What Is Wheat Beer?

Wheat beer in alpine landscape

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Wheat beer is a category of beer originating in Bavaria. It is typically a top-fermented ale, uses at least 30 percent wheat in the brewing process, and comes in a variety of styles. The most widely known wheat beer is hefeweizen, a refreshing style from Germany that's popular around the world. Wheat beers are typically light in color, low to medium in alcohol content, and can be cloudy or clear in appearance. They may be brewed with or without hops, depending on the variety, and tend to lack bitterness, making them easy drinkers.

Fast Facts

  • ABV: 3.5–5.6%
  • Bitterness: 10–35 IBU
  • Color: 2–10 SRM

What Is the Difference Between Wheat Beer and Lager?

Wheat beers and lagers are often compared since they are both frequently light in color, low in bitterness, and relatively low in alcohol. Both categories of beer originated in Germany and are popular with beer drinkers worldwide. Lagers have a wider range of color and style, from popular pale varieties like pilsners to dark amber styles such as dunkels.

Wheat beers are usually top-fermented ales (though that's not always the case) and must contain a high percentage of malted or unmalted wheat. Lagers, on the other hand, are bottom-fermented and can be made with corn, barley, rice, or any combination of those grains. As with wheat beers, the flavor profiles can vary greatly with the style of lager, but many lagers have more hop character than wheat beers and lack the generous foamy head of a hefeweizen.

Types of Beer

Wheat beer is known by a few different names, especially in Germany and the surrounding region where it originated:

  • Weißbier: Bavaria and Austria
  • Weizenbier or Weizen: Northern and Western German regions
  • Witbier: Belgium
  • Bière Blanche: France

Styles

Wheat beer is more of a category than a style of beer and includes several different varieties. Many styles of wheat beer are from Bavaria, but the popularity of these easy-drinking brews has spread throughout the world.

Hefeweizen

"Hefe" is the German word for yeast, which gives this classic style its cloudy appearance and fruity flavor. Light in color and low in bitterness, hefeweizen is bubbly and drinkable, often featuring hints of banana and clove.

American Wheat

Made with at least 30 percent malted wheat, American wheat beer is light and drinkable. Made with lager or ale yeast, this style tends to be slightly hoppier than German-style wheat beers. The beer pairs well with a variety of foods.

Berliner Weisse

Bubbly, tart, and refreshing, Berliner-style Weisse is often flavored with fruity syrups like raspberry, peach, and grapefruit. Typically unfiltered, it is pale and very low in bitterness and alcohol content.

Witbier

Flemish for "white beer," Belgian-style witbier is a variety of beer all its own. The pale beer is brewed using unmalted wheat and is spiced with coriander and orange peel. It's refreshing with subtle spicy notes.

Dunkelweizen

A cross between a hefeweizen and dunkel, Dunkelweizen is darker in color than other wheat beers, and has a sweet maltiness. It is still lacking in bitterness and can have notes of banana or vanilla from the ale yeast.

How to Serve Wheat Beer

Most wheat beers are best served at 45 to 50 F in a flute or vase glass. Chill the glass first for a few minutes or rinse with cold water before pouring. Berliner Weisse and witbier should be served in tulip glasses. Wheat beers tend to be highly carbonated, so the pour is key: Tilt the glass almost horizontally and set the mouth of the bottle inside, pouring slowly along the side of the glass. Once most of the beer has been poured, tilt the glass up and pour faster, creating a generous foamy head.

The popular American beer Blue Moon started the trend of serving wheat beer with an orange slice. Most Germans would scoff at this fruity garnish, as it is not traditional. Some bars and breweries serve their wheat brews with a lemon or orange garnish, but it's recommended to taste a new beer without the fruit accompaniment first in order properly to assess its flavors.

Food Pairings

Unflavored wheat beers are light and refreshing, making them easy to pair with a variety of food. Hefeweizen’s lightly sweet, fruity, and effervescent flavor profile makes it ideal for pairing with milder cheeses like mozzarella, German sausages, egg dishes, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Try pairing hefeweizen with hearty frittatas and leafy green salads spiked with citrus segments and nuts. American wheat beer is versatile and will cool you off when paired with spicy dishes. Try it with spicy seafood pasta or a whole spread of game day appetizers.

Refreshingly tart Berliner Weiss pairs well with salty cheeses and meats like gouda and aged ham. It also works nicely with dessert. Witbier is dry, bubbly, and lightly spicy, and tastes great with French fries and rich cheeses like brie. Malty Dunkelweizen complements roasted flavors and creamy sweets, like roasted chicken and banana pudding.

Best Brands

You can find a variety of American and German-brewed wheat beers in stores. These popular brands, easy-to-find are a good place to start.

  • Allagash White
  • Avery White Rascal
  • Blue Moon Belgian White
  • Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
  • Hoegaarden White Ale
  • Oberon Ale
  • Samuel Adams Summer Ale
  • Shock Top Belgian White
  • Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
  • Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier (Hefeweisen)