Tag Archives: Vitus

Augurs of Spring: Wheat Beers Belgian, German, and American (Sat. 6-Pack, Vol.4)

Warmer days and cool nights. April showers on the horizon. The occasional spring frost following upon a stretch of summer-like days.

Time to lay those warming Russian Stouts and barley wines down to rest for another season.

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The quintessential beer for your rites of spring, be they seeding the garden or cleaning the cobwebs out of the grill, is one that’ll quench your thirst on a sunny afternoon yet stand up to an evening chill. You won’t go wrong with a hoppy and refreshing American brown ale, and nor would a porter be out of place on a cooler day. For this Saturday’s six-pack, though, I’m going to suggest a selection of beers that stays within one (admittedly broad) family, a family of beers that hits all the registers of spring in its arc between winter and summer: wheat beers.

Van Gogh - Wheat-Fields-at-Auvers-Under-Clouded-Sky_July_1890 (WikiCommons)

Weizenbock: Vitus, Weihenstephan (Germany)

Weihenstephan has been making beer in Freising near Munich since 1040, so they’ve had a few years more than most brewers to perfect their recipes. And this Weizenbock (wheat bock) recipe comes as close to perfection as you’ll get among a stable of beers that also includes Weihenstephan’s sublime Hefeweissbier. Weihenstephan-Freising (weihenstephaner-de)

Vitus is the epitome of unctuous, and makes for an ideal transition between seasons. Aromas of honeyed light brown sugar, wheat, clove, allspice, and white pepper cascade out from underneath the epic pearl-white mountain of foam, with the slightest trace of butterscotch and a suggestion of saline minerality lurking in the depths.Weihen-Vitus (weihenstephaner-de) Swiss milk caramel shines through on the palate along with spiced honey, all exquisitely balanced by ripe banana, clove, and cinnamon en route to a velvet finish of marzipan and pear-banana-allspice.

At a honeyed, aromatic, and richly textured 7.7%, Vitus hides its potency well. But fear not if you overindulge your inner entertainer after drinking a few of these, for Vitus just so happens to be the patron saint of dancers, actors, and comedians.

Three Tankards.

Witbier/Bière Blanche: Blanche de Namur, Brasserie du Bocq (Belgium)

Wheat has deep roots in Wallonia and Flanders. Records of wheat grown for beer brewing date back to the time of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire. Established in 1858, the Brasserie du Bocq in the heart of the Condroz is a family operation that adheres to the traditional process of secondary fermentation in the bottleBrasserie du Bocq bldg (www-bocq-be). The name of their witbier, Blanche de Namur, also evokes local tradition. In August 1335, Blanche de Namur was married off by her father, the Count of Namur, to Magnus IV Eriksson. When she embarked on her trip to Scandinavia to become a queen, it would be the last time she saw the banks of the Meuse. Brasserie du Bocq dedicates their beer to Blanche de Namur’s “beauty, sweetness and delicacy.”

Sweet and delicate this ochre-complexioned beer is. Dreamy aromas of lemony coriander, mild grapefruit zest, and spicy-floral hops set the stage for a rich, mouth-filling showcase of creamy wheat and citrus-spice that finishes up with a flinty dryness.Blanche de Namur (www-bocq-be) Many a North American craft beer drinker tends to conflate richness of flavour and a high percentage of alcohol. At 4.5% ABV, this is just the beer to puncture such myths.

One Tankard.

Hefeweizen: Bräuweisse, Ayinger Privatbrauerei (Germany)

To me, nothing says spring or summer more than a Hefeweizen, but the signature clove and banana aromatics along with the periodic hint of vanilla and honeyed light brown sugar are at home in just about any season. Ayinger’s Bräuweisse is a hazy honey-golden Hefeweizen crowned by a towering, meringue-like foam cap, and is one of the most compelling examples of this southern German style of beer that is nothing if not unique.

