June 9th, 2010

The First Sip: Hefeweizens

The First Sip is a virtual beer flight written by Brian Royo, the brewer out at No Label Brewing Company. He will select a beer style, pick a few craft or micro brews that he’s been sampling, and discuss what he likes about them. For the beer connoisseurs, it’ll be a unique chance to hear a local brewer’s thoughts on what makes these beers great. For the novices and aspiring beer knurds, he’ll walk you through what you should be looking for in a good beer and offer some suggestions on quality suds for you palette.

In our last article we looked at Witbiers (Belgian wheat beers). This week we will focus on Hefeweizens (German wheat beers). These are not my favorite beers, but I have come to appreciate them the more I drink them and they can be quite refreshing on a hot summer day.

In German Hefe is “yeast” and Weizen means “wheat.” This makes the direct translation “yeast wheats” but a better way to think about Hefeweizens are as Unfiltered Wheats. These are often confused with the Witbiers we talked about in the last article. They are very similar. Both are light, cloudy, wheat beers with similar tastes. But there are some differences worth noting.

I went to the local liquor store and asked the beer guru for Hefeweizens. He pointed me to one Hefeweizen and then to another. Then he started pointing out wheat beers and I had to say “no, I need Hefeweizens.” His reply was “these are Hefeweizens, they are made with wheat. Weiss are wheat’s.” While that is correct, just being wheat beers does not make them Hefeweizens. Then he pointed out a few Witbiers. Again, not the same thing. I decided to forgo an argument with the guy. He was nice and he did point out some good Hefeweizens. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if people knew the difference between Witbiers, wheat beers and Hefeweizens. So let’s try to clear the air.

Witbiers and Hefeweizens are types of wheat beer. There many different styles of wheat beers and these are only two of them. As we discussed last week, Witbiers are unfiltered Belgian Wheat beers; the literal translation being “white beers.” They are very light yellow to pale golden in color. They are very cloudy due to the yeast haze giving it a whitish-yellow appearance, which results in the name. These beers are very crisp, citrusey and have a little spice. Bready, malty, wheat flavors should be very low to none.

Hefeweizens are a type of German unfiltered wheat beer. Similar to Wits, their color can range from a very pale yellow to a dark gold. These beers are also very cloudy because of the unfiltered yeast. Like the Witbiers, Hefes can be very citrusey in flavor. What distinguishes them from Wit’s the most is their flavor. Hefes have a definite Phenolic (cloves) and fruity (banana) taste. This is something the Witbiers should have very little of. Hefes should also have a little more of a bready, wheat flavor than the Wits. These two are only the tip of the iceberg. There is a broad spectrum of wheat beers. For the next article we will look at other styles of wheat beers and pick a few Texas wheats. Back to the story. I finally got 4 different Hefe’s and went back home. First up…

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Flying Dog Brewery – In Heat Wheat Hefeweizen
I love Flying Dog. Their beers are great and their artwork is awesome but I thought this one to be a little lacking for a Hefe. It was a good beer but not what I expect when I think of a Hefeweizen. At first pour, this beer was extremely carbonated. It took a couple of pours to get it all into the glass. Hefes should be highly carbonated but this was a little overboard and for the amount of head, there wasn’t much aroma. The taste was crisp, citrusey and a little spicy, with hints of phenols but overall, it’s missing the fruity esters (banana flavor) and phenols that I expect in Hefes. My general impression was that this was a good beer but not for Hefeweizen.

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Harpoon – UFO Hefeweizen
This beer poured much better than the Flying Dog, giving it a nice white frothy head. The smell was more along the lines of what I expect, strong cloves (phenols) and slight bananas(esters). This hefe was very flavorful. Slight citrus taste, strong esters and phenols and a slightly buttery/wheaty texture. This is what I would expect in a Hefe. The body was a little heavier than I anticipated but it was a good Hefe. I was introduced to Harpoon UFO’s two weeks ago and I like both their Witbier and this Hefeweizen, so I’ll definitely try more of their beers.

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Franziskaner Weissbier – Hefe-Weissbier
For the foreign Hefe we tried Hefeweissbier. To be honest, I’m not very familiar with this brewing company, but the gentlemen at the liquor store insisted we get this…so we did. The pour was good. Similar to UFO’s. It’s color was a nice deep golden yellow and the aroma had heavy Phenols and Esters and was also a little buttery. The taste mirrored the aroma and had strong phenolic flavor, which is what I expect from an imported Hefe. I’m not usually a big fan of the imports, and though this was good, I would probably choose a domestic Hefe if given the choice.

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Sierra Nevada’s – Kellerweis Hefeweizen
Last but not least, we sampled Sierra Nevada’s brew. This one poured much the same as the last two. The aroma was spicy and didn’t feature much of the banana or esters scents. The flavor was much the same. This one was very smooth. Much more so than the other three. Kellerweis did not have as much phenolic flavor as the previous two. Instead, it had a strong citrus flavor which lent the Sierra Nevada a very refreshing taste.

Unfortunately there weren’t any Texas Hefes available to try, except for Shiner’s Hefeweizen. I should have compared theirs but I couldn’t find a six pack of just the Hefe. I will see if I can find it for next time and give my thoughts. As previously mentioned, Hefeweizens are not my favorite beer but I appreciate them and the more I drink them, the more I like them. Next time you are at the store pick up a six pack of a Hefe, sit outside and enjoy one during these hot summer months.

Next article we will explore some Texas wheat beers…any style. Send some suggestions of your favorites and we’ll see if they make the list. Until then, support your local (Texas) brewery!

Cheers,

Brian Royo
No Label Brewing Co.

— Brian Royo

Comments

Paul — Wednesday, June 9, 2010 2:57 pm

You expect me to believe that a beer knurd such as yourself has never heard of Franziskaner. You’re putting me on, surely.

cw — Wednesday, June 9, 2010 4:46 pm

Surprised (or should I be) you weren’t recommended Weihenstephaner Hefe as it’s typically regarded as the gold standard for the style.

Also, the one and only Live Oak Hefe is not only the best Texas brewed Hefeweizen, it’s one of the best in the country. Blows away the above.

Jeff Rocheleau — Wednesday, June 9, 2010 4:47 pm

Shiner Hefeweizen is actually a fairly good representation of the style, too. I don’t particularly care for it, but if you are into hefe’s, it’s worth a try. Don’t let the bartender put a lemon in it. In fact, don’t let a bartender put fruit in your beer ever.

Karyn — Wednesday, June 9, 2010 6:56 pm

I love Live Oak! A favorite was Primus, a seasonal I drank plenty of at the Flying Saucer, but we don’t make it to the pubs very often, as we live in the burbs… and they don’t sell Live Oak at Sp*cs. Would love to come across their Hefeweizen!

Closer to us is Boondoggles who has Franzinskaner on tap. Love it! But still, my summer fav is Kellerweis!!!

Brian Royo — Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:26 pm

I will have to try out the Live Oak Hefe…if they would have had it, I would have tried. I will have to shop around to find some more Texas Beers.

Yes…don’t fruit the beer!

Jimmy — Friday, June 11, 2010 9:13 am

Brian, in addition to the previous ones highlighted, you might want to consider Baltika No.8, it is an excellent version of the German Hefe, even though made in Russia! It is available at most Spec’s, Central Markets, and sometimes Whole Foods.
There are several well made hefes outside Texas, one of the best, IMO, is Victory’s Sunrise Weissbier http://victorybeer.com/beers/sunrise-weissbier/ when you are in Pennsylvania, I highly recommend this one. Cheers.

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