by Andy Crouch
MOTHER NATURE blessed Massachusetts and the Northeast with a relatively mild winter following one that few would forget. We avoided SUV sized drifts, endless yards of hard packed white snow and seemingly never-ending weeks of brutal cold. Having endured even a relatively favorable winter, minds and hearts turn to thoughts of warmer days.
Seasonal beer drinking remains one of life’s great, simple pleasures. The turning of each calendar month previews a new set of beer styles and flavors to enjoy. Perhaps no other season is so welcomed than that of summer. With its glowing golden-orange hued hefeweizens served in tall, curving glassware, the summer drinking season is one of the most anticipated in the beer world. Let’s take a look at six classic German hefeweizens, just in time for summer drinking.
A classic in the pantheon of great summer beer drinking, hefeweizen often gets overlooked in favor of the hotter new sour styles, including the recently re-popularized Berliner weiss and gose varietals. Hefeweizens should rule warmer months and almost scream to be enjoyed outside. Produced with a substantial portion of wheat malt, hefeweizens boast a true lightness of body without giving up any flavor or character. The classic aroma for the style remains a brilliant melange of banana, bubble gum and spicy clove phenols, dry wheat hints, and a distant and balancing tartness.
The flavors generally mimic the aroma, often with slightly more subtle notes. Once boasting very low hop levels and little bitterness, some American takes on the style now promote a slightly hoppier experience.
WEIHENSTEPHANER HEFEWEISSBIER BAYERISCHE STAATSBRAUEREI WEIHENSTEPHAN • WEIHENSTEPHAN, GERMANY • 5.4% ABV
Dating back to 1O4O, the Weihenstephan Abbey (Kloster Weihenstephan) is a Benedictine monastery just outside of Munich. It remains host to a world-famous brewing school that trains many of the country’s brewers. The flagship beer from the world’s oldest continuously operating brewery remains a big anomaly. In an online beer world dominated by hop bombs and imperial stouts, the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier fights a lonely battle for the hearts and minds of beer drinkers. Long considered the defining beer of the style, this hefeweizen is one of few that can crack top beer lists on websites such as BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com. Pouring with a yellow to golden hue, the strong textured white head smells fresh, clean and full of banana and wheat notes. The flavor is on the lighter to medium side, with a more ethereal quality bringing you back for another sip. There is a subtle yeast bite lurking in the beer that also balances out the resounding flavors.
AYINGER BRÄU-WEISSE BRAUEREI AYING • AYING, GERMANY • 5.1% ABV
Long run by the Inselkammer family in the small town of Aying, this brewery looks more like New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins than an old world Bavarian brewery. The new brewery, built in 1999, boasts big windows, lots of wood and stainless steel. The beers, however, remain classics and the Bräu-Weisse may very well be the world’s best hefeweizen. This beer builds on the traditional version of the style, adding a touch more orange color to go along with its substantial off-white head. The usual trio of hefeweizen flavors are all present – but ramped up a few percentage points. The aroma is freshly baked banana bread, with big wheat notes, and an abundance of clove and fruit notes. Still well within the traditional style guidelines, the Bräu-Weisse is a great beer to suggest to those customers interested in trying something slightly different for summer.
ANDECHSER WEISSBIER HELL KLOSTERBRAUEREI ANDECHS • ANDECHS, GERMANY • 5.5% ABV
There are few prettier places to place a beer garden then outside the walls of this monastic brewery in Upper Bavaria. Surrounded by trees, old stone buildings – and with sweeping views of the German countryside – the experience is enough of a reason to visit.
This unassuming little Benedictine abbey is a place of pilgrimage for more than fans of religious grounds as lovers of great, classic beers have made this a must visit. The brewery’s hefeweizen is a beautiful beer that, for reasons I cannot understand, fails to achieve the cult status afforded to the Andech’s doppelbock. Bearing all the usual traits, the head retention is stellar and the complex yeast, malt and wheat balance throw off aromas of fruit to further entice. A fantastic choice for summer.
FRANZISKANER HEFE-WEISSBIER SPATEN-FRANZISKANER-BRÄU • MUNICH, GERMANY • 5.O% ABV
Franziskaner is one of those brands that largely flies under the radar, with few people talking or arguing about it. Based in Munich, the brewery’s long history culminated in a series of corporate combinations, first with Spaten-Brauerei. The Spaten-Franziskaner brewery eventually combined with Löwenbräu AG in 1997 to form the Spaten-Löwenbräu-Gruppe. Far from finished, this group sold to Interbrew in 2OO3, which eventually went on to combine with AmBev in 2OO4, creating InBev. As part of one of the world’s largest drinks companies, you would think most beer geeks would shun Franziskaner. Quite to the contrary, beer geeks quietly enjoy the brand, agreeing not to talk politics while polishing off half-liters of the beer.
The Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier pours with a darker almost orange hue than most versions of the style, which puts you on notice that something slightly different is in store. The aroma offers a host of fruits not usually found in standard fare hefes, including some lemon and orange notes. A peppery quality marks the nose and continues in the flavor, with bites of yeast rounding out the wheat and malt sweetness. A great hefeweizen for any season but especially tasty in summer.
SCHNEIDER WEISSE G. SCHNEIDER & SOHN • KELHEIM, GERMANY • 5.2% ABV
Founded in 1872 by Georg Schneider I and his son Georg Schneider II, this family brewery specializes in the production of wheat beer. The original brewery in Munich was destroyed during World War II and it relocated brewing operations outside of the city, making it ineligible, despite its history, to participate in the city’s Oktoberfest celebrations. It is a rebuke that still stings to this day. Run by the seventh generation of Schneiders, the beers in the family’s portfolio run from the traditional Weisse to the style bending Aventinus –a mash up of a doppelbock and hefeweizen – and Hopfenweisse, a bold hoppy take on the traditional style. The traditional and original Weisse beer is brewed with sixty percent wheat malt and Hallertau and Saphir hops. The beer pours with a off-yellow hazy hue and a substantial white foam head. The aromas do not disappoint for the style and the flavor largely follows the usual hefeweizen playbook, with some occasional maltier notes tossed in. While the original is a great example of the style, the Schneider’s wheat beer variants should please even the most hardened beer geek.
HACKER-PSCHORR HEFE WEISSE HACKER-PSCHORR BRÄU GMBH • MUNICH, GERMANY • 5.5% ABV
The lesser known of the tie up with larger brewery Paulaner, the Hacker Pschorr Hefe Weisse remains an under-appreciated weiss beer. Pouring with the traditional golden cloudy mix of yeast, wheat and malt, the white head is quite prodigious before settling into a smaller layer. The aroma remains of banana, clove and wheat, with touches of honey and light fruit. The flavor follows suit with a nice kick of malt sweetness over some pale, wheatier notes and fruit. A solid medium body, the Hefe Weisse is a great outdoor accompaniment when grilling.