Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Wheat Beers - By Emily Hutto

Healthy, happy yeast cells; fer­men­ta­tion con­trol; and car­bon­a­tion are the se­crets to a great he­feweizen. Four award-win­ning brewers share their tech­niques.


is sim­pli­fied un­der the wheat-beer um­brella. That wheat-beer la­bel is ac­cu­rate—hefeweizens (yeast wheat in Ger­man), also called weiss­biers (white beer in Ger­man), are un­fil­tered Ger­man wheat ales that, ac­cord­ing to Ger­man law, have at least 50 per­cent wheat in their grain bills. How­ever, the style’s broad­ness dis­counts its nu­ances that dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from other wheat-based styles such as wit­bier, gose, Ber­liner weisse, dunkel­weizen, and Amer­i­can wheat beer. Yeast is re­ally the dif­fer­en­tia­tor for this style, and brewers who make it can’t stress enough the im­por­tance of con­trol over its fer­men­ta­tion process. Also crit­i­cal to great he­feweizen brewing, they say, are car­bon­a­tion and fil­tra­tion—or lack thereof.

Just Like the Bavar­i­ans

“We make he­feweizen just like the Bavar­i­ans—no short­cuts, no spins, no gim­micks,” says Du­san Kwiatkowski, the head brewer at Live Oak Brewing in Austin, Texas. Of­ten noted as one of the more au­then­ti­cally Ger­man-style brew­eries in the coun­try, Live Oak was started by Chip Mcel­roy in 1997 and hasn’t wa­vered from Ger­man beer styles since. The leg­endary Live Oak He­feweizen is brewed with a 50-50 ra­tio of Ger­man wheat malt and Czech bar­ley malt. Chlo­rine and chlo­ramine are re­moved from the water used to brew it, and the mash water ph is ad­justed with lac­tic acid for op­ti­mal en­zyme ac­tiv­ity in the mash. It’s boiled with a pinch of Ger­man no­ble hops at the be­gin­ning of the boil to im­part just enough bit­ter­ness to bal­ance the malt fla­vor.

“Hops don’t re­ally con­trib­ute fla­vor or aroma in this beer,” says Kwiatkowski. “Brewing he­feweizen is all about the yeast, its health, and its hap­pi­ness. Com­pared to most beers, this style has more yeast fla­vor and aroma from fer­men­ta­tion, as well as the pres­ence of yeast in the glass. We use the tra­di­tional Bavar­ian he­feweizen strain from Wei­hen­stephan. We seek fla­vors of clove, vanilla, bub­blegum, and ba­nana—in that order.”

Tra­di­tional hefeweizens are un­fil­tered, adding a mod­er­ate haze to the beer’s ap­pear­ance. At Live Oak, this haze is achieved with hor­i­zon­tal con­di­tion­ing tanks in­stead of cylin­dro­con­i­cal tanks. “Our hor­i­zon­tal con­di­tion­ing ge­om­e­try pro­vides low hy­dro­static pres­sure on the yeast and shorter set­tling dis­tances for nat­u­ral clar­i­fi­ca­tion,” says Kwiatkowski. “We are able to ob­tain a ho­moge­nous, ap­pro­pri­ate haze with­out fil­tra­tion.”

The next step in the process is car­bon­a­tion, which Kwiatkowski ex­plains is crit­i­cal to he­feweizen. “He­feweizen is best with ef­fer­ves­cent car­bon­a­tion to carry the aro­mas out of the glass and pro­vide the means for a thick, lin­ger­ing head,” he says. “The slightly higher CO2 vol­ume also helps bal­ance the malt body, keep­ing it light and re­fresh­ing while re­main­ing full.”

“Hops don’t re­ally con­trib­ute fla­vor or aroma in this beer,” says Live Oak’s Du­san Kwiatkowski. “Brewing he­feweizen is all about the yeast, its health, and its hap­pi­ness. We use the tra­di­tional Bavar­ian he­feweizen strain from Wei­hen­stephan, and seek fla­vors of clove, vanilla, bub­blegum, and ba­nana—in that order.”

Hy­brid Hefe

“Live Oak He­feweizen is prob­a­bly the best he­feweizen I have ever had, even bet­ter than many of my fa­vorite Ger­man ex­am­ples be­cause since its from Texas, it’s one I can en­joy rel­a­tively fresh,” says Neil Fisher, the co-owner and head brewer at Weld­w­erks Brewing Co. in Gree­ley, Colorado. “I can’t think of an­other brew­ery that has taken on wheat or hefe and done it as tra­di­tion­ally and suc­cess­fully as they have. That beer alone says there’s a big de­mo­graphic of peo­ple who are still in­ter­ested in com­plex wheat beer. As un­sexy as the style is, I think Live Oak is mak­ing it sexy again. I might be their big­gest he­feweizen fan.”

