of the best summertime beers on the planet. Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche, made with peaches, is another great example, and other breweries make this in small/seasonal batches.
Gose also presents high levels of tartness, but its signature is that it’s brewed with salt and coriander, linking it to its cousin in Belgium, the witbier. Usually these flavors are mild, just enough to make an impression and cut through the sourness a bit, and many times Goses are made with fruit to add an additional, hopefully exciting, element. Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez is probably the highest profile version I’ve seen, along with Dogfish Head’s Seaquench, and Westbrook Gose is a well-known example. Victory’s Kirsch Gose and Off Color’s Troublesome are usually easy to find in markets where they are available. We tried Founders Green Zebra, a watermelon Gose, on the podcast last week and all thoroughly enjoyed it.
A style with origins in Belgium, where it basically died out before being revived by Hoegaarden and then popularized again by American breweries, Belgian Witbier is the other OG wheat beer. Brewed with traditional Belgian yeast, these tend to be higher in carbonation, with the inclusion of coriander and orange peel for a citrusy, slightly exotic flavor profile. A poorly made example may be referred to as “hot dog water”, since coriander is also a primary spice in frankfurters. Witbiers may be low in alcohol to moderately high, depending on the brewer’s intention, so these may not go down as easy or in as high a quantity, but still definitely deserve a spot on this list. Witbier is also worth mentioning since a version of it was many people’s introduction to anything other than American lagers, when they first tried a Blue Moon (usually with an orange slice in it!).
Dogfish Head’s Namaste White, Allagash White, Bell’s Winter White, Hitachino White, and Ommegang Witte are all commonly available examples that are well-made and worth checking out. The aforementioned Hoegaarden and Blue Moon tend to be sweeter than traditional examples, but are certainly not bad beers.
With so many varieties and such versatility, the wheat beer should be a staple of any summertime activity without ever getting boring or redundant. I hope you can find a few to enjoy!