Culture: 7 Wheat Beers You Need This Summer
On those summer days when the sun is high in the sky and unleashing its brutal heat, there is one style of beer that delivers refreshment. No, it’s not the American light lager. It’s the American wheat beer.
Often hazy with a modest alcohol-by-volume (abv), these brews are known for having a citrusy, zesty profile, a touch of acidity, soft mouthfeel and being easy to drink. They are delightful summer gulpers, certainly with more character than the lagers often associated with post-yard work consumption.
Because of American wheat beer’s refreshing nature, many brewers embrace the drink’s warm weather appeal with a seasonal release. For instance, Bell’s Oberon has become a summer staple and a best seller for the brewery, which throws an annual party to celebrate its debut. But of course, other breweries offer their wheat beers all year.
However, no matter when it’s released, wheat beers are known for being “approachable, drinkable, balanced and perfect for the entry-level craft beer drinker,” says Brendan McGivney, chief operating officer of Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado, which introduced its Easy Street Wheat in 1991.
“It’s withstood the test of time in terms of its appeal to a broader customer base,” McGivney says. “There is only so far a lager can go, and not everyone wants an IPA or a stout, but for easy drinking, it’s a little more intense on the flavor spectrum.”
Here’s everything to know about this expansive style of beer.
What Is Wheat Beer?
Wheat beer is an ale or lager that has a substantial amount of wheat in the grain bill. This allows the flavor and character of the malted wheat to be noticeable on the palate.
There are several styles that fall under the wheat beer umbrella. Two of the best-known examples are hefeweizen and witbier. The former is of German origin and best known for its phenolic yeast character, which imparts aromas and flavors of clove and banana. The latter is a Belgian-style brew often spiced with dried orange peel and coriander.
Then there’s the American wheat beer. These beers don’t use yeast or other ingredients that impart fruity or spicy aromas and flavors. Instead, they let the wheat’s flavor shine through, imparting a hint of citric acidity that contributes to this style’s signature citrus flavor. The base ingredients are largely dictated by the brewer’s interpretation of the style. However, they can use either Old and New World hops, a variety of yeast strains and even other base malts beyond wheat.
Other wheat beer styles include wheatwine, weizenbock, witbier and lichtenheiner and Berliner weisse.
Wheat Beers Get the “IPA Treatment”
Brewers all over are pushing the category’s boundaries. For instance, Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. in Helena, Montana, won bronze at the World Beer Cup this year for its wheat beer with Miner’s Gold Hefeweizen. Owner and brewer Max Pigman says that it’s a top seller, so much so that he’s begun adding fruit to it to even further broaden its appeal. Case in point, the operation’s Halo Huckleberry Hefeweizen, which is Miner’s Gold infused with sweet-tart huckleberries. Pigman sees the practice of adding fruit to wheat beer as a way to grow the category.
“It is interesting how the wheat beer category is definitely getting the IPA treatment. You had brewers doing the same thing with IPAs, adding pineapple and citrus,” says Pigman. “The category grew, and we’re definitely seeing that with wheat as well.”
IPA remains the top selling category in craft beer, but McGivney says that wheat ales, especially unfiltered and easy drinking ones, can have broader appeal for drinkers who want refreshment without a huge dose of hops.
“Everybody’s used to seeing a cloudy beer in their glass these days, but maybe not everybody wants that hop character,” says McGivney. “A wheat beer has more flavor than just an empty light macro lager. It has just the right amount of balance and refreshment that folks are looking for.”
Stephens echoes this sentiment, adding, “There’s lots of room to be creative.”
Without further ado, here are some of the best wheat beers—across a spectrum of styles—to drink right now.
Our Favorite Wheat Beers Right Now
Is Blue Moon Wheat Beer?
Yes, Blue Moon is a wheat beer. It’s produced by Molson Coors in the United States and is based on a Belgian-style wheat beer.
What Is Wheat Beer’s Average Alcohol Content?
It varies by style, but most of the common commercial examples are in the 5% to 7% abv range.
Is There Wheat in Beer?
Yes! Unless you find a gluten-free beer, most likely your brew is going to contain rye or some other type of wheat.
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