"Wheat beer, s’il vous plait."
- English cricketer Graham Gooch in France tries out his schoolboy French in Reims. He was served eight beers. (1997)
Brewers have been using wheat to help make beer for hundreds of years. By replacing a percentage of the usual barley malt with wheat, brewers can impart a certain creaminess and spiciness to a beer as well as boosting head retention. There are a huge variety of wheat beers styles though the Belgian witbier style and German weissbier style are probably the most popular.
At a recent local beer tasting, the participants ranked the following three wheat beers as the best they tasted that night.
In third place by a very narrow margin was Emerson’s Weiss (5%). Brewed by the cheeky Richard Emerson in Dunedin, this is a relatively traditional interpretation of the German weiss beer style made using Bavarian yeast.
Appropriately cloudy (because the yeast is left in the beer), this beer throws a sweet bready aroma with touches of banana and sherbet. Medium bodied, it has the traditional weiss bier characteristics of banana and bubblegum, though the clove note only tends to come with age. A tart finish completes a fine wheat beer.
Hailing from the aromatic metropolis of Rotorua, Croucher's “The Hef” (5%) came in second at the tasting. Like the Emerson’s beer, “The Hef” is a hefeweizen – a German style literally translated as yeast in wheat beer. Brewed by reformed academic Dr Paul Croucher, “The Hef” is not just a suggestively cool name.
It is actually a more than decent wheat beer with plenty of banana, clove and vanilla notes in the glass. I even pick up a hint of ginger from time to time. It’s creamy enough for the brewer to semi-plausibly claim it evokes images of a beer milkshake, but there is no arguing with his conclusion that “The Hef” is “disturbingly refreshing.”
Continuing his winning ways at these beer tasting is another academic who got a real job – Dr Ralph Bungard. His Three Boys Wheat (5%) topped the poll for this session. Despite the pressures of moving into a new brewery, the good doctor has continued to produce his distinctive wheat beer.
The traditional Belgian witbier uses Curacao orange peel and coriander to produce a quenching beverage. In a novel twist, Ralph has replaced the orange peel with lemon zest. This has the advantage of giving the beer a citric zip -- and the disadvantage of requiring him to zest fifty lemons at five a.m. in the cold depths of Christchurch.
Three Boys Wheat is rich golden beer with swirls of yeast evident in the glass. The nose is a combination of sharp lemon and gentle coriander with a faint impression of yeast. Gently bubbled, this beer has a comforting blend of citrus and spice in the glass before a refreshing sour snap at the finish. This wheat beer stands out.
When I run tastings and tours, wheat beers are always hugely popular. Surprisingly however, the only mainstream brewery in New Zealand doing a wheat beer is Mac’s, with their Great White. Wheat beers, I suspect, will soon be a growth category of beer in this country particularly given their appeal to non-traditional beer drinkers who do not like much bitterness in their beer.
PS: Now – be honest. Did you really understand why the Graham Gooch quote at the top was so funny?