Beercraft newspaper column #39: Hefeweizen

Refresh yourself Bavarian style with Hefeweizen
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Much has been made of the Reinheitsgebot, or “German Purity Law,” which states that beer may only contain water, barley, hops, and yeast. Fortunately, the Germans themselves show little compunction about breaking their precious law when they brew Hefeweizen- traditional South German wheat beer.

In a true Hefeweizen, at least 50% of the brewing barley is replaced by wheat. The result is a distinctive light, refreshing body. If you’re a hop-head, this style probably isn’t for you; the flavor is all yeast-driven. The top-fermenting Bavarian yeasts produce phenols and esters that lend distinctive clove, vanilla and banana essences to the beer. It’s served unfiltered, so the lucky drinker is presented with a tall, curvy glass of opaque peach-hued perfection, topped with a thick, pillowy white head. It’s the perfect beer to enjoy outdoors on a sunny day.

Although only recently becoming common in American stores and bars, German wheat ales like Hefeweizen have been brewed for centuries, starting well before the Purity Law, back when farmers would use whatever grain was readily available to make their beer. Once the Reinheitsgebot set in, Hefeweizen was verboten. Unless, of course, you were well-connected or an ancillary part of the Royal Family, in which case you could drink whatever the hell you wanted.

The big import wave of Hefeweizen to North America began in the 1990s, and we’re happy to say that familiarity with the style on these shores is at an all-time high, with numerous American craft breweries like Harpoon, Saranac, and Southern Tier producing noteworthy examples of the style here in the USA. You can frequently find Harpoon’s UFO Hefeweizen on draft around town.

As is the case with many beers, there are subtypes. Kristall-weizen is a clear variant from which the yeast proteins have been filtered out. Dunkel-weizen is made from dark malt, producing a darker colored, heartier beer. Weizenbock is darker and higher in alcohol content than the traditional stuff.

The most common Hefeweizen in the area is Franziskaner, produced by the Spaten Brewery. You can find it on draft or in bottles (be sure the bottle is rolled between the hands so the settled yeast distributes properly). It pours a rich orange color, with a substantial head. Franziskaner’s crisp, light body and signature banana-clove flavors make the beer a full multisensory experience.

Thanks to the good distribution of Spaten beers in the region, you can find Franziskaner everywhere, in many stores that carry craft beer as well as most area beer bars. Just make sure they serve it up in the proper tall, vase-shaped glass.

In Other Beers
There’s good news on Gregory Street. Joe McBane, manager of The Old Toad, will be opening up his own place in the former MacGregor’s location, hopefully by the end of the summer. That classic Rochester spot is sorely missed, and having a knowledgeable beer guy like McBane take it over is the best thing to happen to Rochester area brew-lovers in a long time. We’re on the cusp of a beer renaissance, and McBane will be leading the charge.

We just finished the fifth installation of our “Beer School” tasting sessions at Monty’s Korner, running the range of Mexican beers just in time for Cinco de Mayo, and demonstrating that you, dear drinker, have fine south-of-the-border alternatives to the common Mexican beer.

The next Beer School will be held on Thursday, April 18, focusing on the beers of Munich, Germany.

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 http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

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