Some time around 1993 I discovered Maissel's Weiss, my first German wheator weissbier, or hefeweizen. Wheats are characterized by a pale yellow color, a big frothy head, slight overcarbonation, a fruity nose and palate, and a nice dry finish. And by generally being awesome.
After getting interested in this styleand running through Market Street Wheat, Oberdorfer, and a few othersI got it into my head that I wanted to try them all. While it's not a matter of great pride with me, at this point I happen to have sampled more different wheat beers than anyone I've ever run into. And since wheats are such a great style to explore, and since I happen to have taken some notes for the benefit of a couple of interested friends, I herewith provide these abridged reviews of most of the brews I've run through. I'm happy to answer questions, or entertain other opinions.
Due to rapid growth, I've created an index; click through for reviews.
You might also be interested in my notes on proper pouring of wheats.
CRAP RECOMMENDED TO DIE FOR
BERLINER KINDL WEIS
BRECKENRIDGE MOUNTAIN WHEAT
note on trendy microbrew "wheats"
PETE'S WICKED HONEY WHEAT
OREGON ORIGINAL ALES RASPBERRY WHEAT
SAM ADAMS CHERRY WHEAT
RED HOOK WHEATHOOK
SUDWERK HEFE WEIZEN
MAISSEL'S WEISS KRISTALLKLAR
JULIUS ECHTER HEFE-WEISS
MARKET STREET WHEAT
GRANT'S WEIS BEER
ANDERSON VALLEY HIGH ROLLERS WHEAT BEER
BLANCHE DE BRUGES
BLANCHE DE BRUXELLES
BLANCHE DE CHAMBLY
BAVARIAN-WEISSBIER HEFEWEISSE (HIRSCHBRAU SONTHOFEN)
CRAP BERLINER KINDL WEIS While there are various styles of wheatshefeweisses, weizenbiers, dunkle-weissI find the main distinction is between nice, warm, smooth, fruity wheat beers, and harsh, sharp, bitter wheat beers. The Berliner Kindl is definitely the bitterest of the batch. Would only recommend to someone who really likes sharp citrus overtones (and aftertastes). BRECKENRIDGE MOUNTAIN WHEAT While this comes in a cool monster 24 ounce bottle, with a neato description of their microbrewery on the label, the beer inside is roughly the same kind of bitter fare as the Berliner Kindl. ERDINGER OKTOBERFEST The standard Erdinger Hefeweizen is top-notch (see below), so I had high hopes for their version "Brewed for Oktoberfest." On pouring, it had a nice floral bouquet, frothy head, and pale but not too-pale color. The first sip, though, left an unmistakeable, and unpleasant, impression--this is a hefeweizen cross-bred (by some mad brewmesiter-scientist, no doubt) with an oktoberfest (or marzen). I'm afraid I have to declare the experiment a failure. [Interesting note: while buying this, I came across Erdinger Alkohol-frei hefeweizen. I was tempted to buy and review it . . . but, well, no. Suffice it to say such a thing (a non-alcoholic wheat) exists.] note on trendy microbrew "wheats" PETE'S WICKED HONEY WHEAT Out of style, but tasty just the same. It has more in common with the American browns than with the hefeweisses, but to its credit it is not too sweet. Very drinkable. (Just not very wheaty.) OREGON ORIGINAL ALES RASPBERRY WHEAT Two-word review - "Raspberry Shit." Tastes like fermented Kool Aid. SAM ADAMS CHERRY WHEAT A little too fruity, but fairly tasty if you can deal with that. Also out of style. I enjoyed it, but one six-pack was plenty for me forever. RED HOOK WHEATHOOK Dark, malty, and tasty, but, again, utterly out of style. PYRAMID HEFEWEIZEN Claims to be unfiltered, and thus cloudy, and sort of is. But that doesn't mean it tastes good. While the wheat in the body and finish comes across nice and strong, it's almost overpowered by a sort of fraternity house nose. Call it Miller Genuine Wheat. Not good; potable, but not good. SUDWERK HEFE WEIZEN
Out of Davis, CA. Not the worst of this lot (which, come to think of it, would be pretty bad). Nice pale color and decent head. Definitely has a little of the 'Miller Genuine Wheat' action going on. Doesn't change hardly at all from the nose to palate to finish. Drinkable; not completely out of style; predictable. WEINHARD'S HEFEWEIZEN
