Black Flannel Academy

American Wheat Beer

A bready, doughy, refreshing yet flavorful beer inspired by the German Weißbier (Hefeweizen). Instead of the banana and clove character that balances malt sweetness in German versions, American brewers favor hop bitterness and aroma to create balance and drinkability.

bready

spicy

citrus

ale

Color

Straw

Gold

Amber

Dark Amber

Brown

Black

Straw

Black

straw to Gold / 3 – 6 SRM

Perceived Bitterness

Very Low

Low

Moderate

Pronounced

Assertive

Highly Assertive

Very Low

Highly Assertive

Moderate / 15 – 30 IBU 

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

ABV 4.0 – 5.5% (OG 1.040 – 1.055 with FG 1.036 – 1.056)

Sweetness

Low (Dry)

Medium

High

Low (Dry)

Medium

High

Sweetness low to medium

Balance

Malty

Balanced

Hoppy

Malty

Balanced

Hoppy

Balanced between hops and malt

HISTORY

If you take a bird’s eye view of the origins of American craft beer, you’ll notice a trend in many of the styles coming off of canning lines today: American brewers took the traditional European styles they loved and remade them with local ingredients and cleaner yeast profiles. You can read more about what’s likely the most iconic example of this trend in our post on American Pale Ale, but the American Wheat Beer was born out of similar circumstances.

German Weißbier, commonly called Hefeweizen, has distinctive flavors of banana and clove that come from two different compounds produced during fermentation (read more about those in our post on Hefeweizen here). Weißbier, like most traditional German styles, is brewed for maximum drinkability. Brewing always requires delicately balancing the flavors, mouthfeel, and drinkability of your beer, and those wonderful banana and clove aromatics are crucial for the German style’s drinkability. Without them, you’d either have to add more hops–not typically the German style–or get used to drinking wet bread in a cool glass.

American Wheats, on the other hand, feature traditional American hops from the Pacific Northwest for that same balance –think old school varieties like Centennial, Columbus, and Cascade–which give these beers their signature spicy and citrusy aroma. Whether the primary goal was greater hop aroma and bitterness or cleaner yeast for their brews, early creators of this style decided (we think rightly) that having citrusy hops, elevated bitterness, and banana and clove character from the yeast was just too much stuff in one drink. We’re not trying to haze you, after all, we’re trying to make drinkable beer (anyone else have to drink the dregs of jungle juice mixed with week-old Bud Light in the basement of their frat during initiations?…nobody?…yeah me either…).

Whatever inspired their creation, several brewers were thinking along the same lines in the 1980s and 90s. Three Floyds, Bell’s, Boulevard, and Goose Island all created a version of this style, and they’ve been wildly popular ever since. For many people, wheat beers are a gateway to the craft beer world, possibly because so many of the flavors are familiar–bread, citrus, and spice–and partially because many people find them so easy to drink. We couldn’t agree more, so you’ll probably find one of these on tap at our brewpub if you visit during the spring or summer months. It’s a perfect beer to kick back and enjoy the sunshine and long days with good company.

CLASSIC CHARACTERISTICS:

Aroma – Bready, wheaty malt sweetness. Citrusy and spicy hop aroma.

Appearance – Pale to Gold. Some are clear while others can be quite hazy.

Flavor – Light to moderate bitterness. Balanced finish with some lingering wheat and hop character.

Mouthfeel – Medium-light body. Some have off-dry finish. Fluffy, pillowy mouthfeel from wheat.

Vitals – 4.0 – 5.5% ABV, 15 – 30 IBU

Service Notes:

Serve fresh in weißier glass at 38º

BJCP DESIGNATION: 1D, American Wheat Beer

Overall Impression:

Refreshing wheat beers that can display more hop character and less yeast character than their German cousins. A clean fermentation character allows bready, doughy, or grainy wheat flavors to be complemented by hop flavor and bitterness rather than yeast qualities.

Aroma:

Low to moderate grainy, bready, or doughy wheat character. A light to moderate malty sweetness is acceptable. Esters can be moderate to none, although should reflect relatively neutral yeast strains; banana is inappropriate. Hop aroma may be low to moderate, and can have a citrusy, spicy, floral, or fruity character. No clove phenols.

Appearance:

Usually pale yellow to gold. Clarity may range from brilliant to hazy with yeast approximating the German weissbier style of beer. Big, long-lasting white head.

Flavor:

Light to moderately-strong bready, doughy, or grainy wheat flavor, which can linger into the finish. May have a moderate malty sweetness or finish quite dry. Low to moderate hop bitterness, which sometimes lasts into the finish. Balance is usually even, but may be slightly bitter. Low to moderate hop flavor (citrusy, spicy, floral, or fruity). Esters can be moderate to none, but should not include banana. No clove phenols. May have a slightly crisp finish.

Mouthfeel:

Medium-light to medium body. Medium-high to high carbonation. Slight creaminess is optional; wheat beers sometimes have a soft, ‘fluffy’ impression.

