Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Unravelling Germanic Nouns

By William Brand
Wednesday, June 8th, 2005 at 10:55 am in Uncategorized.

Wheat beers have become the de-facto, summer beer of choice for those of us who like good beer. There’s one problem: German words describing wheat beer.

Personally, long after I sampled my first wheat , I still was confused. No wonder. My German is limited to “nein” and “jah”, infused into my brain from watching too many old World War II movies.

Weizen, weisse, wit , Was macht das schon aus! Let’s see how I do here. ` Weizen translates loosely as “wheaten” or “of-wheat” and “weissbier” is a beer brewed from wheat.

Weisse means whiteness, but it’s used to describe a pale or light-colored wheat beer. Berliner Weisse, a slightly sour version of the style, made with ale yeast and a lactobacillus culture, is still extremely popular in Berlin, where it’s often served with raspberry or other fruit syrups. Haven’t seen it imported here in a long time.

It’s usually served in a large, bulb-shaped glass, designed to gather the unusual aromas of sweet wheat, tart lactobacillus and spicy hops. I first discovered the great hobby of collecting beer glasses years ago. I was invited to dinner at a German friend’s house in Berkeley.

I knew he was a Berlin native, so I picked up a couple of bottles of Schultheiss Berliner Weisse, which weirdly enough could be found quite easily at the old Shattuck Avenue Co-op in Berkeley. I blew his mind.

He jumped up and said, “Oh! I have the glasses. He ran to a closet, rummaged around and produced a pair of bulbous glasses, each with the Schultheiss crest. At that point, it was most tart beer I’d ever sampled, lemony nose, very refreshing and unfortunately missing in action here in California. For a discussion of Berliner Weisse go here.

Back to beer terms; Wit, is Flemish for “white” and describes a pale, lemony style traditionally spiced with a bit of curacao orange peel. It was made famous in Belgium by brewer Pierre Celius, who – the story goes – found an old wit recipe, brewed it at home, then commercially, reviving the style. Most American brewpubs now brew a wit.

Hefeweizen means a beer brewed from wheat, unfiltered and bottle conditioned with a bit of yeast – “hefe” – left in each bottle. Hefes have become extremely popular in the U.S. with some versions served like an Americanized Mexican beer with a wedge of lemon stuck on the rim of a glass of dry, cloudy beer with a sour nose.

Then, there is kristall weizen, a wheat, filtered so it is crystal clear. It’s very common in Europe, but kristalls imported to the U.S. often carry another name like “weizen” or “weisse.” That’s it. My German’s exhausted. Comments anyone?

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