Behind the Beer: Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen

Head Brewer Niko Tonks on Hefeweizen.

Bavarian wheat beer is a very particular animal, with an interesting story. Wheat beers were produced across Bavaria for quite some time before the famous German purity law of 1516 (the Reinheitsgebot) was passed, but after that law (which was in large part a tax grab and an effort at protectionism) went into effect, its production had to be specifically licensed under an exception to the rule. Thankfully, someone of royal descent liked wheat beers, or the whole thing might have gone kaput right then and there.

Hefeweizen is a deeply idiosyncratic style – unlike most German (or German-inspired) beers, it is intentionally cloudy, has intense yeast character, and is inherently unstable. Its production requires a very long day in the brewhouse, since dealing with wheat is more difficult than barley, and because a multiple-temperature mash regimen is necessary to bring the clove and banana (phenol and ester) flavors into balance.

The yeast we use was originally isolated by the oldest continually operating brewery in the world, and it is the most commonly used hefeweizen yeast on this side of the pond. It ferments quickly, aggressively, and prefers to do its work under at least a little stress. It also prefers shallow, wide vessels, as opposed to tall skinny ones. We ferment ours in an old dairy tank for optimum yeast expression because of course, we do.

Hefeweizen is often regarded as a gateway craft beer, for some odd reason – I find it to be one of the most interesting and potentially difficult to parse beer styles out there. It is very low bitterness, requires a high level of carbonation, and has a super unique flavor profile.

My old boss, Chip McElroy – owner of Live Oak Brewing in Austin, Texas puts it this way:

“American Wheat Beer and Hefeweizen are often lumped together in the same breath, which is a mistake. It’s like this: there’s nothing wrong with a hot dog and cole slaw, but if you ordered a bratwurst and sauerkraut and someone handed you that hot dog and slaw, you might be kinda pissed off. Real deal hefeweizen is like that – you have to pay the price in terms of process to really get the thing right.”

Always pour your Hefeweizen into a glass. It’s unfiltered, so there will be a sediment on the bottom of the can. That is yeast, and also what packs the most flavor. Pour 3/4th of the beer into the glass, then swirl the remaining beer in the can to rouse the yeast, and then pour the rest into your glass.

Fair State Hefeweizens

Cans: Hefeweizen

On draft: Seasonal (typically April – August)

Press

Star Tribune: “Best Minnesota beers for summer grilling, plus a few out-of-state favorites”

City Pages: “5 Hefeweizens to try right now: Schell’s Jace Marti picks 5 favorites”

Star Tribune: “Change up your beer for the season and reach for a German wheat”

Hefeweizen