Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beer Style Spotlight ~ Hefeweizen

The most popular beer I brew at Windmills Craftworks is a German-style Hefeweizen (pronounced Hay-fah-vite-zen). This shouldn't come as much of a surprise as the refreshing nature of this beer style suits India's hot climate and spicy food very well. So I'm thinking a little more about this great beer and my interpretation of it, is in order.

Hefeweizen is an old style of beer. Most associate it with the Bavaria region in Southern Germany and rightfully so. The style was certainly popularized there and production is greater there today than anywhere else in the world. It was probably first brewed in the early 1500's in the Bavarian forrest near the Czech border. Hefe means yeast in German and weizen, wheat. All this adds up to a yeasty wheat beer. In Germany weizen beers must be made with at least 50% malted wheat by law but are usually just above 60%. They are always ales and never lagers. They should be a bit more carbonated than other beers. They are fermented warmer, quicker and to a greater degree than most other beers. They are also fermented with a special ale yeast that produces lots of phenols. Phenols are basically organic chemical compounds that are similar to alcohols but have a different molecular structure. They are volatile which means that they are easily vaporized or evaporated. The largest group of phenols are the flavonoids. They are present in many foods (citrus, berries, tea, red wine, dark chocolate, etc. ) and have names like Guaiacol, Eugenol, 4-Vinyl Syringol and Aceto Vanillone. And as the word flavonoid might suggest, they are quite distinctive on the pallete. Most tasters perceive clove, nutmeg, banana, vanilla, a slightly smokiness and medicinal flavours. Phenols are also a very big part of the flavor profile in whiskey from Islay, Scotland but I digress...

Hefeweizen came close to disappearing a few times in Germany. The first was was due to over-reaching regulations by the ruling nobility in Bavaria on just who could brew and where. Next it would be the advent of refrigeration in the 1870s. This allowed brewers to make the newly-popular, cold-fermented lagers in the warmer months that were previously the dominion of the warmer-fermenting ale strains. Last to take its toll would be changing consumer preferences post World War II. It would take until the mid 1960s for the popularity pendulum to swing the other way. These days weizenbier is more popular than ever and accounts for about 12% of beer consumed in Germany as a whole and about 35% in it's Bavarian backyard.

Wheatfield with Crows - Van Gogh had a thing for wheat fields. I like this one.

When I started brewing in the US in the late 1980s the few American brewers that made a weizen beer, myself included, tended to use what ever our house ale strain was to ferment our wheat beer. The result was generally pretty light-weight, completely devoid of phenols and not very interesting unless the brewer was a bit of a hop-head. These days I wouldn't dream of making a weizen beer without the appropriate phenol-producing yeast strain. Some excerpts from the 2012 American Association of Brewers beer style guideline for South German-style Hefeweizen are: "The aroma and flavor is decidedly fruity and phenolic; Banana-like esters should be present at low to medium-high levels; Hop flavor and aroma are absent or present at very low levels; Weissbier is well attenuated (fermented), very highly carbonated and a medium to full bodied beer; The color is very pale to pale amber; And no diacetyl (buttery flavour) should be perceived." Original Gravity is 11.8-14º Plato, Apparent Extract/Final Gravity is 2-4º Plato, Alcohol is 3.9-4.4% by Weight (4.9-5.5% by Volume), Bitterness is 10-15 IBU's, Color is 3-9 SRM (6-18 EBC). The Hefeweizen I brew at Windmills Craftworks is very much in line with these parameters. There is however one slight difference between mine and one you might sip in a Munich bier garden, I do my mashing or converting of the grains starch to sugar at a single temperature and not the multiple temperature step mash typically practiced in Germany due to the design of my brewhouse. And I do my fermenting in a more modern type of fermenter - a closed cylindroconical uni-tank that can be pressurized, compared to the traditional open-air fermenters commonly found in German weizen breweries. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. 

Fermenters at Windmills Craftworks
My American-made fermenters can be cleaned-in-place and sanitized more easily with a pump and internal spray ball. I can also cap or seal my tank when fermentation nears completion, build up pressure and carbonate the beer naturally in the same tank. That's why they are called "uni-tanks". Open fermenters give a brewer more options in choosing a yeast as some strains are reluctant to flocculate (settle out) and are more easily harvested for reuse by top skimming. But open fermenters can't hold pressure so the beer needs to be transferred to another tank that can and fed some more sugar to gain carbonation. This addition of extra priming sugar (about 9-13%) would typically be unfermented beer (wort), raise the gravity by 1-1.5° Plato and is called Speise in Germany.

I've been using 100% German ingredients in Windmills Hefeweizen. Malted barley and wheat from the Weyermann Maltings in Bamberg and Saphir hops late in the boil, however true to style the hop finish is not that perceptible. I ferment this beer a little warmer (23°C) than my other ales to coax a bit more phenolic character out of the yeast and have also found that raising the starting gravity (amount of sugar in solution before fermentation) a little goes a long way in increasing those flavours as well. 

I think the Craftworks fermenters are a bit easier to clean and sanitize than these!

Beery Factoids
  • There are several types of of Weizenbiers that range from the light-weight, sour-style made in Berlin that is often served with a shot of sweetend raspberry or woodruff syrup mixed in, to those made with with smoked malt in Bamberg (Rauchweizen).
  • The German beer purity law or Reinheitsgebot that stipulates beer can contain only water, barley and hops came to be in 1516 but originally it didn't contain wheat or yeast, as we humans didn't even know yeast existed back then. It would take many years and the Provisional Beer Law (Vorläufiges Biergesetz) of 1993 for yeast and wheat to be included.
  • While German brewers still adhere to the Biergesetz, newer E.U. regulations supersede it and foreign brewers are now permitted to export beer to Germany that contain non-sanctioned ingredients.
  • Bavarians never drink their Hefeweizen with the slice of lemon that some (foolish) Americans do.
  • Gose is a style of sour wheat beer from Leipzig Germany that is made with unmalted wheat and has much in common with the spontaneously fermented lambic beers of Belgium. It can be a bit salty and is sometimes flavored with coriander.
  • The deck at Windmills Craftworks is a great place to relax and chill-out with a Hefeweizen.

Prost !

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the fact Bangalore number variety of beer has been reducing every year its kind frustrating that no one is not ready do anything .There was time Bangalore has many variety of beer specially from Belgium , Australia , US , Germany.But in recent 3 years everything started vanishing. Where in other cities like the varsity of beer to choose from keep increasing Bangalore its the opposite.I hope there is someone passionate out there can open get those beer to Bangalore or could open a pub or bar with focus in beer only with many variety to choose from.At least people drinking some hogwash in the name of beer should understand what a good beer should test like.


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