Pushing one-hundred-and-thirty years young, Ayinger isn’t quite as storied as Weihenstephaner, but the brewery is no less respected in Germany and beyond for its array of lagers and wheat beers.Ayinger Brauweisse (ayinger-bier-de) 2 The Bräuweisse exudes a panoply of aromas ranging from creamed ripe banana and apple to lemon curd and light milky caramel. The spicing is subtle, more like a blend of baking spices that encompasses clove, cinnamon, and allspice. Creamy and mouthfilling yet still effervescent, the palate presents a harmonious mix of graham cracker, vanilla-banana, and a touch of tingly pepper and hop spiciness. For best results, drink in a beer garden, preferably in sight of the Alps.

Three Tankards.

American Wheat: American Wheat Beer, Choc (U.S.A.)

Brown beers may well get no luvin’ on the sites that gauge the barometric pressure of the North American craft beer scene. For American wheat beers, though, the fate is even worse: silence. One of the longer-standing indigenous American beer styles, American wheat beer doesn’t even merit a mention in Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s recent World Atlas of Beer. For my part, I have to admit that if I were to list my favourite beer styles, American wheat beer would not make it too high up the ladder. That’s no reason to pass on this typically effervescent and easy-drinking beer style in the springtime, though. The style is fairly ubiquitous across North America, and you can find the occasional intriguing example like 3 Floyds’ Gumballhead, but for this Saturday’s sixer, I’m going to go with a solid example from Oklahoma’s quiet powerhouse, Choc Beer Company.

Choc traces its roots back to a time when Pete Prichard (né Pietro Piegari) served up beer to the English, Irish, Welsh, and Italian immigrants who flocked to the area in search of jobs in the nearby coal mines. Prichard operated through Prohibition out of Pete’s Place, his family-style Italian eatery that fast became an institution in southeastern Oklahoma. Today, Choc brews a slate of solid and affordable beers alongside a small roster of respectable specialty releases.

Formerly known as 1919 Choc Beer, the hazy straw-gold American Wheat Beer weaves together malt and hops into a delicate canvas of lemon grass and coconut aromatics reminiscent of Thai cuisine.Choc - American Wheat (label) Malt anchors the beer unobtrusively, with notes of fresh bread, nougat, and toasted toffee. But that’s not all: the hops contribute a pineapple-tangerine quality that melds well with the nougat, along with a subtle spiciness and a breath of spring flowers in bloom. Clean and crisp, the beer finishes with the slightest bitterness that leads into a lingering aftertaste of dried apricot and cinnamon-dusted white raisins. The aromatics and flavours of Choc’s American Wheat Beer are many but subtle, and come together like the individual brush strokes of an Impressionist painting. Indeed, this is both the strength and weakness of this beer that eschews bold gestures in favour of nuance. No show-stopper, Choc’s American Wheat Beer is, nonetheless, a pleasant drink that rewards patience. Drink cool but not cold.

Gose: Original Ritterguts Gose, Brauhaus Hartmannsdorf (Germany)

Even if it took a few decades for the North America craft beer cognoscenti to bestow its seal of approval on this tart and refreshing beer most closely associated with the city of Leipzig, Gose is now one of the hottest summertime beer commodities. Summer aside, Gose is, like Hefeweizen, a versatile beer eminently suited to spring’s capricious weather.

IMG_4828

The past few years have witnessed many an intriguing Gose crop up in beer stores across North America, but none of these excellent beers quite matches the peerless Original Ritterguts Gose. Despite how the name may look and sound to English speakers unacquainted with German, Ritterguts Gose traces a rather noble history back to the Rittergut (manor) of Döllnitz, where Gose production started in 1824. As part of the general Gose revival underway in 1990s Leipzig, Tilo Jänichen developed a Gose that was based on this original Döllnitzer manor recipe, but could barely keep up with demand.Rittergute Gose Labels Production shifted to ever-larger breweries, and in 2007 Brauhaus Hartmannsdorf took on the brewing of Original Ritterguts Gose.

