#52Drinks52Weeks – Wheat Beer

THE BEGINNING

Beer has been around for over 6000 years. Mahabharata is said to have taken place after that. And imagine the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, came in even later. It was the rule then to drink 5 litres of beer per day as a part of your job. Not just there, beer was often used as a currency to pay salaries or trade with, and was an essential part of the diet, not just as a medicine or to gain nutritional values, but just to stay alive.

Well, Ancient Egyptian found in several Egyptian tombs illustrate two different grains. One is believed to be wheat. Now, did bread come first or beer, is an argument we won’t get in to. But we do know beer is after all a sort of a liquid bread. And, it was used for religious purposes too, see the Pharaohs or even the modern monks at churches and Abbeys across Europe. 

Wheat is one of the oldest cultivated grains in the world. But since wheat could be used as a primary food grain, brewers shifted their attention to barley which was in fact even better suited for their brew recipes. 

LET’S PLAY BY THE RULES

And there comes in The Rheinheitsgebot or the German Purity Law of 1516, was established to ensure that people didn’t use up the food grain for making beer and that brewing was key as basic and standardised as possible using only water, malt, yeasts and hops. Hops came in much later.

Then can it be said that probably this is what brought systematic agriculture in to our civilisation? Thanks to beer, or bread!! Food for thought…

Weizenbiers have been brewed for over 600 years. The first true weissebier brewery was built in the 15th century in Bavaria that reserved the exclusive rights to brew the style for decades.

It was in the 15th century in the Bavarian village of Schwarzach by the noble family, the Degenbergers. This exclusive privilege was then passed on to the Bavarian Dukes. In 1589, Bavarian Duke Maximillian I built the “Hofbräuhaus am Platzl” which to this day still occupies the location of the Ducal Weissbier brewery. 

It wasn’t a popular style then. 

That’s when George Schneider released the Weissbier rights to the public. By 1872, Weizenbiers could be brewed by anyone and production was no longer controlled by the royal government. 

DEFINING WHEAT BEER

Ideally they are about 30% wheat, and the rest is Malt. Wheat beers are brewed with or without hops depending on the variety and tend to lack bitterness, usually settling at 10-30 IBU. Inspite of the lightness of taste, all wheat beers are ales as they are made using top fermenting yeast. So what we’re saying is they are Ales, and not Lagers. And, aren’t completely wheat-based

It’s near impossible to have complete wheat beer, since they are high in protein that don’t let the yeast work well, thus needing addition of malted barley to provide sugars and enzymes to ferment. Even if you do make a 100% wheat based brew, you wouldn’t want to drink it. It’ll be gummy, sticky, and a mush. And what about the addition of oranges, coriander, and other such flavours in the beer?

GRUIT

Earlier, a mix of spices, herbs, citrus peels were used untill hops were found. They acted as a preservative and the secret mix added further style and character to the drink. Its style just stayed. And we guess people love that too. Ketan Sing from Brewbot + Navin from Gateway Brewery say wheat beers sell the most at their microbreweries and taprooms. BIRA91, White Rhino, Hopper, Arbour, GBC, Simba, even Kingfisher has one.

STYLES AND SERVICE

Wheat beers tend to be highly carbonated, so the pouring is key – slower the better. Flute styled glass is the best suited and the beer must be utterly chilled.

Witbier – is Flemish for “white beer”. Belgian-style witbier is a variety of beer all its own. The pale beer is brewed using unmalted wheat and is spiced with coriander and orange peel, something that was used traditionally to preserve beer before hops were discovered. It’s refreshing with subtle spicy notes. It is most often cloudy as it come with yeast suspended in the bottle so yes, witbiers are very often bottle conditioned meaning there may be some fermentation even after bottling. 

Hefeweizen – “Hefe” is the German word for yeast. Banana + cloves are commonly found in the beer. It’s low on bitterness (say 15 IBU) and high on the fizz, something that helps offset the malt-induced sweetness.

Then there is the Dunkel which is a dark wheat beer made using highly kilned grains. And also the Weizenbock which is a strong wheat beer. Others like Goes and lambic also use significant proportion of wheat but aren’t necessarily classified as wheat beers.

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