Edelweiss Dunkel Weizenbier · Franziskaner (Spaten) · Paulaner Hefeweizen · Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen · Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier
Blanche de Brooklyn · Celis White
Berliner Kindl Weisse
Celis Raspberry · Pyramid Apricot
Edelweiss Dunkel Weizenbier
We eyed this Austrian's unusual darkness (for a wheat beer) with suspicion. A few of our tasters detected funky flavors — such as "Band-Aid" or "bubble-gum" (not a surprise, because the yeasts used for wheat beers contain compounds similar to those in chicle, once the basis of chewing gum), but Edelweiss Dunkel soon charmed the panel with its comforting, spicy flavor and almost-oak aroma. "You can taste the cobblestone streets of Salzburg," said one staffer wistfully. The panel sang along and voted this Weizenbier our second overall favorite.
This light-bodied draft beer tasted bland, if a bit stinging — even "rancid" — around the edges. We missed the nuances added to other wheat beers by bottle fermentation. After someone pegged its aroma as that of "the stale floor at a frat party," Franziskaner only rated drinkable.
Hefe means yeast, Weizen is wheat, in German. Malting the wheat lends the Bavarian beers a darker hue and richer taste, with flavors ranging from clove to apple. Paulaner Hefeweizen is the Ginger Man's best-selling wheat beer.
Our tasters were divided. A couple of us commented that it tasted of latex. Josh diplomatically offered lemon slices — sometimes squeezed into wheat beers to mellow their taste — and for some that made all the difference.
Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen
Josh used this wheat beer, the oldest in continuous production (since 1607), to demonstrate correct pouring procedure. He lowered a tall glass over the open one-pint bottle, then inverted both, emptying the bottle as he withdrew it, pouring in the middle of the glass to ensure a good head (a tall, tight head is one sign of a well-brewed wheat beer).
Schneider Weisse's reddish color and creamy head impressed us handsomely, as did a fresh aroma and grapefruity bite. In spite of its appealing cider taste, one panelist suggested that this one's "so well-balanced it makes little impression."
Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier
This filtered (hence "Kristall") wheat beer, bottled by a brewery that dates back to 1040, won us over right off with its delicate, fruity (even "pineapple-y") aroma. A little tame for some, most tasted crisp apples and summertime and agreed that it's a very sophisticated light-bodied beer.
Blanche de Brooklyn
Wheat beers, Josh explained, and in particular Belgian-style wheat beers, are often called "white beers" (witbier or bière blanche ). But is the name owed to the paleness of its mash during fermentation, its final yellow-white color, the sediment in its bottle, or the "angelic" clouds of yeast in its glass? No one knows. One thing is certain: Bière blanche is lighter than many beers because its brewers do not malt their wheat.
Brewed nearby in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this one we knew was our freshest taste of wheat beer — unpasteurized, unfiltered and only two weeks old! Alas, the hometown candidate had a faint aroma of homepermanents ("a beauty-parlor nose," said one judge) and even led one staffer to the conclusion that "all wheat beers are girlie." Despite a fan or two, overall it was judged to be a rather flat imitation.
Celis White is brewed by Pierre Celis, who 30 years ago revived wheat brewing in Belgium at the Hoegaarden Brewery. Today, he's in Austin, Texas, using centuries-old Belgian methods: lactic fermentation, flavoring with botanicals, and a second fermentation in the bottle, which yields a yeasty sediment.
Our tasters cheered Celis White's subtle flavors of coriander and bitter orange, but some found it flimsy and a bit cloying (Celis primes it with sugar). We thought it would make a fine aperitif.
Berliner Kindl Weisse
This weisse beer is a fine example of a sort of wheat beer served in Berlin since the 17th century, characteristically golden, fizzy, acidic, and low in alcohol (2.5 percent). Napoleon's troops called this style "Champagne of the North." Its sparkling tart and fruity taste made a big impression with us too — especially after we added a sweet dose of woodruff, as Josh suggested many Berliners do.
It's classed by the Germans as a Doppelbock (among the strongest beers), and Josh warned that Aventinus packs an alcoholic wallop, but we'd already fallen for its ruby-flecked, deep brown color, grainy body, and fine head (the bubbles tight, small, and uniform). Properly, one pours it into a distinctive glass that opens up into a sort of tulip, to give both the head and bouquet breathing room. Tasters noted scents of chocolate, prunes, and plums. High malt content gives it that knock-out alcohol content, deep color, and a toasty taste with some notes of clove (often tasted in wheat beers). Panelists agreed that this would be a top-notch dessert beer (with German chocolate cake?), and awarded Aventinus our first prize.
Raspberry is a common flavoring added by brewers playing with wheat beers. Celis Raspberry may be considered among the best, but most tasters couldn't get past the "playground perfume" aroma, grenadine color, or sticky sweet taste overriding the beerishness. While it might make a good substitute for a Cosmopolitan, Celis Raspberry still won our "Yuck" award hands — thumbs? — down.
The amiable (even "sexy") scent of this unfiltered, bottled beer attracted many of our tasters, then surprised them with its straightforward wheat-beer taste. Most of Pyramid Ale's apricot is in the nose. After a few tastes, most rejected it as undistinguished ("it tastes like my grandmother's house smells," sniffed someone), while a few promised to keep it in mind as a fruity refresher.