Style Profile: Weizen

posted Oct 2, 2012, 11:11 AM by Richard Bryant

by: Richard Bryant

The first wheat beers I brewed turned out way too bitter and with a pronounced banana with very little in the way of clove and other spice character generally associated with Bavarian Style Weizen. They tasted like banana bubble gum with hop bitterness. I gave up brewing this style since I really didn’t like drinking it anyway. I complained that they all tasted “funky” like something was spoiled.

My weizen was harsh. My dunkleweizen was dark and on banana overload. I gave up for a time.

As my palate became more used to the wide variety of flavors and aromas offered by craft beer, I began to have a new appreciation for a well brewed weizen. Often beer drinkers will find versions claiming to be this style labeled as Hefeweizen , weizen, or weissbier. The terms are generally interchangeable. Wiessbier (white beer) is common in Bavaria, and weizenbier (wheat beer) is typical of the rest of Germany. I am still not certain about Hefeweizen, but I suspect it to be an Americanism. In any case, good examples will share some characteristics.

The aroma of a weizen will have moderate to strong phenols, usually perceived as clove, and fruity esters, usually banana. These characteristics are reasonably balanced. In other words, the beer will not smell like a ship hold returning from India on a spice run, but the aroma will be prominent. There may be a very slight noble hop aroma and a bit of wheat. DMS and diacetyl are flaws. Citrus, vanilla, or low bubble gum may also be present.

Weizen is pale straw to very dark gold with a very thick mousy long–lasting white head. Most examples are somewhat hazy from the high protein content. There are filtered versions which are clear.

There should be a low to moderately strong flavor of clove and banana.  Light vanilla and bubble gum may be there as well. There should be a light bready or grainy flavor of wheat and a slight sweetness from pilsner malt. Weizens often have a tart citrus character from yeast and high carbonation and a relatively dry finish. Again, diacetyl and DMS are not acceptable here.

A medium-light to medium body is proper. Suspended yeast may add to body. The beer should seem fluffy and somewhat creamy. Weizen should always be effervescent.
Overall this is a “pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing” beer. If you are like I used to be and consider yourself a Hefe hater, I encourage you to experiment more brewing them and tasting a wide range of commercial examples.

As I became more interested in brewing this style, I began reading about it. I learned about the German decoction mash and how this was supposed to lend richness to the beer. Brewers told me it made no difference, so I dismissed it. However, it kept coming up in my reading. Jamil tells us that the key is fermenting at 62 degrees F, but even using this temperature, mine were not quite what I was looking for. Authors were saying the lower mash temperatures at the beginning and end of a triple decoction were essential to unlock the precursors to that nice clove character. Since I was not at all interested in spending three hours stirring and remixing a boiling mash, I decided to improvise. Instead of a traditional triple decoction, I used a triple infusion. I used beer smith’s infusion tool to calculate volumes of boiling water to use at each step of the mash. Using the recipe that follows, this works by starting the mash low at 120 F, adding water after 50 minutes to raise the temperature to 140 F, then waiting another 20 minutes and adding water to raise to 150 F. It made for a pretty long brew day, but it also made a large difference, especially in the clove character in the final product.