Cloudy. Typically yellow to gold, but dunkels (German word for dark) are brown and bubbly.
Popular imported wheat beers to look for on tap are Franziskaner, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr. In bottles, you may see Ayinger or Edinger. For a special treat, ask if your pub has a dark wheat beer on tap like the Winter Seasonal offering from Sam Adams. The American versions of wheat beers taste quite a bit different, so for the sake of this discussion, Shiner’s Hefeweizen is the closest in taste to its imported counterparts. Don’t confuse wheat beers with White Ales like Blue Moon or Hoegaarden.
In German, Weissen or Weisse translates into wheat. Hefe is yeast, which is what makes this beer original. Not that it is brewed with yeast, but that the yeast is not filtered out of the beer. At first look, a wheat beer simply adds wheat to the list of ingredients used to make other beers, but wheat beers are also distinguished by their process because the pasteurized yeast is not typically filtered out of the beer. You see, the yeast in a true ale is still alive and unfiltered, while the yeast in the wheat beers we are discussing has been pasteurized or boiled to kill the active yeast cultures. Typically, if a beer is pasteurized, it is also filtered, but a wheat beer, which is pasteurized, is not typically filtered (there is a variation of wheat beer called a Kristall Wissen, which does filter out the pasteurized yeast).
So, how do you make a wheat beer dark? The color of your malt depends on the temperature at which you dry your grains. Low temperature kilning produces lighter beers. High temperatures are responsible for our stouts, so Dunkel Weissens (dark wheats) are dried at medium temperatures. Another distinction is that wheat beers are top-fermented like ales and stouts.
Wheat beers are full of protein and famous for their “pillowy” head. This is important to know when ordering one in a bar. If there’s no head… the beer is dead. Politely ask for a different style of beer or see if the bartender is willing to go check to see if the keg is low. Sometimes they will change it out for you if the bar isn’t busy and you tip them well. Even if the bar uses nitrogen in their CO2 mix (which makes the beer seem a bit flat), you know it’s fresh if the head of the beer sticks to the side of the glass as you drink it. There should be rings when the glass is empty. If not, don’t ask for a second glass.
For Home Brewers
East Germans in Berlin produce wheat beers, and there are breweries in America and The Netherlands brewing wheat beers, but the original brews (and yeast strains) all come from Germany. There are two different types of yeast used to brew wheat beers. Suspended yeast, does not settle to the bottom and non-suspension yeast creates sediment that needs to be aroused during the pour. This is important when stocking your keg. Store it upside down so that when it is tapped, you must turn it right side up, which shakes the keg up and awakens the yeast. From there, the gas will keep the yeast moving. This process is not necessary with a wheat beer that uses suspended yeast, because it does not settle to the bottom.
Most wheat beers are going to sit at 5-6% alcohol by volume, which by no means makes this a weaker drink. Our most popular American lagers and pilsners weigh in at less than 4% and those low calorie beers have even less alcohol by volume (MGD 64 is 3%).
Who thought to put lemon in a beer, anyway? To be true to the brew, a German wheat beer should NOT be served with a lemon as the American craft brews have led you to believe.
So, where did this miseducation begin? As recently as the 1950’s, only a few wheat beers were in production overseas and none of them were popular with the twenty-something crowd in Europe because they were not being marketed or advertised. The theory holds that, travelers would notice elderly people, the only people who knew about wheat beer, with a lemon in their glass. These elderly people were served wheat beer in flute glasses with a lemon circle set atop the head, as was the custom in Germany at the time. To an American bartender, when something is served with fruit, it is squeezed into the glass before serving. Hence, between Germany then and America now, the lemon tradition has eroded.
A lemon does cut or tone down the bitterness of the yeast, which may be why the palette of an older person would appreciate it. Since we are speaking from a palette of low alcohol lager drinkers, we have adopted the practice in America as well. Europeans are typically ale drinkers, so a certain amount of bitterness is prevalent in their beer experience. To this end, then, putting a lemon in your wheat beer is an American thing, and while it may earn you a ribbing from your German friends, it is an understandable practice.
Do try the beer each time you have one without the lemon in it though. As your tastes change, you may find that you enjoy the beer without the acid of the lemon, which may upset a sensitive stomach. Some say that you use a lemon only with filtered wheat beers, which means American versions like Pyramid’s Hefeweizen. Sunshine Wheat beer suggests drinking their variation with an orange in it instead of a lemon.
Wheat beer is rich in B-complex vitamins, which makes it an excellent additive to your skin care regime. Drinking wheat beer may help clear up skin problems like dry, itchy skin and rashes. Doctors in Germany have been known to prescribe it for just that.