Kleine Bierkunde: The Ale That Broke the Rules - Hefeweizen

August 2022

In German, Hefe means “yeast” and Weizen translates to “wheat.” And it’s those two ingredients that typically define this style of ale. Sometimes it's also called Weissbier, meaning "white beer", depending on the region you are in.


Pouring a cloudy (as it is unfiltered), golden color with a thick foamy head from the wheat, hefeweizens also feature iconic banana, clove, bubblegum, and even black pepper aromas and notes from the yeast. Hop flavors and bitterness flavor should be non-existent to very low (10-15 IBU). Tettnang hops are usually associated with this beer style, but any noble variety will do.

As a whole, Hefeweizen are an easy-drinking, refreshing beer. Whether you’re drinking them on a hot day in the summer or around a fire pit in the fall, Hefeweizen are an under-the-radar style that shouldn’t be skipped. Sibling styles include: Kristallweizen (“crystal wheat”), a filtered variation; Weizenbock (“wheat bock”), a stronger version usually brewed in the winter; and Dunkelweizen (“dark wheat”), brewed using darker malts.


So why did Hefeweizen break the rules?


The style originated around the 1520s in the Bavarian breweries of southern Germany. However, the German regulations of Reinheitsgebot – or “Purity Law” – did not allow it to flourish originally. In 1487, the proposed Reinheitsgebot law stated that the only allowable ingredients in making beer were barley, hops and water (yeast was not yet known to be an ingredient at the time). In addition, wheat and rye were considered too important for bread production, so that it was not to be utilized for brewing beer.


Hefeweizen survived despite the law due to a bureaucratic loophole that was intentionally introduced by the rulers of Bavaria, the Dukes of Wittelsbach. Apparently, the royals had a taste for Hefeweizen that was brewed using malted wheat in addition to the usual malted barley. So in 1520, they mandated that a single brewery, overseen by the Dukes of Degenberg in the village of Schwarzach near the Czech border, would be allowed to brew Weissbier. The Degenbergs continued as the exclusive Weissbier brewers – and paid a hefty fee for the privilege – until 1602, when the final Duke of Degenberg died without an heir, and the family’s assets were given to the ruling Wittelsbachs under feudal law.


Duke Maximilian I, the man in charge at the time, quickly decided that one Weissbier brewery in a remote village wasn’t enough, and soon Weissbier was being brewed in towns and villages all across Bavaria, with all of those breweries being owned by the Wittelsbachs. The beer became so popular that sales provided almost one-third of the revenues of the State of Bavaria.


Today, the biggest debate about Hefeweizen is the question of how to pour it correctly from a bottle. You can stick to the official, easy way:

Or be a little more adventurous:


Keep in mind though, there is a reason why the second video is filmed outside...


So if you feel a little rebellious during your next visit to the BSV try one of our Hefeweizen. Next month's feature: Festbier!

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