Subtitled as "Honey-Brewed Lager": God save me. RECOMMENDED MAISSEL'S WEISS KRISTALLKLAR This is similar to the original, but not as cloudy and with fewer cool bits of stuff floating around. Overall, almost as good, but a little different. JULIUS ECHTER HEFE-WEISS Similar to the above, but with a slightly more distincitive character. Good easy-drinking wheat beer. FRANSZISKANER I've been subsisting on the Fransziskaner Hefe-Weiss since moving to California (happily there's a upscale beer store on the corner, but sadly, their selection of German wheats is limited to the single one). The Club-Weiss and the Dunkles (dark) are not as good. The Hefe-Weiss is very much in traditional style - slightly overcarbonated, with fruity overtones. Very tasty, and doesn't get tiresome (luckily for me). FRANKENMUTH At first taste, this seems to be one of the sharp, citrussy type wheats above, but that is only in the nose and first part of the palate. Afterwards, in the body and finish, it mellows into smooth fruitiness, for a great overall wheat beer experience. (Interestingly, this is not a German beer; it's brewed in Frankenmuth, WI.) PAULANER WEISS Similar to the three above. Solid, traditional, in-style, and tasty. MARKET STREET WHEAT Sort of the Budweiser of wheat beers, not outstanding, but they do often carry it at grocery stores if you're pressed, and it beats the heck out of resorting to those poseur 'microbrewed' completely-out-of-style wheats (see addendum below). GRANT'S WEIS BEER Brewed by this paunchy bald guy in a tweed jacket in Yakima, Washington, Grant's Beers are highly recommended, overall. (Try the Celtic Ale, the Imperial Stout, and the 2 others which I currently forget.) The Weis Beer - while not as traditional - is cool, fruity, and tasty, with mucho character, and 6-packs can be had for 7 or 8 dollars. Look for the snappy liner notes on the label at the top of the neck; e.g., the Celtic Ale label says: "Great ale makes for great times; great times make for great friends; great friends make for great neighborhoods; great neighborhoods make for great countries; great countries make for a great world; therefore, the greatness of the world is dependent upon ale. This Grant's Celtic Ale is one of the best around - and only I make it." ANDERSON VALLEY HIGH ROLLERS WHEAT BEER
I was introduced to Anderson Valley (their excellent Amber Ale, actually) at Millenium vegan restaurant in San Francisco, in summer 97. The wheat, available in 1 pt 6 oz bottles, is creditable as well. Pale and mild, slightly hoppy for a traditional styled wheat. Somewhat in the tradition of American (vs. German) wheats, with a light color, and just a bit of the edge of a Breckenridge. Tasty and easy drinking--but unexciting. Somewhat lager-ish, really. BLANCHE DE BRUGES
This comes highly recommended in the (for the most part misguided and misguiding) wheat beer review in the premiere issue of Beer Connoisseur Magazine; it also comes in a truly gargantuan bottle, with a flip cork. A bottle sets you back six plus smackers. Not sure what to say about the Blanche de Bruge. It has a wheat's pale color, a wheat's frothy head, and a genuine wheat nose. But it has a strange understated sort of murky character to the body that calls to mind nothing so much as--hate to say it--dishwater. After a comment like that, you may wonder how I can recommend it; but with the bottle, the pedigree, the price, the recommendation, and (yes) the strangeness, it's hard not to enjoy anyway. It's a little like when you're not sure if something is spoiled or gone bad in your five star meal: if you can get the idea out of your head, the meal's still great. And surely others will interpret that flat murkiness as, rather than dishwater, something subtle and wonderful. Bottom line: Interesting. ERDINGER WEISSBRAU