Brauhaus Hartmannsdorf’s iteration of this classic recipe is a deep, burnished golden beer with a luminescent haze. Out of the hazy mist float complex aromas of fresh raw almond, wheat cereal richness, a quinine-like sourness, and a coriander-clove spiciness buffeted by a gentle sea breeze carrying green plum scents not unlike Japanese ume-boshi. Mouth-filling, silky, and with just enough lassi-like saltiness and moderate acidity to whet the appetite, our Döllnitzer classic builds to a mineral-crisp and dry finish of almonds, stone fruit, and spiced apple that made me think, briefly, of chutney. Compared to other examples of the style, the honeyed nougat-like malt depth lends this beer a certain gravitas, and the very low level of hops (with a herbal note suggestive of dill) meshes well with the savoury coriander and brine notes.

A standard bearer. Three Tankards.

Berliner Weisse: Berliner Style Lager (Sour Wheat Lager), Jack’s Abby (U.S.A.)

If the weighty Weizenbock is perfectly suited to those days when you can still hear winter’s echo, the Berliner Weisse is its antipode: crisp, sour, and refreshing. Where Weizenbock makes a fine accompaniment to an evening après-ski, Berliner Weisse is more at home when the late-spring mercury is pointing toward summertime.Jacks Abby Berliner (jacksabbybrewing-com) Like the historic Gose, this northern German beer style is another that has enjoyed a renaissance of late among North American craft beer enthusiasts smitten with sour beers.

In a nod to the traditional practice of using a neutral ale yeast, Jack’s Abby of Framingham, MA, ferments its Berliner Weisse with a lager yeast after souring the mash. The results are an impressive rendition of what Napoleon once called “the Champagne of the north,” and what the ever-pragmatic Berliners dubbed simply “the workers’ sparkling wine.” Jack’s Abby combines aspects of both champagne and white wine with its bread dough-like yeasty character and its zesty green apple-lemon acidity. Aromatic tart-sour notes tend toward Asian pear and crisp peach that lend this light-bodied thirst quencher a steely mineral crispness. Meanwhile, a sherry-like nuttiness and a touch of clean, honeyed wheat holds the balance long enough for cinnamon-spiced apple to make an appearance in the dry finish. The one flaw that keeps this beer merely excellent? An all-too-ephemeral effervescence.

Take your Berliner Weisse straight up, or with a shot of syrup. Traditional choices are green or red: woodruff or raspberry.

One Tankard.Bild 11

What are some of your favourite wheat beers? What are your springtime go-to beers? Let us know in the comments.

Sources and Further Reading

For all things wheat in Germany, see the German Beer Institute’s entry on Weissbier, and on Berliner Weisse.

Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988) contextualizes the Weizenbier style within the broader sweep of German brewing, while his Great Beer Guide (New York: DK Publishing, 2000) focuses on particular brands.

On Blanche de Namur: http://www.bocq.be/english/ownbrands/blanche_namur.php

On the pros and cons of various souring methods, see Michael Tonsmeire’s informative American Sours: Innovative Techniques for Mixed Fermentations (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2014).

A brief write-up on the Shelton Bros. website, along with an entry on the Ortsteil der Gemeinde Schopau im Saalekreis, help disentangle the production history of Original Ritterguts Gose and its relationship to Döllnitz.

Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World (New York: Sterling Epicure, 2012) offers up a visually-pleasing panorama of regions, styles, and labels.

Related Tempest Articles

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.1)

Images

Vincent van Gogh, “Wheatfield at Auvers under Clouded Sky” (1890), Oil on Canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art Pittsburgh. Wiki Commons/Public Domain.

