Weizenbier or Hefeweizen, in the southern parts of Bavaria usually called Weissbier (literally “white beer”, but the name is believed to come from Weizenbier (“wheat beer”), which is how it is still called in some regions), is a Bavarian beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. By German law, weissbiers brewed in Germany must be top-fermented. Specialized strains of yeast are used which produce overtones of banana and clove as by-products of fermentation. Weissbier is so called because it was, at the time of its inception, paler in color than Munich brown beer. It is well known throughout Germany, though better known as weizen (“wheat”) outside Bavaria. The terms Hefeweizen (“yeast wheat”) or Hefeweissbier refer to wheat beer in its traditional, unfiltered form. The term Kristallweizen (crystal wheat), or kristall weiss (crystal white beer), refers to a wheat beer that is filtered to remove the yeast from suspension. Additionally, the filtration process removes wheat proteins present in the beer which contribute to its cloudy appearance.
The Hefeweizen style is particularly noted for its low hop bitterness (about 15 IBUs) and relatively high carbonation (approaching four volumes), considered important to balance the beer’s relatively malty sweetness. Another balancing flavor note unique to Hefeweizen beer is its phenolic character; its signature phenol is 4-vinyl guaiacol, a metabolite of ferulic acid, the result of fermentation by top-fermenting yeast appropriate for the style. Hefeweizen’s phenolic character has been described as “clove” and “medicinal” (“Band-aid”) but also smoky. Other more typical but less assertive flavour notes produced by Weissbier yeast include “banana” (amyl acetate), “bubble gum”, and sometimes “vanilla” (vanillin).
Weissbier is available in a number of other forms including Dunkelweizen (dark wheat) and Weizenstarkbier (strong wheat beer), commonly referred to as Weizenbock. The dark wheat varieties are made with darker, more highly kilned malts (both wheat and barley). The Weizenbocks typically have a much higher alcohol content than their lighter cousins.
The three major brands in Germany are Erdinger, Paulaner and Franziskaner. Other renowned brands are Weihenstephaner, Schneider, Maisel and Andechser. Regional brands in Bavaria are Hopf, Unertl, Ayinger, Schweiger and Plank. The style is currently consumed throughout Germany, but is especially popular in Bavaria.
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