Nice to Wheat You!
Around 12,000 years ago, as the earth emerged from its last great ice age, humans began to abandon their nomadic way of living, and establish permanent settlements in plentiful regions—along the Nile River Valley, between the Tigris and Euphrates, around the Mediterranean Sea, etc.
The impetus for this massive transition toward civilization was, primarily, the cultivation of wheat.
Upon learning how to process and harvest this life-giving grain, farmers quickly discovered that wheat could also be used to brew a sweet, alcoholic beverage. Hence, the first primitive beers were born.
The word “wheat” comes from an ancient root word meaning “that which is white”. Witbier (Belgian) and Weissbier (German) both mean “white beer”.
Although barley eventually became the brewer’s grain of choice, wheat remained in use as a secondary grain in many brewing traditions, perhaps most notably in Bavaria, where wheat beers have been brewed since the Bronze Age.
In the Middle Ages, Bavaria suffered from multiple failures of its wheat crop. It was therefore restricted, on multiple occasions, for exclusive use in bread-making. In Munich, in 1447, authorities went so far as to completely outlaw brewing with wheat. In 1487, the Duke of Bavaria introduced the Reinheitsgebot as the law-of-the-land—a purity law that would restrict the ingredients of beer to water, malted barley, pure water, and hops (yeast had not yet been discovered). In 1516, this law was extended throughout Bavaria, and remained in effect for centuries. In 1988, the law was lifted, but only as it applied to imported beer. Beer brewed in Germany was still heavily restricted. In 1993, the stipulations of the law were expanded. German-brewed lagers—bottom fermenting beers—are still required to obey the strict regulations of the Reinheitsgebot, but now ales—top fermenting beers—are allowed to utilize a broader range of malted grain.
For this six-pack, we will start off with a classic representation of a Bavarian wheat beer.
The Paulaner brewery began as the Neudeck ob der Au Monastery. 16th century monks were brewing a thick, hearty beer to sustain them during months of fasting—Salvator, the original Doppelbock.
By the end of the 18th Century, Paulaner brewers were producing four times the amount of beer of anyone else in Bavaria.
In 1799, the brewery was transferred to the state, and was secularized. From there, it grew exponentially. With the Industrial Revolution came the invention of ice machines and refrigeration methods. Paulaner was one of the first breweries to utilize this new technology to produce a consistent, year-round product. Below is a photograph of the Paulaner ice machine, which remains at the brewery to this day.
The Paulaner Hefe-Weizen is a classic example of the style. Hefeweizen means, literally, “yeast wheat”. It is traditionally unfiltered, leaving yeast suspended in the beer and giving the style its token golden haze. High amounts of protein in wheat beers give them spectacular head-retention, hence those dense, white clouds that topple over the edges of the glass when freshly poured. Most wheat beers—and certainly Hefeweizens—are traditionally served in a weizen glass, which helps to accentuate this quality.
Blanche de Bruxelles
The Lefebvre Brewery, located in the Walloon region of Belgium, famous for its Saisons, has been in operation since 1876, and is currently in its 6th generation of Lefebvre family brewers.
Blanche de Bruxelle—literally, Brussels White—was introduced in 1989. Its label features a depiction of the iconic “Mannneken Pis” statue in Brussels.
Blanche de Bruxelle is brewed using 40% wheat, and in the Witbier tradition, coriander and orange peel are added to the boil to enhance the natural spiciness of the yeast.
Once the most popular beer style east of Brussels, after WWII, the brewing of Witbiers trickled to a dwindling handful of breweries, until only one brewery remained that still produced them.
Pierre Celis, a milkman and homebrewer, is essentially single-handedly responsible for revitalizing the style. He opened the Celis Brewery in Belgium in 1966, and brewed Wits in the tradition of Hoegarten, once the second-most-popular brewery in Belgium.
In 1980, his brewery burned down, and he re-located to Texas, starting Celis Brewery in Hill Country with his daughter Christine, and the two brought the wheat beer brewing tradition to the United States, where it rapidly gained popularity.
G. Schneider & Sohn
In the 1800s, the right to brew wheat beer was a luxury only afforded the breweries of the Bavarian royal family. In 1872, King Ludwig II discontinued the brewing of wheat beer in his breweries, and sold the exclusive right to brew them to Georg I Schneider. The Schneider brewery is now in its seventh generation of family brewmasters, and today it is the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.
Aventinus, called a “Wheat Doppelbock” by the brewery, is a strong, dark wheat beer. One might also call it an Imperial Weizenbock. When Gorg Schneider III passed away at the age of 35, his wife Mathilde assumed ownership of the brewery. In 1907, Mathilde crafted the Aventinus, and her original recipe remains unaltered to this day. Its malt base is 50% wheat, with Hallertauer and Magnum hops. It is the oldest commercial Bavarian Weizenbock.
Professor Fritz Briem 1809
Berliner Weisse beers were first brewed, you guessed it, in Berlin. Though its precise origins are unclear, this tart wheat beer has been brewed since at least the 1600s. It is commonly thought to be an adaptation of a brown Bohemian Wheat Beer. In modern examples, wheat comprises 20-30% of the grain bill, though in more ancient times, it is thought to have been much higher.
In addition to yeast, Berliner Weisse beers use lactic acid bacteria called Lactobacillus to create their token refreshing tartness. Traditionally, they were enjoyed “mit Schuss”—with a splash of woodruff or raspberry syrup—to mitigate the sourness.
Once the most popular beverage in Berlin, Berliner Weisse beers are protected by the appellation d’origine contrôllée, meaning that, to call itself a true Berliner Weisse, it must be brewed in Berlin. Dr. Fritz has a PhD from Weihenstephan, and specializes in brewing old styles according to tradition. It is difficult to find a better example of the style in the US. It is named 1809 after the year in which Napoleon famously dubbed this style “the champagne of the North”.
The centuries-old tradition of brewing Gose beers began in the town of Goslar, 100 miles west of Leipzig, which gets its name from the River Gose that runs through it. The river was famous for its large salt crystals, and it is believed that this tart and salty wheat beer was originally brewed from this naturally briny water. In modern Gose beers, salt is added to achieve this same quality.
Traditional Goses are often composed of up to 50% wheat. Lactobacillus is also used in brewing for tartness. Coriander is usually added as well.
In the old days, Goses underwent secondary fermentation in squat bottles with long, cylindrical necks, stopped with a plug of yeast, which rose to the top as the beer carbonated.
Leipzig became the largest market for Gose beers in the 18th Century, at the height of their popularity, but by the 20thCentury, the style was all-but-extinct.
Recently, the tradition of Gose brewing has been revived. The Bayerischer Gose is brewed in Leipzig itself, with the addition of coriander.
Blood & Honey
American Wheat Beer
When the Celis Brewery introduced wheat beers to America, they caught on like wildfire. Like most styles brought from Europe to the States, American Wheat Beers tend to be slightly hoppier and more effervescent than their European counterparts, with a less pronounced yeast character, and they often contain non-traditional adjuncts.
In the case of Blood & Honey, the addition of blood orange zest and locally sourced Fall Creek Farms honey, combined with more traditional spices like coriander, give this beer its unique spiciness. Instead of imparting sweetness, the honey ferments out of the beer, leaving behind a soft floral character, a fairly high alcohol content for the style, and increased carbonation.
Revolver is a family-owned brewery, founded by father-and-son team Rhett and Ron Keisler. Their head brewer is Certified Cicerone Grant Wood.