What is a Hefeweizen?

A Hefeweizen is a style of German wheat beer considered to be a weiss beer or weissbier which simply means “white beer” in German. Hefe means “yeast” and weizen means “wheat”; together they translate to “yeast wheat” which simply means a Hefeweizen beer is an unfiltered wheat beer with the yeast remaining in suspension providing its distinguishable cloudy or hazy appearance.

A Hefeweizen or sometimes referred to as a Hefe is brewed using at least 50% wheat malt, its color can range from a lighter straw-like color to a deeper amber. Its flavor and aroma are greatly impacted by the strain of yeast used which provides for its banana and clove-like fruity and spicy characteristics which are required to be present in order to be considered a true German Hefeweizen.

Most styles of this beer will have a mild alcohol level. The hop flavor and bitterness are low to nonexistent as small amounts of hops are used in the brewing process in order to ensure the unique flavors of this beer are maintained. The malt sweetness is also low due to the large percentage of wheat used. The carbonation level is high with typically fast-rising bubbles being present and the white head on this beer is medium to large.

The History of Hefeweizen 
a Hefeweizen beer next to some wheat with the words what is a hefeweizen written on top of the wheat.
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First originating in the 1520s in Bavaria, Germany; hefeweizen has a long and storied background with many twists and turns along the way. An interesting fact is due to the Purity laws in Germany and Bavaria at the time this style of beer almost never came to be.

The Purity Law was put into act in 1487 in Germany and 1516 in Bavaria. It stated that the only ingredients permitted to be used when brewing beer were barley, hops, and water; as a result wheat was not permitted.

The Purity Law was intended to be similar to modern-day food safety laws. It prevented unscrupulous beer makers at the time from using unsavory and unsafe ingredients when brewing beer. It was also seen as a way to reduce competition from foreign beer companies, if their beer did not meet the criteria of this law they were not permitted to be imported and sold in Germany and Bavaria at the time.

The problem with this law was that it resulted in the overall quality of the beer brewed in the area to be low. Eventually, some brewers rebelled and went outside of the law and began making beer that included other ingredients, one such ingredient was malted wheat. Which resulted in the birth of the Weissbier.

Luckily for these brewers and modern-day fans of wheat beers, the rulers of Bavaria at the time came to love this new style of beer and allowed one brewer to make it. This brewery operated by the Dukes of Degenberg was the sole brewer of hefeweizens and weizenbier up until 1602 when more brewers in Bavaria were permitted to start brewing it.

The law was eventually amended so that more and more breweries could produce it. However, this right was only granted to royals and no commoner was permitted to brew it until 1872 when Georg 1 Schneider founded the Schneider Brewery and was given Weissbierregal or “the right to brew wheat beer”.

Although wheat beers in general have had ups and downs in popularity over the years, the craft beer movement of recent years has greatly increased the popularity of this beer to what it is today.

Difference Between Hefeweizen & Other Wheat Beers

The four most popular German Weissbiers are:

  • Kristallweizen
  • Dunkelweizen
  • Weizenbock
  • and Hefeweizen

And of course, there are the American wheat beers

The following are the differences between these wheat beers and a Hefeweizen:

Kristallweizen – It does not require expertise in the German language to be able to quickly determine that Kristallweizen means crystal clear beer. Its translation is actually “clear wheat”, and it is basically just a Hefeweizen that has been run through a filtering process to get rid of the cloudy and hazy appearance. The taste is also slightly altered when a beer is filtered, as a result, a Kristallweizen’s banana taste is not as prominent, and it has a lighter and crisper taste.

Dunkelweizen – Whereas the Kristallweizen is lighter, a Dunkelweizen is much darker as it is made using dark malts which results in it having sweeter and more chocolate-like characteristics. You could say it is part German-style Dunkel and Hefeweizen. It does maintain some of its banana and clove-like characteristics but will tend to have more bready or biscuit-like characteristics due to the darker malts.

Weizenbock – This style of wheat beer combines many of the characteristics of a Doppelbock and a Hefeweizen. It would be considered a strong winter beer as it is typically a sweeter malty-tasting beer that has a larger alcohol content. Taste-wise it has a bready flavor with hints of grapes, raisins, and plums. It is also not a bitter beer and has high carbonation. You will continue to be able to pick out the banana and clove-like aromas in this beer.

American Wheat Beers – Like many of the beers in America this style was brought here by German immigrants. However, like many styles that immigrated here, they have been modified to have an American Influence due to the availability of different ingredients as well as the creative flair of the brewers.

One of the major differences with these styles of beers is that like most American styles they have a noticeable hop character. The other is the use of American yeast strains which ferment much cleaner and do not provide the same banana and clove like characteristics. Its appearance depends on the brewers preference, some are clear while others can be cloudy.

Best Practices for Drinking a Hefeweizen

This style of beer is best served fresh, this is due to the fact that as a beer ages or conditions the yeast will drop out of suspension and sink to the bottom; which not only results in the beer becoming clear but it also alters its flavor and mouthfeel. In fact, when you purchase a can or a bottle it is recommended that you give it a swirl prior to pouring it into your glass in order to put any of the yeast that has dropped to the bottom back into suspension.

It should also be served cold and in a Weizenbier glass. Which is a tall glass that has a narrow base, and flares out wider towards the middle and again towards the top. This allows for the carbonation and white head to form perfectly. If you do not have a Weizenbier glass a tall skinny shaped glass will suffice.

In America, you will find that most Hefeweizen are served with a lemon or orange wedge on the rim of the glass. This is not typically practiced elsewhere as it is not how these beers were traditionally served due to the citrus altering the taste and head formation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does hefeweizen beer taste like?

A traditional hefe is slightly sweet in taste with fruity notes of banana and also clove. Some may even have a slight vanilla or bubble gum taste. Being a wheat beer it is a heavier beer than some with a fuller mouthfeel and a higher carbonation level.

What is a good hefeweizen beer?

There are many versions of this style of beer on the market. Depending on your beer tasting preferences will determine which you would consider good. Our recommendations are to sample different versions from many breweries. Here is a list of 59 of them to get you started.

Is Hefeweizen a heavy beer?

Although it is light in color it would be considered more of a heavy beer due to the wheat malt that is used in the brewing process. However it is not dark and overly malt heavy, but rather has more of a fuller mouthfeel and carbonation level, and is considered refreshing by many.

Is Hefeweizen a summer beer?

Yes due to its smooth flavor and easy drinkability as well as its light appearance it is considered by many to be a summer beer as most wheat beers are.

There you have it you now should have a good understanding of this style of beer and how it should be enjoyed, if you want to brew your own you can try our Hefeweizen recipe if you like.

Let us know in the comment section if you have ever tried one before, what you thought of it and what your favorite brand is?

Big Robb with a pint of home brewed beer
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Cheers, Big Robb is Out!

P.S. If you brew your own beer, be sure to take advantage of receiving the recipes for my top 5 best-selling beers from my brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on a smart device. Enjoy!

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