Not bad at all. 8^) Right size bottle; right country of origin (Germany); and in traditional style and tasty. Not much remarkable about it beyond that, except that it's got a really big head. Tastes just enough different from the Maissels Weisses, Paulaners, Franzsiskaners, and Hackor Pschorrs (individually) to definitely provide a little variety, so it's worth buying on that count. (Or, even just if it's available and you want a good traditional weiss.) But, moreover, it sits very comfortably in the midst of the above listed group, stylistically. And that's good company. SCHNEIDER WEISSE
These guys stake their claim as Bavaria's oldest Weizen breweryand claim their brew is considered "the classical German Hefe-Weizen." First impression is that it's dark; much darker than the classicly "blonde" hefeweizens such as Hacker-Pschorr, et aland darker even than the Maissels Weiss (which has a relatively very carmel-ly color). This thought is germane; as, taste-wise, the Schneider Weiss turns out to be precisely like a (substantially) less sweet (and maybe slightly less fruity) Maissels Weisse. This makes it quite good; and interesting; but, to my palate, just not quite as good. I'd take a Maissels Weiss every time. EDELWEISS WEISSBIER (HEFETRUB)
Austrian. Comes in three styles: Kristallklar (clear), Dunkel (dark), and Hefetrub (cloudy). Guess which we're reviewing here? 8^) Another very traditional winner. Slightly on the sweet sidebut also slightly on the less carbonated side, which combination might cause some to find it lacking "bite" (for lack of a better word). Also, something a little more "floral" in the nose and finish. About as tasty as a Fransziskaner or Tucherbut somehow I doubt I would like to drink as many in a row. KAPUZINER WEISSE
(reviewed New Years Eve 2000)
The back label declares "The most refreshing beer in the world!" I agree if they're talking about wheats in general. 8^) Good, well in style, and tasty. however (to quibble) it's not terribly distinctive not very sweet, not very over carbonated; it's as if they aimed for (and hit) dead in the middle of the road. The nose is yummy, though. Also, actually brewed in Bavaria. TUCHER Discovered this in Atlanta in 1996: classic style, like Hacker Pschorr. A little cheaper, too. (The Tucher Dark isn't as good.) BLANCHE DE BRUXELLES
This Belgian White (which is a first cousin to the hefeweizen), I only realized upon getting it home, is actually sub-titled "Manneken Pis"and the label features a disdainful toddler, elfin cock in hand, letting fly. Had I, uh, taken notice of this in the beer store, I surely would have left without the Blanche de Bruxellesand that would have sucked. Mmm! Tasty! Pretty traditional (pale, sweet, white head, overtones of orange and corriander)but different from other Belgian Whites I've had. Especially interesting early (in the nose and palate), where it reminds me of something I can't quite place. Interesting treat! BLANCHE DE CHAMBLY (White Beer on Lees) (reviewed 9/98) A great deal like the Hacker Pschorr (next category over, thus to it's credit). Maybe slightly less dry; and comes in a cork-sealed 750ML Bottle. From a brewer in Chambly, QUE, Canada. BAVARIAN-WEISSBIER HEFEWEISSE (HIRSCHBRAU SONTHOFEN) (reviewed 8/03) Found this at the one proper beer store (as far as I can tell) in Scranton, PA. Believe it or not, but the proprietor of this page has more or less stopped drinking. However, I was celebrating the completion of my second novel. And who can resist a good-looking new hefeweizen, eh?
Very nice pale (but not too pale) color, very nice frothy heady. Very fruity nose is promising. Quite dry, but still smooth, on the palate. Then a moderately fruity, but also somewhat sharp, finish. My first impression was that it's not quite sweet enough overall. But after eleven ounces or so, I realized this makes it actually very drinkable. Quite in style--but, still, that sort of dry, neutral aspect makes it a nice change from the dead mainstream of fruity/clovey hefeweizens. Reminds me a bit of the Prinz-Regent Luitpold, actually (high praise). Though, oddly, after twenty-two ounces, I vacillated again: it's tasty, but not hugely tasty.
