As promised in my column today, here’s my June 8, 2005 column reporting our wheat beer tasting.
By William Brand
Summer is coming and there’s no better time for a wheat beer.
Properly made and in fresh condition, a wheat beer can be light and thirst-quenching, the perfect antidote for a long, hot, wearing summer day.
I love wheats; I like almost every wheat, sometimes I’m stressed when I have to choose one over the other. So, I decided to throw in a twist. I enlisted two tasters who really don’t like wheat beer.
The first, Mike Gacsaly, is a mathematician and homebrewer. The second, Gary Larsen loves to visit brewpubs and write about them. They both like their beer dark and chewy. I set out a selection of a couple of dozen wheat beers of various kinds and took notes. It was an interesting night, indeed.
But first, a little bit about wheat beers.
Wheat beers aren’t really all wheat. What we call a wheat is a beer brewed with a blend of malted barley and malted or unmalted wheat, usually balanced by Hallertau hops, a fine aroma hop with a slightly herbal note.
According to the Encyclopedia of Beer (Henry Holt, New York, 1995) wheat beers were so common in the Middle Ages that most wheat was used for beer, leaving very little for bread. The encyclopedia says the Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian beer purity code, allowing only hops, barley, water (and yeast) in beer, was passed partly to leave wheat for bread.
That’s not surprising. Beer back then tended to be quite dark and heavy. Using a blend of wheat and malted barley, brewers could produce a frothy beer with a lighter color and an almost herbal, spicy taste.
Here in America wheat beers have been embraced by the craft beer movement . Every brewpub has at least one wheat and bottled wheats can be found in profusion.
For more about wheats, including an explanation of the many German terms for wheat beer many of which wind up on labels on American wheats without explanation, check out our blog at: To find out more, check out our blog at www.beernewsletter.com or www.insidebayarea.com/beerblog.
So here we are at my kitchen counter with my two dark beer fans. I served them in flights of two, wheats first, then hefeweizens, then fruit wheats . Here are their favorites:
1. Anchor Summer Beer, Anchor Brewing, San Francisco. This was the hit of the evening. Both Mike and Gary found it straightforward, refreshing without a trace of sourness, something neither likes. Intsteadit was dry from nose to follow. “An excellent beer,” Mike said. Anchor launched this one in 1984. A blend of nearly 60 percent wheat, 40 percent pale malt, it was the first American wheat beer in modern times.
2. Pyramid Hefeweizen, Pyramid, Seattle, Berkeley. Another hit. Both tasters liked the taste. It had a touch of sweetness, but it tasted almost nutty, Mike said. Gary loved the dry, thirst-quenching follow.
3. Sierra Nevada Wheat, Sierra Nevada, Chico. Both our tasters liked the pour, this is a big, golden wheat with a lively, creamy hed, full taste and a dry follow.
4. Pyramid Apricot Ale. This one shocked both tasters. They are not “girly men” and unlikely to seek out a fruit beer under any circumstances. “Not too shabby,” Gary said. “This has some taste (and the apricots don’t hurt it, he said under his breth. “Oh I like this,” Mike said with surprise.
5. Erdinger Weissbrau. This was the one import that fared well. This is a bottle-conditioned, non-pasteurized wheat from Erding near Munich, Bavaria. Both tasters rated it below their American favorites, but found it dry and pleasing and easily superior to the other German wheats I had supplied.
And finally, this has been a cold, wet year and if the weather gods send you a chill lemon of a summer evening, do what I do – no, I don’t make lemonade. I reach for a bottle of Aventinus****. This German ale from G. Schneider & Sohn, Kelheim, Bavaria is a beery contradiction.
It’s a wheat beer, it’s bottle-conditioned, not pasteurized. But it’s the opposite of light. Made with a blend of dark malts, it’s 8 percent ABV, nearly double the alcohol of your average wheat. The mind reels: A heady, chocolate nose, thick, creamy head, tastes like heaven, raisins and ripe fruit, with a tiny, lingering hint of cloves. Comes in a 16-oz. bottle, costs about $3.
Last note: The Berkeley History Center is on an unusual quest: The center plans a “Fermenting Berkeley” exhibit in October. Yes beer, not revolution. They’re looking for memorabilia, photos and information about the production, sales and social aspects of alcohol in Berkeley between 1890 and 1960. For info, call History Center, (510) 848-0181, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write Daphne Tooke, Exhibition Curator, Berkeley History Center, P.O. Box 1190, Berkeley, CA 94701.