When researching how to brew a wheat beer many people quickly become confused thinking they are brewing a German Weissbier or Hefeweizen; which is not the case. An American wheat beer is actually a completely different style of beer.
In this post I am going to walk you step by step how to brew this delicious beer. I will explain the characteristics of the style, what ingredients you need to use to homebrew it and lastly I will provide you with an all grain Wheat Beer recipe you can use to brew one up for yourself.
Short History Lesson
Most people would consider the American Wheat beer to be closely related and a direct descendant of German Wheat beers. Perhaps there is some truth to this but not a lot. Sometime in the 1980’s Anchor Brewing company was allegedly the first to brew an American Wheat Beer and he did give tribute to the German Hefeweizen.
However, the truth is that the American Wheat beer, believe it or not, is closer in style to an American Pale Ale. Take your favorite Pale Ale recipe, cut the base grain in half and replace that half with Wheat Malt and you have an American Wheat beer on your hands.
German Wheat beers have more clover and banana features to them which comes from the yeast used to brew them. They also do not have much hop bitterness or flavor like their American counterparts. The only similarity between the German and the American styles is the wheat used in the brewing process.
How it Should Look (Appearance)
In most cases it is very light in color having a straw or light amber colored appearance with a white head. It is also typically cloudy or hazy (call it opaque) due to the wheat used in brewing.
There are some versions that are more clear due to either filtering or a focus on using beer clarifying techniques.
What it’s Mouthfeel Should Be Like
Depending on how much carbonation is used it can have a lighter or heavy mouthfeel. Typically, it is more medium. The body can vary significantly between different recipes with this style of beer. The yeast used will also have a direct impact. Many people find wheat beers have a slight creamy feel to them as well.
What it Should Smell Like (Aroma)
The aroma has more of a citrus, spice or floral smell to it as compared to their German counterparts, this is as a result of the American hops used in the brewing process.
You may also catch a dough or grain like aroma.
How Does it Taste (Flavor)
Because wheat makes up a large percentage of the grain bill the flavor is going to have somewhat of a flour like taste to it. Some might describe it as a dough-like flavor.
Since it is an American beer in many cases you will notice the tastes from the hops used in the brewing process; expect to be able to detect a citrus taste in many versions or recipes that you try or brew. In most cases the bitterness from the hops will be moderate.
Ingredients Used to Brew a Wheat Beer
As you will see in this section when it comes to ingredients used to brew a Wheat Beer as previously alluded to you could simply take your favorite pale ale recipe and replace 50% of the base grain with Wheat Malt and you would have a Wheat Beer. So the ingredients used will really depend on your own preferences.
Grains to Use
So it goes without saying that clearly wheat is going to be used. How much is kind of up to you. The range used is anywhere from 30% – 80%. Having said that, I would recommend not going past 50%.
The remaining portion of your base grains will be a pale malt such as 2 Row or even Marris Otter if you want more of a bread or doughy taste.
Choosing which specialty grains to use is where you will really be able to create your own unique version of this beer. Typically, specialty grains makeup under 20% of the grain bill. If you are going to use a caramel malt make sure it is lighter, many brewers will add carapils and even honey malt is used.
If you are looking to brew a darker wheat beer you could use Munich or Vienna. On top of making the beer a darker color (somewhat reddish actually) it will also give the beer more of a malty flavor.
One of the challenges of brewing with wheat malt is the dreaded stuck sparge, this is because wheat does not have a husk. Husks help prevent this problem. So to alleviate this problem some brewers will add about ½ lb of rice hulls to the grain bill (in a 5 gallon batch).
Hops to Use
Once again the choice is 100% yours to make. Whatever style of hops you really enjoy, feel free to use them when making a wheat beer. Just aim to keep your IBUs within the 20 – 40 range.
If you like American Hops many wheat beers have been made using Cascade as well as Liberty and Amarillo. But any of the C hops would be good also (Centennial, Citra, Chinook, Columbus).
If you want to try to brew a wheat beer more in line with the German varieties you could always use German hops such as Hallertauer, Perle, or Tettnanger.
Yeast to Use
As you have seen this is a very versatile beer. For yeast, you can use pretty much any yeast, you like. Most brewers would stick with an American Ale yeast, but even a lager yeast can be used.
Wyeast and White Labs both produce wheat strains. Some people even recommend using a Kolsch yeast. I tend to stick with my trusty Safale US-05 which does a great job as well.
It is always fun to see how much the yeast can affect the taste and even the look of your beer. Brew a batch with one yeast and next time around try a different yeast. Over time, you will find the yeast that you prefer for this style of beer.
All Grain Wheat Beer Recipe
Finally the time has come to get to the good part of actually brewing a Wheat Beer. This recipe is a very straightforward and simple recipe that makes a very nice and refreshing, somewhat hop forward wheat beer.
You will see the IBUs come in at 57, which is quite high for this style of beer, however I enjoy it. If you want to bring the IBUs down some simply cut the first hop addition in half and it will bring the IBUs down to around 35.
Let’s get to the recipe…
Target OG: 1.046
Target FG: 1.009
Pre Boil Volume: 6.5 gallons
Fermenter Volume: 5.25 gallons
Brew House Efficiency: 70%
- 5 lbs 2-Row
- 4 lbs Wheat Malt
- 1 oz Centennial (60 min)
- 1 oz Centennial (5 min)
- 1 oz Cascade (5 min)
As indicated I stick with my old go to yeast Safale US-05. However, you can use any of the yeasts mentioned in the Yeast section above. Or any other yeast for that matter, this is homebrewing so mix it up and see how it turns out.
Mash for 60 minutes at 153 Degrees Fahrenheit
Boil for 60 minutes
Add 1 oz Centennial hops at start of boil (60 min mark)
Add 1 oz Centennial hops at the 5-min mark
Add 1 oz of Cascade hops at the 5-min mark.
Chill wort, pour into the fermenter, add yeast, let ferment, when fermentation is done if you want a clear beer then cold crash the beer and then move to bottling or kegging.
Ingredients & Brewing Equipment
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On that same note the all grain wheat beer recipe is obviously an all grain homebrew. As such you will require all grain brewing equipment.
I brew on what is called an all-in-one brewing system. It is by far my favorite way to make beer from home because it makes delicious beer, the equipment costs a fraction of the price of other systems, it is easy to use and clean up is a breeze.
You can learn about the all-in-one brewing systems here.
If you need any help with any of the steps involved in making this wheat beer I have put together a list of free “how to” guides” you can check out here: How to brewing guides.
There you have it my friend, you now know exactly how to brew a wheat beer. Give that recipe a try and be sure to let me know how it turns out for you.
If you have any questions on what I covered here or you got any value from this post let me know in the comment section at the bottom of this post.
Now go get yer brew awwnn…
Big Robb is out!