TO DIE FOR MAISSEL'S WEISS My (and many people's) first wheat beer. Similar traditional style to many noted above--i.e., slight overcarbonation, with citrus in the nose, and lots of fruit in the finish. Cloudy and particulate with a heterogenous consistency, so the bottom half is the best (unless of course, you pour it as you should). A classic. HACKER PSCHORR The new king. I was introduced to this by my buddy Cal on my last trip to Chicago, and it basically rules. Get out the big glass, squeeze a quarter lemon into it, and shove the husk inside, then turn that Hacker Pschorr upside down in the glass, and get ready to rock. It's perfectly in style, very drinkable, sweet but not too sweet (not quite as sweet as the Maissels Weiss), and just very tasty. And, you can drink it all day without losing your taste for it. It's pretty reasonable on the grocery shelf, too, and not that hard to find. This was also the winner in the Beer Connoisseur Review (about the only thing they got right). AYINGER BRAU-WEISS
Wow! Pleasant surprise! The old beer store on the corner, as mentioned, doesn't carry much--and I wasn't buying this, thinking I had already had it. (Must have been the Fest-Marzen....) At any rate, this is a truly in-style wheat (with pale color, frothy head, citrus nose, and fruity finish), much like the other classics mentioned above. And it is just tasty as all get out. Much like the Hacker-Pschorr, but sweeter--like the best of Hacker-Pschorr meets the best of Maissels Weiss. Boy, I was getting jaded--thinking I had tried everything good, and had only the detritus of the new 97 wheat beer craze to look forward to. It's great to discover a new, true, great one. HOEGAARDEN ORIGINAL WHITE ALE
Thanks to Rob Dodge for this good tip. The Hoegaarden has a great pale yellow and cloudy texture, an immensely fruity nose, and an overall great character. Not as unrelentingly sweet as many Belgian whites this brew has a lot of moderation going on throughout (after the nose, at least). Moderately dry, moderately sweet, moderately over-carbonated, moderately wheaty in the finish. It's light and dry like the Hacker Pschorr (high praise!), but sweeter like some of the other Belgian whites (Blue Moon, the new Sam Adams). Unlike those other two, this one's actually brewed in Belgium. Somewhat pricey ($7.29/4-pack at Beltramo's (the Menlo Park beer emporium))but a truly great addition to the pantheon. Novel enough to divert from the classics above; drinkable enough to come back to. Good call, Rob. 8^) OBERDORFER WEISS First had this at a great place in downtown Charlottesville called Court Square Tavern. This stuff comes in 1 pint, 9 oz. bottles (about 1/2 liter), and I got mine with glass big enough to sleep in, a wedge of lemon, and a shot of rapberry juice. I tried the beer alone first, and it was fantastic, though I didn't have enough to offer a detailed commentary. When I squeezed the lemon, and poured the raspberry, I decided at the time that I had not the best beer I'd ever drunk, but the best liquid of any sort. There's also an Oberdorfer Dunkleweiss, which I don't like as much. WEIHENSTEPHAN WEIZENBIER I had this right before the Oberdorfer. Unflavored, it was definitely the best beer I've ever had. I squeezed in a slice of lemon, and whimpered with pleasure at every drop (also 1 pint, 9 oz.). Best part: the label proclaims "Oldest Brewery in the World - Since 1040". These people have been brewing beer since 500 years before the German purity law, since before the Normans invaded England, since before the invention of the stirrup - for nearly an *entire millennium*. I can vouch that they've gotten pretty good at this point. DARMSTADTER (reviewed 6/02) I drank this regularly (and happily) during the summer of 2001, which I spent in Darmstadt, Germany (just outside of Frankfurt). As far as I know, it's not available anywhere in the Statesand I have no reason to think it will be anytime soon. Nonetheless, it goes down here as one of my favesdefinitely in my top 10, maybe top 5. Normally I don't favor the dark versions, which this is, but this one is dark without being at all caramelyand, moreover, is just unbelievably tasty. Sweet but not too sweet, carbonated just right, consistent from the nose through the finish (and, again, importantly, no trace of caramel). I had one of these virtually every night, watching the sun go down over the spires from my kitchen table, and never got remotely sick of it. (They also have a "hefe hell weissbier" (light style) which is perfectly, but not nearly, as good.) PRINZREGENT LUITPOLD (reviewed 6/02) Also drank this in Darmstadt, at the local pool hall in particular. It's very traditional and in-style: pale, frothy, fruity, and dry. But its distinguishing characteristic is its uncanny drinkability. I can only think it must be just perfectly balanced, because one memorable night I drank four 22oz glasses of these in a roweach was practically better than the lastand probably only stopped in order to maintain the ability to walk home. I'd suggest this would be the perfect beer for all-day July 4th cookoutsbut, as with the Darmstadter, I have no reason to suspect you can get this in the States. Alack.
Of course, there are many many wheats missing from this list. At this point I believe I've written up just about everything I've personally tried though; and I'll continue to update as I try new stuff.