Freising and Vitus. http://weihenstephaner.de

Brasserie du Bocq and Blanche de Namur: www.bocq.be

Ayinger Bräuweisse: http://www.ayinger.de/?pid=262

Choc American Wheat: https://www.petes.org/

Leipzig: F.D. Hofer

Salts: F.D. Hofer

Original Ritterguts Gose: www.sheltonbrothers.com

Jack’s Abby Berliner Style Lager: http://jacksabbybrewing.com/beers/

Berliner Weisse in traditional glass with woodruff syrup: German Beer Institute.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

Recently my local homebrew club had its monthly meeting. Every month we try to bring beers that have been brewed to a particular style. The style on the agenda for March was BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Category 15 – German-style Wheat and Rye Beer. What follows is an expanded version of my short presentation to the club on this fascinating style, along with some tasting notes from a few nights later. A subsequent segment (click here) will introduce you to a few Weissbier brewing parameters in case you feel like whipping up a batch.

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WeizenGlass (www-ukhomideas-co-uk)The first thing that struck me on that evening in Saarbrücken about this beer they called Hefeweizen was the tall glass, slender at the bottom and fluted at the top. Then came the art of pouring, an elaborate ritual peculiar to German Weissbiers. Before I had even taken my first sip of this beer crowned by a majestic cap of foam, aromas of clove and banana seized my attention, suggesting that my sense of taste was about to be transformed. Several years have passed since that moment of conversion (which you can read about here), but German wheat beers have lost none of their charm.

Weizen? Weissbier? Weihen-what?

German wheat beers present the occasional terminological challenge for the uninitiated, especially since some of the terms are used interchangeably. Weissbier, Weizenbier, Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Weissbier Dunkel, Weizenbock, Doppel Weizenbock. What’s going on here? Throw in a few brand names like Weihenstephaner, and it’s no wonder that these beers can languish in the tap lines of North American bars till well past their prime.

Weissbier means, literally, white beer. Now, none of these beers are actually white (but nor are any white wines for that matter), with colours ranging from straw all the way to russet. The high levels of protein in wheat make for a hazy drink, as does the suspended yeast. This is one style where you really do need to pour that sediment into the glass – hence the ritual attending Weissbier presentation. The one exception is Kristall Weissbier, which (in my opinion) has much of its character filtered out. Weizenbier is the most straightforward, translation-wise. It means what it says: wheat beer. Hefe means yeast, and Weizen means wheat. Put the two together and you have a Hefeweizen. A Dunkelweizen is a darker version of a Weizen, but nomenclature takes a decidedly paradoxical turn with beers like Franziskaner’s Weissbier Dunkel: dark white beer. Rounding out the German wheat beer category are the luscious Weizenbocks (wheat bocks).

Southern German Weizenbiers are nothing if not unique. Northern Germans also evolved different interpretations of wheat beers, the most famous being the tart and sour Berliner Weisse. But these styles, including the recently-rediscovered Gose of Leipzig,Gose - Label merit a separate discussion. Over the years, Bavarian brewers developed a top-fermenting ale yeast that links the lightest Kristall with the weightiest Weizen Doppelbock. The yeast produces phenolic notes usually associated with clove, but occasionally reminiscent of nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon. Ester production is also high, imparting not only the typical banana aromatics associated with Weizenbiers, but also apple in some iterations. The interplay of scents can also come across as bubblegum. Unsurprisingly, the wheat itself leaves its stamp on the beer, with a peppery citrus acidity and a creamy fullness that manages to stay light and crisp on the palate. To me, nothing says spring or summer more than a Hefeweizen, but the spice and fruit flavours along with the periodic hint of vanilla and honeyed light brown sugar bespeak autumn and winter as well.

Wheat into Beer: The Vaguest Outlines of a History

If yeast expresses the spirit of a German Weizenbier, wheat anchors its corporeality. Malted wheat must comprise at least fifty percent of a Bavarian Weizenbier’s grist,Malted Wheat - Northern Brewer with the classic Munich proportion as high as seventy percent. Wheat has been used since Babylonian times to brew beer, but because of its lack of a husk in its malted form, it has posed many a challenge for brewers. What makes wheat excellent for baking bread tends to gum up brewing vessels, especially at the mash and lauter stage of the process. But that didn’t stop some brewers from refining their processes, and wheat beer eventually became a popular and profitable drink in 1400s Bavaria.

