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Wheat beers we have known.

For some consumers, wheat beer is an acquired taste. For others, it is a sublime summer nectar. For the beer vendor, the dialectic is immaterial--Americans are flocking to buy the wheaten brews.

In Portland, OR, the Widmer Brewing Co.'s hefeweiss (a wheat beer sedimented with yeast) has become a market leader. Numerous Midwestern microbreweries now produce wheat beer (Milwaukee's Sprecher Brewing Co., among others) and the Stroh Brewery Co. recently launched their Augsburger Weiss.

Wheat-based brews have long been popular in Europe, due to their light-bodied, thirst-quenching properties, and Americans are now discovering these virtues.

Several characteristics separate wheat beer from ordinary lager. For one thing, wheat beers use special top-fermenting yeasts. These yeasts can impart a variety of interesting flavors to the beer--making it spicy and tangy, sometimes with hints of clove.

Obviously, the beers also employ a proportion of wheat in the wort. This makes for a pale beer (the German name for wheat beer is "Weiss," meaning "White") with a distinct flavor.

We recently had opportunity to sample several European examples of the craft, including the beers produced by Weihenstephan (the Bayerische Staatsbrauerei in Weihenstephan, Germany). These beers are now imported by Bavaria House Corp., of Wilmington, NC.

Weihenstephan is billed as the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world. And, although beer writer Michael Jackson reports that the claim is hazily documented, it is known that a brewery was founded by the Benedictines on the site in 11th century; secularized during the 19th, and subsequently taken over by the state of Bavaria. A famous German brewing college is also located in Weihenstephan, and the two organizations enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

The Weihenstephan brewery is best known for its wheat beers. Based on our tastings, their repute is well-founded. The flagship of the line is Weihenstephan Weizenbier Crystal Clear--a clear golden wheat beer that is tart and fruity, with appleish notes in the finish. It is a crisp, refreshing beer that would be enjoyed by most consumers--even those who shy away from wheat brews. One of our tasters declared it "the best crystal weissbeer I've ever had."

Weihenstephan also produces a Bavarian-style Hefe-Weissbeer, a wheat brew bottled with its own yeast. When serving, the beer can be rolled briskly across the table-top to stir up the yeast, or decanted carefully to leave the yeast in the bottle. The former method is preferable, since the yeast is a great source of vitamin B complexes.

The Weihenstephan Hefe-Weizen is a cloudy brew, with hints of cloves and olives in the aroma. It is light-bodied, but yeasty and delicious. An excellent summer thirst-quencher.

We also sampled the Weihenstephan Dunkel Hefe-Weissbeer, a cloudy amber brew with a faint clove aroma. The beer is notable for its crisp, malty freshness and is very drinkable.

In the next column, we will review other beers, including the Edelweiss line of wheat beers, imported from Salzburg, Austria by Phoenix Imports of Ellicot City, Maryland.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Jul 12, 1993
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