Wheat ales are unique for a myriad of reasons. Traditionally, wheat ales are softer and more delicate than other ales. Containing little to no hop presence and higher carbonation, these ales are certain to be refreshing and sessionable beers that pair with both the heat and cuisine of summer. Consumed by many exclusively in the summer months, many brewers are including their wheat interpretations as permanent year-round selections in hopes to unfetter wheat ales from the misconception that they can only be perennial summer offerings. As a style, wheat ales can be found during all months of the calendar with many brewers shifting to brew maltier wheat beers such as dunkelweizen and weizenbock during the winter months, but let us not forget that wheat ales can truly be the hazy heroes of summer, providing relief at a moment’s notice.
Ultimately what makes a beer a wheat beer is the simple inclusion of wheat as part of the malt profile, but there is oh so much more to wheat beers than wheat malt. Most wheat ales contain 30 to 70 percent wheat malt, with malted barley filling out the remainder of the malt profile. Malted wheat contributes little to the overall profile of wheat ale, with most wheat ales being defined by yeast or other adjuncts. Hefe-weizen, translated as “yeast wheat,” holds its storied origins in Bavaria, but as with many styles, found itself brewed far outside of the humble boundaries of Bavaria. Traditional Bavarian hefeweizens are unfiltered, with the traditional flavor and aromas of banana, bubblegum, vanilla and clove being attributed to the classic hefeweizen yeast. Noteworthy examples of domestic and international hefeweizens from this year’s tasting include Germany’s Privatbrauerei Aying Ayinger Bräu-Weisse (95 points), Austria’s Brauerei Grieskirchner Weisse (90 points), Australia’s Burleigh Brewing Co Hef (93 points) and the USA’s Sweetwater Brewing Co.’s Waterkeeper Hefeweizen (90 points).
The popularity of wheat ales wax and wane with the seasons leading many brewers to include wheat ales as recurring seasonal specialties amongst their year-round offerings. The Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adams Summer Ale (89 points), Stevens Point Brewery’s Point Nude Beach Summer Wheat Ale (87 points) and Roscoe’s Hop House Summer Wheat Ale (87 points) are wonderful examples of seasonal wheat ales brewed explicitly for summer months. Any of these ales make a perfect addition to any picnic, and easily pair with lighter summer fare such as tossed greens and grilled salmon.
In addition to the increasing seasonal selections offered by many brewers, flavored wheat ales seem to continue to grow as well within this broader wheat ales category. A standout among the spiced wheat beers was Shmaltz Brewing Co.’s Coney Island Albino Python Lager (92 points), a unique wit-lager that would be a treat for any beer aficionado. Among the fruit flavored wheat ales, Canada’s Unibroue Éphémère Casis (90 points) and Éphémère Apple (89 points) were definite standouts, as well as Oregon’s Eugene City Brewery’s Track Town Honey Orange Wheat (90 points). Another highlight of the flavored wheat ales was Louisiana’s Bayou Teche Brewing’s LA 31 Boucanée Ale (89 points), a unique ale brewed with cherry smoked malt that will pair wonderfully with sausage gumbo or any other Cajun or Creole cuisine.
Although the summer has mostly passed us by, there is still time to find a hazy hero in this guide to rescue you. Cheers and remember you’re more than welcome to find more than one hero this summer.