From here the story gets hopelessly muddled, and no online source or beer book in my possession paints a clear picture of how Weissbier fit in – or not – with the famous Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) of 1516 restricting brewers to the use of malted barley, hops, and water.Reinheitsgebot - Briefmark (Wiki-de) By all accounts, it appears that the Wittelsbach dynasty that controlled Bavaria managed to skirt the law of their own promulgation and maintain a Weissbier brewing monopoly at their Hofbräuhaus (Royal Court Brewery) in Munich. There’s much more to it, but I’ll refrain from venturing an interpretation based on a slim stack of sources. Instead, I’ll pick up the thread in the late 1870s with a promise to conduct some proper research into the subject at a future point in time.

In 1872, Georg Schneider (1817-1890), scion of what would become today’s Schneider brewing concern, used his position as lessee of the Hofbräuhaus since 1855 to negotiate an end to the royal prerogative on Weissbier brewing.Georg Schneider (brauerei.gesternheute.geschichte) schneider-weisse-de His purchase of the rights to brew wheat beer from King Ludwig II gave Weissbier a new lease on life, paving the way for Bavarian brewers to focus on rejuvenating a style that had lost ground to the novel and sparklingly clear styles then sweeping Bohemia and Bavaria. By the 1950s, Weissbier had again fallen into disfavour, seen by many as a drink of the pre-war generation. Production ebbed, but a younger cohort rediscovered the light and refreshing charms of this ancient beverage, and today Weissbier accounts for roughly thirty percent of all beer consumed in Bavaria.

Tasting Notes

If you’ve visited Germany, chances are you’re already well aware of the vast selection of excellent Weizenbiers available in tobacco shops and at newsstands, in supermarkets, and at hole-in-the-wall corner stores. Over on this side of the Atlantic, the selection is quite good, depending on where you live. Keep an eye on how much dust has accumulated on the bottle, though. Weizenbier is a somewhat underappreciated style, and that bottle you just picked up might have been sitting on the shelf for some time.

For this particular tasting, I got together with a few friends for blind flights of Hefeweizens, Dunkelweizens, and Weizenbocks available in our distribution area. Over the course of our epic session, we sampled seven Hefeweizens, three Dunkelweizens, and three Weizenbocks. Here are a few highlights.

Of the Hefeweizens, the two most compelling beers we tasted were the Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier and the Ayinger Bräu Weisse.Weihenstephaner Hefe (weihenstephaner-de) The Weihenstephaner was elegant and delicate, melding mild banana and apple-cinnamon with leather-like clove and vanilla-accented light brown sugar. On the palate, its peppery effervescence was met by rich honeyed malt and a touch of nuttiness before finishing crisp and spicy (nutmeg-clove). The Ayinger was the most complex of the Hefeweizens, with a panoply of aromas ranging from creamed ripe banana and apple to lemon curd and light milky caramel. The spices were subtle, more like a blend of baking spices that encompassed clove, cinnamon, and allspice. Creamy and mouthfilling yet still effervescent, the palate presented a harmonious mix of biscuit, vanilla-banana, and a touch of tingly pepper and hop spiciness. The refreshingly crisp finish left us wanting another before moving on to the subsequent flights.

We didn’t have a Weihenstephaner among the Dunkelweizens, but I’ve had it often enough to assume with a fair degree of confidence that it would have been among our top Dunkelweizens if tasted blind.Ayinger Ur-Weisse (ayinger-bier-de) The Ayinger Ur-Weisse Dunkel Weizen was by far the most impressive of the Dunkelweizens we did taste, and was the most malt-forward of all the Hefeweizens and Dunkelweizens we sampled – reminiscent, in many ways, of Ayinger’s profoundly malty Märzen. The luminescent orange-hued bronze beer exuded aromas of fresh bread, malted milk, cream, milk caramel, mild toast with honey, and even a hint of cherry before giving way to fresh-cut apple and banana and a subtle but beguiling “spice box” character. Smooth and unctuous, the Ur-Weisse isn’t as carbonation-prickly as some Weissbiers, but a subtle tangy acidity emerges to balance out the rich malted milk, dark cherry, marzipan, spiced banana, and caramel-light brown sugar sweetness. This is a beer suited less to summer and more to the changing of the seasons.

