So You Wanna Brew a Weizen

In this post, we’ll explore some of the ways you can brew up a 2.5-gallon batch of German Wheat Beer in your kitchen. I’ve included a recipe below for a variation on the Weizen theme: a Roggenbier (rye beer) that you can easily convert into a Dunkelweizen. If you’re new to homebrewing, consider picking up a starter kit from one of the many online homebrew suppliers, and take a glance at a book like Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

If you haven’t already read it, check out my “Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons” for some historical and stylistic notes on Weissbiers. Also included in the “Beer for All Seasons” article is a brief set of tasting notes spanning some of the more widely available Hefeweizens, Dunkelweizens, and Weizenbocks so you can get a sense of the style.

WheatHarvest Idaho (Wiki)

Now that we know something of the general characteristics of Weizenbier, how do we go about brewing one? I’ll focus on Hefeweizens and Dunkelweizens, but you can find recipes for Kristalls and Weizenbocks online or in other published sources. (Refer to the BJCP Style Guidelines for brewing parameters.) The vital statistics for both Hefeweizens and Dunkelweizens are similar: 4.3-5.6% ABV; low noble hop character from varieties such as Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Spalt, or Perle; a moderate starting gravity of 1044-1052 for Hefeweizens and 1044-1056 for Dunkelweizens; and a finishing gravity in the 1010 to 1014 range. Wheat typically makes up more than fifty percent of the grain bill in these refreshing medium-light to medium-bodied beers, imparting a creamy richness and sometimes a peppery, citrus-like acidity. The grist composition is usually rounded out by Pilsener malt in the case of Hefeweizens, and augmented by specialty malts such as Munich and crystal malts in the case of Dunkelweizens.

BJCP LogoWhat does this translate into on the palate? Here’s what the BJCP guidelines have to say:

Medium-light to medium body; never heavy. Suspended yeast may increase the perception of body. The texture of wheat imparts the sensation of a fluffy, creamy fullness that may progress to a light, spritzy finish aided by high carbonation. Always effervescent.

As with all beers in BJCP Category 15, the key to brewing an “authentic” German-style wheat or rye beer is yeast selection. Two of the more popular yeasts are Wyeast’s 3068 Weihenstephan strain, and White Lab’s WLP380 Hefeweizen IV. Bavarian wheat beer yeast strains give the beers both a fruity character often associated with bananas (and sometimes with apples) and a spicy character most often associated with cloves (and sometimes cinnamon).White Labs Yeast (thebrewhut-com) As I mentioned in the “Beer for All Seasons” article, “Hefe” means yeast; agitating the yeast in the bottle and pouring it into the glass at the end contributes to the classic hazy appearance of Weizens.

In his Brewing Classic Styles, Jamil Zainasheff suggests that the simplest malt bill formulations are the best: at least fifty percent wheat, and the rest a good Continental Pilsener malt. I have also used moderate amounts of Munich malt (less than ten percent of the grain bill) to give the beer a slightly toastier and breadier malt accent. Single-infusion mash temperatures should be in the 152-154F range (around 67C, give or take) so that you get sufficient body. The Weissbier yeast strains attenuate fairly well (around 73-77%), so you don’t have to worry too much about the beer being cloying.

Dunkelweizens exhibit a greater degree of malt richness and complexity due to the addition of Munich malts. Crystal malts may also feature in the malt bill along with small quantities of roasted malts like Carafa malts. The malt bill results in beers that are light copper to mahogany brown in colour. As with all beers in this style, the head is tall, dense, and mousse-like. Yeast and aromatics are similar to those of Hefeweizens – banana esters and/or clove phenols. Dunkels tend to be sweeter than Hefeweizens, with notes of toast, caramel, nuts, and even chocolate in the aromas and on the palate. Despite the additional sweetness, Dunkelweizens are rounded beers with a relatively dry finish.

After yeast selection, fermentation temperature is probably the single most important factor in brewing a tasty Hefeweizen. And that goes not only for Hefeweizens, but for all the beers in this category. Watch those fermentation temperatures! It’s best not to let these beers ferment much above 70F (21C), even if the stated range for the given yeast strain might fall between 62-75F (17-24C). Higher temperatures yield more banana esters, and lower temperatures yield more phenolics.

A Brief Word on Other Weizenbiers

Kristallweizen does not constitute its own BJCP category. These beers are very similar to the more ubiquitous Hefeweizens, but are filtered (hence the modifier, Kristall), and are generally fruitier, less phenolic, and more delicate than Hefeweizens.

Weizenbocks are strong, malty, fruity, and spicy wheat beers that combine elements of Hefeweizens and Dunkelweizens with the rich body and warming alcohol character of a Bock. These beers are typically dark, with a grain bill resembling an amped-up Dunkelweizen. That said, Weihenstephan does produce a compelling honey-gold version called Vitus. Schneider’s Aventinus is, technically, a Weizen Doppelbock, but it tends to get lumped in with the Weizenbock category. If you’re brewing a clone, check out this recipe in Brew Your Own.

WildRye (Wiki)Roggenbier is similar to a Hefeweizen or Dunkelweizen, the major difference being the replacement of malted wheat with malted rye. I have had one commercial German example only, and have yet to see a German Roggenbier in North America. Rogue produces a Roguenbier Rye Ale, but I have not been able to find it in my distribution area.