Comments:

Different variations exist, from an easy-drinking fairly sweet beer to a dry, aggressively-hopped beer with a strong wheat flavor. American rye beers should be entered in the Alternative Fermentables specialty category.

History:

An American craft beer adaptation of the German weissbier style using a cleaner yeast and more hops, first widely popularized by Widmer in the mid-1980s.

Characteristic Ingredients:

Clean American ale or lager yeast (German weissbier yeast is inappropriate). Large proportion of wheat malt (often 30–50%, which is lower than is typical in German weissbiers). American, German, or New World hops are typical.

Style Comparison:

More hop character and less yeast character than German weissbier. Never with the banana and clove character of German weissbier. Generally can have the same range and balance as Blonde Ales, but with a wheat character as the primary malt flavor.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.040 – 1.055
FG:  1.008 – 1.013
ABV:  4.0 – 5.5%
IBUs:  15 – 30
SRM:  3 – 6

Commercial Examples:

Bell’s Oberon, Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Widmer Hefeweizen.

BA DESIGNATION: American-Style Wheat Beer

  • Color: Straw to Dark Brown.
  • Clarity: Clear to Cloudy.
  • Perceived Malt Aroma & Flavor: Low to medium-low level pale malt attributes are present in paler versions. Medium-low to medium-high malt attributes such as cocoa, chocolate, caramel, toffee or biscuit may be present in darker versions. Roast malt astringency is acceptable in darker versions when balanced with malt sweetness.
  • Perceived Hop Aroma & Flavor: Low to Medium.
  • Perceived Bitterness:  Low to medium. Versions served with yeast may exhibit somewhat higher perceived bitterness.
  • Fermentation Characteristics: Low to medium fruity esters are present. Diacetyl and phenolic, clove-like attributes should not be present. Low to medium yeast character is present in versions served with yeast, in harmony with malt and hop attributes and not sharp.
  • Body: Very low to medium. Versions served with yeast may exhibit a full mouthfeel.
  • Additional Notes: These beers can be fermented with either ale or lager yeast. The grist should include at least 30 percent malted wheat. When using these guidelines as the basis for evaluating entries at competitions, organizers may wish to further subcategorize this category based on the presence or absence of yeast, use of darker malts, etc.

Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.036-1.056 (9-13.8 °Plato)

Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.004-1.016 (1-4.1 °Plato)

Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 2.8%-4.4% (3.5%-5.6%)

Bitterness (IBU) 10-35

Color SRM (EBC) 2-10 (4-20 EBC)

STYLE COMPARISON:

Like a German Hefeweizen but without the banana and clove character. Similar to American Blonde Ale but with more wheat malt character.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Two-row brewers malt
  • Flaked and/or malted wheat
  • American Hops
  • Clean, American Yeast

BREWING PROCESS:

Typically the grist includes 30-50% wheat. A single infusion mash is traditional, and hops are often added in a few stages to achieve both desired bitterness and citrusy aroma profile. Fermented around 68º for a clean yeast profile.

SUGGESTED FOOD PAIRINGS:

This is one of the most pairable beers for food. Try it with almost anything and it’ll likely work. Here are a few possibilities. AT THE BREWPUB:  Smoked Peanuts

TAKEOUT: Chicken Tikka Masala or Indian Butter Chicken

CASUAL DATE: Sushi

SUGGESTED SPIRIT PAIRINGS:

FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Wheated Bourbon

SUGGESTED MUSIC TO LISTEN TO:

NEW: The Lumineers

OLD: Aaron Copland, “Billy the Kid”

BEER COCKTAIL RECIPE:

Spicy Summertime

INGREDIENTS:
  • 8 ounces American Wheat Beer
  • 1.5 ounces fresh mango puree
  • .25 of a habanero pepper without seeds
  • Thinly sliced mango for garnish
  • Whole habanero pepper for garnish (if you’re a hot head)

DIRECTIONS:
Put .25 of a habanero pepper in the bottom of an old fashioned glass and top with mango puree. Muddle together for 5-10 seconds, then use a spoon to remove the habanero pepper. Top with wheat beer, then garnish with sliced mango and habanero (if desired).

BLACK FLANNEL BREWING CO. EXAMPLE:

Brewing Notes:

We brew our traditional wheat using lots of wheat malt and just a pinch of aromatic malt for additional grainy richness. After a single infusion mash that’s meant to give this medium body, we use Centennial and Equanot hops for bittering and aroma additions, then ferment with Chico yeast for a smooth, clean finish. During the warmest part of the year, we also brew a session-strength version of this beer with medium body and similar taste profile that sits around 3.6% ABV.

Tasting Notes:

Bready, wheaty, and richly malty with a nice balancing bitterness. Orange peel, light lemon, and light crushed pineapple from the hop additions lead to a clean, malty finish that tastes like a summer evening.