Wheat beer is a style of beer also sometimes referred to as white beer, and mainly associated with Germany
. In both English
, the words for "wheat" and "white" are similar (Weizen
), so a single term has never been established. Wheat beer, or Weizen
, is the more accurate as the drink, though often pale, is never actually white, and can in fact be extremely dark. The name derives, of course, from the fact that wheat
is used as the grain in the way that barley
is for most beers, although it does not fully replace it - all wheat beers contain a significant amount of barley as well.
Until recently, wheat beer was regarded as old-fashioned (rather like porter) and was largely neglected. There is some justification in this, as using wheat in the brewing process tends to clog the machinery and thus inconvenience the brewer, in a way that barley does not. Therefore it may not seem like good sense in the modern world for a brewer to use wheat when barley is freely available. However in recent years the phenomenon of "beer appreciation" has grown significantly, and it is recognised that beers are as varied and complex as wine. This has led to an increased interest in "unusual" styles like wheat beer.
Wheat beers, particularly in the aftertaste, have a sweet, fruity quality that can take some getting used to. Those habituated to lager or bitter may find themselves caught off guard by this flavour, which sometimes only makes itself known once the beer has got past the front of the mouth. This quality is responsible for the reputation possessed by wheat beer (at least in mainland Europe) as a refreshing drink, a thirst quencher. Another distinguishing characteristic of wheat beers is their cloudiness, owing to the yeast still present in the drink.
One of the best known wheat beers is Hoegaarden, an example of the Hefeweizen style (a yeasty style of wheat beer: Hefe is "yeast" in German). Perhaps uniquely among wheat beers, Hoegaarden is available on draught in some (but not most) British pubs.
Another commendable brew is Weihenstephaner of Freising, Germany, which advertises itself as the oldest brewery in the world. Their brand of wheat beer is unusually clear, and has a taste which seems like a lager on the tip of the tongue but gives way to an unexpected sweetness. Bear in mind that this beer pours with an enormous head if you're not careful.