If Live Oak’s He­feweizen is sexy, then Weld­w­erks’s He­feweizen is risqué—it flirts with the line be­tween tra­di­tional Ger­man-style weiss­bier and ex­per­i­men­tal Amer­i­can-style wheat beer. “We wanted our wheat beer to be firmly planted in the mid­dle of the Ger­man-amer­i­can spec­trum,” says Fisher. “The recipe is loosely based on the Amer­i­can-style he­feweizen that Wid­mer brews. It’s tra­di­tional on the malt side and less tra­di­tional in its hop­ping and fer­men­ta­tion.”

Weld­w­erks He­feweizen has a grain bill that con­sists of 50 per­cent Pil­sner malt and 50 per­cent wheat malt. In ad­di­tion to its prominent wheat fla­vor, Fisher ex­plains, wheat also con­trib­utes to he­feweizen’s mouth­feel, creami­ness, and full-bod­ied char­ac­ter. He whirlpool hops his he­feweizen with Ger­man Haller­tauer hops and just a touch of Le­mon­drop hops, which he says pro­vides a nice cit­rus-zest com­ple­ment to the Haller­tauer’s herbal, earthy no­ble hops char­ac­ter. He fer­ments this beer with the White Labs WLP320 Amer­i­can He­feweizen strain, which keeps the spicy phe­no­lic char­ac­ter sub­dued but still pro­duces plenty of fruity es­ters. “We fer­ment warmer and un­der-pitch to cre­ate the ba­nana and sub­tle bub­blegum fla­vors that hefeweizens are known for, with­out the dis­trac­tion of too much clove or spice.”

Key to the Weld­w­erks He­feweizen ex­pe­ri­ence is car­bon­a­tion, Fisher says. “We car­bon­ate it high to bump the mouth­feel and make it more drink­able. We re­ally like that about he­feweizen— es­pe­cially for a lighter, higher-at­ten­u­ated beer, this style is very full-bod­ied. Most full- or medium-bod­ied beers have lower car­bon­a­tion, but that ef­fer­ves­cence works for a he­feweizen.”

“Live Oak He­feweizen is prob­a­bly the best he­feweizen I have ever had. I can’t think of an­other brew­ery that has taken on wheat or hefe and done it as tra­di­tion­ally and suc­cess­fully as they have. That beer alone says there’s a big de­mo­graphic of peo­ple who are still in­ter­ested in com­plex wheat beer. As un­sexy as the style might be, I think Live Oak is mak­ing it sexy again...”

—Neil Fisher, Head Brewer and Co­founder, Weld­w­erks Brewing

Fisher’s Ger­man-amer­i­can hy­brid is named He­feweizen as a nod to its Ger­man roots, al­though he ad­mits this can be mis­lead­ing. “Some­times peo­ple try it and say, ‘This is noth­ing like Ger­man he­feweizen.’ That’s true. We don’t en­ter it as a tra­di­tional Ger­man-style he­feweizen in com­pe­ti­tions.”

In­stead, this beer is en­tered in the Amer­i­can-style Wheat with Yeast cat­e­gory, for which Weld­w­erks He­feweizen took home a sil­ver medal at the 2015 Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val.

Cloud Not Chunk

An­other Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val award-win­ning he­feweizen is Washout Wheat by Holy City Brewing in Charleston, South Carolina. Chris Brown, Holy City’s owner and pro­duc­tion man­ager who for­merly worked at Gor­don Bier­sch, brought his Ger­man-style brewing back­ground to the table when de­vel­op­ing its recipe and process. It’s made with about 45 per­cent Wey­er­mann pale wheat and 55 per­cent Wey­er­mann pale malt, and a small amount of Ger­man Haller­tau Hers­brucker hops at the be­gin­ning of the boil for bit­ter­ness and bal­ance. “It’s nice to be able to use Ger­man malt and hops,” says Brown. “In Ger­many, they would say that makes a dif­fer­ence, but I don’t re­ally think so. I think all the fla­vor in he­feweizen comes from yeast.”

Washout Wheat is fer­mented with a tra­di­tional strain of Ger­man he­feweizen yeast at above-av­er­age tem­per­a­tures “to give off more ba­nana than clove,” Brown says. “We use three to four gen­er­a­tions of each crop, but once we go past that, we lose the ba­nana and the fla­vor goes clove, which is not what we’re go­ing for.”

At the end of fer­men­ta­tion, Brown caps the fer­men­ta­tion tank to cap­ture CO2. “That nat­u­ral car­bon­a­tion tastes that much bet­ter,” Brown says. “We still force car­bon­ate, but the nat­u­ral car­bon­a­tion goes a long way. Hefeweizens should have high car­bon­a­tion, so they are nice and crisp.”

