Hefeweizen: The Most Popular Wheat Beer

The Classic German Wheat Beer

Hefeweizen Beer
Mr.TinDC/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Hefeweizen is the original wheat beer and remains one of the best known among the many styles of beer that now available. It originated in Germany and can be recognized as the cloudy, pale  brews that leave a lot of yeast in an empty glass.

Hefeweizen is a cloudy wheat ale that originated in Germany. The direct translation is hefe-yeast weizen-wheat. Yeast in the name refers to the fact that this beer is unfiltered and remains cloudy thanks to the suspended yeast.

This yeast also contributes the unique banana and clove qualities to the aroma and flavor of hefeweizen.

What is Hefeweizen?

Hefeweizen (pronounced "hay-fuh-veyt-sssenn" - not "haffie-vi-zon") is the more popular word among Americans for what Germans prefer to call 'Weissbier" or "Weizenbeer." "Hefe" means yeast and "Weizen" means wheat.

It is important to note that this style predates the creation of lagers and pale ales. Weissbier  (direct translation, "white beer") was initially used to describe wheat beers because they were paler in color to the typical beers brewed in Germany. 

Wheat beers were among those forbidden under the German purity law known as Reinheitsgebot. This was established in 1516 and essentially allowed only beers with no adjuncts or non-barley grains to be produced. Due to the popularity of weissbier among royalty, this was the first beer to receive an exemption.

How is Hefeweizen Made?

This Bavarian wheat beer is typically brewed from at least 50% wheat with malted barley though some can reach as high as 70% wheat.

The yeast is top-fermented, which designates Hefeweizen as an ale.

Hefeweizen's most notable characteristic is that it is unfiltered so the yeast remains in the beer. This gives the beer its cloudy appearance.

Characteristics of Hefeweizen

Though there are many producers of Hefeweizen, there is a distinct flavor profile that can be used to describe this style.

Hefeweizens are noted as being sweet and fruity with notes of banana and clove. Some will even have a bubble gum or vanilla undertone. It is a wheat beer, so it is heavy and has a full body.

Serving Hefeweizen

Wheat beers have a specific style of glass, called a weizen glass, that they are best served in. It is one of those beer glasses that looks like a modified tulip with a thin base that opens up to a wider rim.

To pour Hefeweizen, tilt the glass at an angle and slowly pour the beer until the head reaches the rim. Wait for the foam to settle, then swirl the beer remaining in the bottle to agitate the yeast and continue pouring.

Hefeweizen is best served very cold and in a glass that has been rinsed in cold water.

It has become an American custom to serve Hefeweizen with a lemon wedge. Traditionalists and Bavarians do not adhere to this because they feel that it detracts from the true taste of the beer and prevents the creation of a perfect foam head.

Examples of Hefeweizens

There are many great hefeweizen beers available, here are few to look for as you begin to explore this wheat ale.

  • Erdinger Weissbier
  • Flying Dog Hefeweizen
  • Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
  • Samuel Adams Hefeweizen
  • Schneider Weisse
  • Shiner Hefeweizen
  • Shlafly Hefeweizen
  • Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen
  • Widmer Hefeweizen