Also meriting attention in our Dunkelweizen flight was the Franziskaner Weissbier Dunkel, not so much because it was particularly stellar, but because at $1.86 for a 500mL bottle, it has to be one of the better beer deals out there. Its caramel-clove, brown sugar, banana bread, and grassy-peppery aromas build up to a piquant, wheat-spicy palate that reprises the mild banana and caramel notes. This is a solid beer that won’t disappoint your guests or break the bank – something to consider as the price of good beer creeps ever higher.

Aventinus (schneider-weisse-de)The Weizenbock segment of our tasting revealed to me what I already knew: Schneider’s Aventinus and Weihenstephaner’s Vitus remain two of my favourite beers. In this sense, the Weizenbock flight wasn’t as blind as it could have been: I can pick the Aventinus out a mile away, and the Vitus, which I’ve had more times than I can count, stood out from the other two russet-brown beers with its burnished honey-golden colour. But the tasting was eye-opening insofar as it reminded me (yet again) not to write off a brewery based on a few underwhelming products. Erdinger is one of those breweries whose Weissbier and Weissbier Dunkel I’ve had on a few occasions (including as part of our blind Hefeweizen and Dunkelweizen flights), but the beers typically fail to hold my interest. Their Weizenbock, Pikantus, is a different story. Rich and intense aromas of fig, honey, plum-prune, dark caramel, toasted toffee, and molasses, with a vibrant toasty caramel palate featuring dark bread, rum-raisins and hints of baking spice made for a pleasant surprise.

With that many beers on the table, there were bound to be a few duds, two of which were Widmer’s Hefeweizen (which, to be fair, seemed to have been improperly stored at the local bottle shop), and Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat. This is not to suggest that all North American attempts to brew a German-style Weissbier are doomed to fail. Live Oak’s Hefeweizen is a case in point. So, too, are some of the home-brewed examples I’ve tasted. On the weekend before our blind tasting, I participated in the first round of judging for the Bluebonnet Brew-Off homebrew competition in Dallas. One of the flights I evaluated was a flight of Hefeweizens. A goodly number of these home-brewed beers were of higher quality than the Widmer and Flying Dog offerings.

Now, if home-brewed versions of Hefeweizen are showing up some of the commercial examples brewed in North America, what’s stopping you from brewing your own batch of Weissbier? Find out how you can in my next segment, “So You Wanna Brew a Weizen.”

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Related Tempest Articles:

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Sources:

Garret Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003) contains an extended introduction to German wheat beers, along with a comprehensive food pairing suggestions.

Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988) contextualizes the Weizenbier style within the broader sweep of German brewing, while his Great Beer Guide (New York: DK Publishing, 2000) focuses on particular brands.

On the historical role of the Schneider family in Bavaria’s Weissbier production, see the Schneider website, which has an English-language option.

Of the English-language sources available on the web, the German Beer Institute’s “German Beer Primer” has a section on the Purity Law of 1516. Helpful as this section is, it doesn’t shed much light on the status of wheat and Weissbier.

Images:

Hefeweizen glasses: www.ukhomeideas.co.uk

Gose: www.beersinthehouse.blogspot.com

Malted wheat: www.northernbrewer.com

Reinheitsgebot postage stamp: www.wikipedia.de

Georg Schneider: www.schneider-weisse.de

Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen: www.weihenstephaner.de

Ayinger Ur-Weisse: www.ayinger-bier.de

Aventinus: www.schneider-weisse.de

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