I did, however, take a stab at brewing my own Roggenbier in March, and just cracked my first bottle last night. One problem that I encountered was a high level of viscosity that didn’t dissipate much from mash through post-fermentation. Fortunately, the high levels of carbonation for these beers managed to tame the slickness of the rye somewhat. The viscosity comes from a high level of beta glucans in malted rye, and its persistence through to the finished product likely has something to do with mash temperatures. I have three years of home-brewing experience under my belt, and started formulating my own recipes only this season, so I’m by no means a pro at this. Once I get the beer into the hands of an experienced brewer who can provide advice on the mash schedule, I’ll let you know how to keep the viscosity in check. If you’re an experienced brewer and have any suggestions regarding process or recipe formulation, please leave a comment.

*Once fermentation’s all said and done and the bottles have conditioned, don’t forget the proper glassware to keep that towering foam cap in place! It’s tempting to drink these beers on the cold side – and that’s just fine – but at 48-54F (9-12C) you’ll be giving the subtle malt characters of these beers a chance to expand.

Post-Script: Keep On Roggen’ Rye

IMG_0143Vitals:

  • 2.5 gallons (pre-boil volume: approx. 3.3 gallons)
  • OG (Original Gravity): 1.052
  • FG (Final Gravity): 1.014
  • ABV: 5%
  • 90-minute boil

Grain Bill:

  • 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) Rye Malt, 3.5ºL
  • 1.5 lbs (680 g) Munich Malt, 10ºL
  • 1 lb (454 g) Pilsener Malt, 1.8ºL
  • 0.6 lb (272 g) CaraMunich III, ~55-60ºL

Like wheat, malted rye will gum up a mash. Add about 2-3 ounces of rice hulls to the mash tun to ensure a happy brew day.

Hop Additions:

  • ½ oz (14 g) Northern Brewer (9.4%), 75 minutes
  • ¼ oz (7 g) Spalt (5.2%), 75 minutes
  • ¼ oz (7 g) Tettnanger (4.5%), 20 minutes
  • ¼ oz (7 g) Tettnanger (4.5%), 5 minutes

When I brew another Roggenbier, I’ll likely keep the bittering additions to 60 minutes, and will use Perle or Hallertauer in place of the Northern Brewer. I found that a slightly higher hopping rate compared to a Hefeweizen or Dunkelweizen helped counter some of the sweeter malts, but the Northern Brewer’s bittering qualities seemed to accentuate the peppery quality of the rye a bit much.

Yeast:

Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan (One pack will do for 2.5 gallons, but making a small starter wouldn’t hurt.)

Process:

Step-mash the grains for 60 minutes total. Perform a protein rest for 20 minutes at the high end of the range – 130F (54C) – followed by a 40-minute saccharification rest at 154F (68C). I added more hot water to my mash tun at this point in an attempt to hit a 168F (76C) mash-out temperature, but only got things up to 162F (72C). You could easily skip the mash-out step and begin recirculating the wort and sparging after the saccharification rest. (One step I would add next time is a 10-minute ferrulic acid rest at the outset of mashing to break down the beta glucans.) Boil for 90 minutes to reduce DMS. Ferment at 63F (17C). Carbonate the fermented beer to between 3.3 and 3.5 volumes of CO2. Since you want all that aromatic yeast in your glass, this is one style for which you might want to forego kegging in favour of bottle-conditioning.

*Substitute wheat for rye and add a bit of chocolate malt and/or carafa malt, and you’ve got a Dunkelweizen.

Prost!

________

Images:

Wheat harvest in Idaho: Wikipedia

BJCP logo: BJCP

Yeast vials: www.thebrewhut.com

Rye: Wikipedia

Tempest’s Roggen: F.D. Hofer

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “So You Wanna Brew a Weizen

  1. Adam

    If you make a starter for a hefeweizen, you will lose some of the hefe character. It comes out as the yeast
    struggles growing.

    1. Tempest in a Tankard Post author

      Thanks for sharing that! I remember hearing something similar on a podcast about a year back, but can’t seem to dig up where I heard it. I’ve done German-style wheat beers both ways, and got some really nice banana esters on a Hefeweizen for which I didn’t make a starter. The Roggenbier I brewed recently would definitely have benefited from more esters. I made a starter and fermented on the lower end of the temperature scale – around 63-64F. The resulting clove phenolics amplified the rye pepper-spiciness a bit more than I would have liked. Still going down well, though, especially as the weather heats up.

      Recently, I came across an article dealing with yeast starters on Jamil Zainasheff’s Mr. Malty website. Even though Zainasheff isn’t on board with lower pitching rates, his article acknowledges the debate. On the subject of wheat beers and low gravity beers, he writes:

      “For some small batches or low gravity beers such as an ordinary bitter, there is a very slight chance you might end up over pitching if you get carried away. High pitching rates can result in a less than ideal fermentation profile (i.e., low or unexpected esters, yeast autolysis flavors, poor head retention) as compared to a properly pitched batch. This is also a consideration in beer styles where the yeast derived flavors are foremost, such as Bavarian style wheat beers. Though I don’t concur, a number of experts believe it is better to pitch at lower rates when brewing these styles of beers to increase ester formation.”

      Here’s a link to the rest of the article: http://www.mrmalty.com/starter_faq.php

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