Af­ter the CO2 is cap­tured, Brown lets the beer sit to let the yeast drop out a bit. “I also like to har­vest yeast be­fore I trans­fer,” he says, ex­plain­ing that if you trans­fer too quickly, the beer will be “crazy cloudy and chunky from yeast par­ti­cles. I want cloud but not chunk.”

When Brown found him­self with ex­tra he­feweizen yeast one win­ter, he brewed a one-off “im­pe­rial he­feweizen,” an “amped up ver­sion of Washout” that he named Bath­room’s Out­side to the Right as a nod to the count­less times each day that his staff has to ex­plain to cus­tomers how to find the fa­cil­i­ties. “This was a ‘play around and see what hap­pens’ kind of beer,” he says. “When we first opened, I didn’t want to branch too far out of the box by way of beer styles, but as we’ve grown, we’ve played around a lot more. I have great appreciation and re­spect for style guide­lines, es­pe­cially Ger­man pu­rity laws, but it wouldn’t be fun if we al­ways brewed to style.”

Bring­ing Out the Best in the Yeast

“Our recipe for Dreamweaver Wheat is very sim­ple,” says An­drew Dick­son, the pro­duc­tion man­ager at Tröegs In­de­pen­dent Brewing in Her­shey, Penn­syl­va­nia. “It’s 55 per­cent wheat, 45 per­cent Pil­sner malt, and no­ble hops.”

Dreamweaver, which won a 2012 Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val award, is brewed in the style of a tra­di­tional Ger­man-style he­feweizen. “We even have two open fer­men­ta­tion tanks used ex­clu­sively for this par­tic­u­lar beer,” says Dick­son. Open fer­men­ta­tion al­lows for com­plex es­ter pro­duc­tion and ef­fec­tive yeast man­age­ment. Be­fore Dreamweaver hits the fer­men­tor, though, Dick­son says sev­eral mea­sures are taken to bring out the best in the yeast. “We mash in cold so we can do a fer­ulic acid rest at 107°F (42°C),” he says. “This rest is im­por­tant for the clove aroma cre­ated by the

yeast. The fer­ulic acid is used by the yeast to cre­ate 4-vinyl gua­ia­col—the clove-like aroma. You can cer­tainly make a weiss­bier with­out this rest, but you will find in­creased ba­nana and re­duced clove fla­vors.”

Mash ph is also very im­por­tant to brewing he­feweizen, Dick­son says. “It must be slightly higher than for other styles, so we tar­get 5.7 and add cal­cium car­bon­ate to the mash. That higher mash ph is also for the fer­ulic acid, so again, if more ba­nana is pre­ferred, there is no need to raise the ph.”

Aer­a­tion and fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture can also play a role in the fla­vor pro­file of a weiss­bier, Dick­son says. “We knock­out at 62°F (17°C) and let the tem­per­a­ture rise to 70°F (21°C) for fer­men­ta­tion to pro­duce the fla­vor and aroma pro­file we’re look­ing for.”

The most de­sir­able fla­vor and aroma of Dreamweaver comes from sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion yeast, Dick­son adds. “We never go be­yond three gen­er­a­tions with this Ger­man wheat yeast be­cause af­ter three, it de­vel­ops an odd bit­ter­ness.”

Most brewers agree that bit­ter­ness in a he­feweizen should be low to non-ex­is­tent. Dreamweaver weighs in at about 15 IBUS.

Ad­vice for Home­brew­ers

Whether brewing tra­di­tional Ger­man-style he­feweizen, Amer­i­can wheat beer with yeast, or any­thing in be­tween, the brewers at Live Oak, Weld­w­erks, Holy City, and Tröegs all agree that fer­men­ta­tion con­trol is the most crit­i­cal fac­tor when brewing this style of beer.

“Pay at­ten­tion to fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture and time,” stresses Brown at Holy City. “I can’t say it enough.”

“Keep the yeast alive and happy and pitch ap­pro­pri­ately,” adds Kwiatkowski at Live Oak. “It is easy to taste the agony of any poorly treated yeast.”

“With many weiss­bier yeasts, a high fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture will yield a nasty burnt rub­ber fla­vor,” warns Dick­son at Tröegs.

Fisher of Weld­w­erks elab­o­rates on all of the above. “Home­brew­ers should fo­cus on di­al­ing in pitch rates, time, and tem­per­a­ture. Start your fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­ture low, let it ramp up, and see what it does to the char­ac­ter. Or start high and let it drop. We’ve tried both meth­ods and have gen­er­ally found that the higher you start, the more es­ter pro­duc­tion you get. If you want a lot of phe­no­lics, let it free rise re­ally quickly. Fer­men­ta­tion is the big­gest key to this style.”

Above » Tröegs uses open fer­men­tors for their Dreamweaver Wheat, which al­lows for com­plex es­ter pro­duc­tion, but they never go be­yond three gen­er­a­tions with the yeast be­cause af­ter three, it pro­duces un­de­sir­able bit­ter fla­vors.

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