Wheat Ale

Guide to Wheat Ale

Wheat beers, especially those originating in Europe, are examples of some of the oldest styles of ale produced today.

To be called a wheat beer, they must be produced with a certain amount of wheat malt, typically somewhere between 30-70%, with most falling under the ale family courtesy of the predominant use of ale rather than lager yeast strains during the brewing process.

Wheat Ale Characteristics

Although these beers can vary in their flavour profile from light and refreshing to dark and silky, the most popular expressions that are consumed today are examples of light to medium bodied and often silkily textured beers that possess a hazy appearance, minimal amount of hoppy bitterness or fruit flavour, and low to moderate level of malty sweetness and alcohol.

For more information on the general attributes of this style, consider this useful article.

The defining feature of most of these beers, however, is the presence of a light to moderate taste of exotic spices and fruits in the flavour profile, with common mentions being clove, orange peel, banana, or coriander, which comes as a direct result of the yeast strains used, making them highly refreshing summer beers.

The particular sub-styles that should be considered by anyone looking to venture into this category are:

  • Hefeweizen
  • Berliner Weisse
  • Dunkelweizen & Weizenbock
  • Kristallweizen
  • Belgian Witbier
  • American Wheat Beer


Hefeweizen Characteristics

Whilst historically only allowed to be brewed by the German nobility, hefeweizen beers are now much more widely available, with their traditional home being the Southern German region of Bavaria.

The first noticeable attribute of these beers is their colour and opacity, as they are famous for their pale straw to golden colour and hazy appearance.

Flavourwise, these beers are typically light to medium bodied in style, containing almost no hoppy bitterness or hop-fruit characteristics, and instead accentuating the malt profile of the beer, which benefits from a relatively high amount of wheat malt alongside the more traditional malted barley.

The most important attribute of these beers, however, is the use of a special type of ale yeast that is left unfiltered from the beer, helping to generate not only the brews famous hazy appearance but also imparting unique flavours of banana and clove.

Because of the highly unique flavours present in these beers and their exceptionally refreshing style, they are often best matched with light zesty dishes that are not particularly oily or fatty.

Some of the best examples of food pairings include matching these beers with light seafood dishes, lemon or citrus based desserts, or roast pork or chicken dishes.

Berliner Weisse

Perhaps one of the rarest varieties of wheat beer available, Berliner weisse beers originated around the German town of Munich, where they are famous for their mouth puckering sourness that is the hallmark taste of this style.

The beer is characteristically high in wheat flavour and sourness, with hoppy bitterness or hoppy fruit flavours being virtually non-existent.

Although the colour of these beers is often very pale with a distinct haziness, making them appear thick, they are actually mostly light-bodied and unfiltered beers that contain a high amount of carbonation.

Another strong feature of these beers is their typically low levels of alcohol, which usually sit around the 2-4% mark, making them an incredibly refreshing and palate cleansing style that can be enjoyed alongside a variety of food types.

Some of the best pairing options include matching them with lightly hotly spiced Asian dishes, fruit salads containing tart fruits such as cherries, kumquats, raspberries, or tart melons, and finally, common bar snacks, including salted pretzels, French fries, or potato chips.

Berliner Weisse Characteristics

Dunkelweizen & Weizenbock

Dunkelweizen & Weizenbock Characteristics

The two sub-styles of dunkelweizen and weizenbock both represent the darker side of German-style wheat beers, with them being famous for their medium to high body, moderate to high levels of carbonation, low hoppy bitterness or hop fruitiness, strong malty sweet character, and flavour of chocolate alongside the more traditional banana and clove found in other German style wheat ales.

Whilst they might appear to be very similar, they can be distinguished from one another in that weizenbock beers can generally be understood to be stronger in alcohol and possessing additional layers of flavour than bottles of dunkelweizen.

The additional layers of flavour found in weizenbock beers often includes raisins, plums, and dark grapes, making this style far more complex and rich.

Both of these styles are traditionally recommended to be enjoyed on their own courtesy of their rich flavour characteristics, however, they can be matched with a number of sweets or dessert items, which matches with the malty sweetness of both of these sub-styles.

Some common examples include banana bread or manchego cheese, in the case of weizenbock, and banoffee pie or gouda cheese, in the case of dunkelweizen.


German-style kristallweizen beers are a sub-style of wheat ale that is essentially a filtered version of a standard hefeweizen, making them transparent and pale gold to straw in their appearance.

Because of their close relationship to hefeweizen beers, kristallweizens are almost always light-bodied beers that contain practically no amounts of hoppy bitterness or fruit flavour, with brewers of this sub-style often choosing to accentuate the malt profile instead.

As you might imagine, a significant amount of wheat malt is used during production, which, when combined with the special ale yeast also used in hefeweizens, results in the presence of unique flavours of banana and clove in many bottles of kristallweizen.

Due to the filtering, however, they usually don’t possess the same strength of flavour and body that hefeweizens do, making them comparable to many lagers in terms of their food pairing recommendations.

Keeping this in mind, these beers will work nicely with any kind of light salad, lightly sauced or seasoned roast pork dish, as well as many types of seafood dishes, in particular, sashimi.

Kristallweizen Characteristics

Belgian Witbier

Belgian Witbier Characteristics

Despite almost fading to the point of extinction, Belgian witbiers were thankfully given a rebirth in the 1960s to where they are now surging in popularity all over the world.

Brewers of this sub-style utilise a hefty amount of wheat malt alongside smaller amounts of barley malt and oats during production, making them typically light to medium bodied and low in both their hoppy bitterness and fruitiness.

Because they are commonly left unfiltered, these beers will almost always be hazy in their appearance and straw to pale gold in their colour, with many also containing higher amounts of carbonation and being average in their levels of alcohol.

Easily the most important characteristic of these beers, however, is the presence of spices, fruits, and herbs, such as coriander and orange peel, amongst others, in the production process, resulting in uniquely flavoured beers with exotic flavours.

When pairing food with these beers, one of the best recommendations is to match the citrus and spice flavours of the beer with fresh and mild goat cheeses or many types of seafood dishes, in particular sushi or fish tacos.

American Wheat Beer

Although similar to their European counterparts hefeweizen, American wheat beers, which can be made using ale or lager yeast, are typically light to medium bodied beers that will mostly appear as pale gold to straw and hazy in their colour and appearance.

Enjoyed by many for their refreshingly simple taste, these beers lack the renowned banana and clove flavours that are famous in many traditional hefeweizen beers and instead possess delicate flavours of citrus as a result of the light use of American hops.

Overall, however, these beers follow closely with other wheat ales in that they accentuate the malt profile of the beer over that of the hops, resulting in beers with low levels of both hoppy bitterness and fruitiness and a slightly sweet maltiness and high level of carbonation.

Although the specific flavour profile of these beers can vary greatly, when looking to pair food with these beers, it is often safest to match them with light salads, many types of fresh seafood dishes, or fruit-based desserts, particularly those made with citrus fruits.

American Wheat Beer Characteristics

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