Home Cover Thirsty Thursday: Weihenstephaner’s Hefe Weissbier

Thirsty Thursday: Weihenstephaner’s Hefe Weissbier

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Photo by Ed Miller

Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.

This week I’m taking a break – from hyper-local efforts, from trendy beers and from craft beer in general.  Instead, as the weather continues to get comfortably warm, I’m sipping on something much more basic, something that’s been around forever, something that’s deliciously easy.  It’s a beer I often turn to this time of year, one that is both flavorful and sessionable, and although it can be a challenge to pronounce, Weihenstephaner’s Hefe Weissbier is truly an all-time classic.

Weihenstephaner is known as the world’s oldest brewery.  It was founded in 725 when Saint Corbinian and his 12 companions started a Benedictine monastery and began to brew beer, though it wasn’t officially a brewery until 1040 when Abbott Arnold obtained a license to brew and sell beer.  Brewing under the Reinheitsgebot, a 1516 German law stating beer must be brewed using basic ingredients of water, barley, yeast and hops, this Bavarian-based brewery has a long and storied history. 

Today, Weihenstephaner – which is run by the government of Bavaria – produces more than 300,000 barrels of beer annually and continues to be one of the most recognizable breweries in Germany.  There are 10 beers in the brewery’s lineup but none is more popular than Hefe Weissbier, which won a gold medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup. Actually, Hefe Weissbier has won a whole slew of international awards. 

The sessionable 5.4 percent ABV wheat beer features 14 IBUs  and is best enjoyed just a little closer to room temperature at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Weihenstephaner.  This should not come as much of a surprise, since German beers are often intended to be on the warmer side.  I usually enjoy mine ice cold, since it’s what I’m accustomed to with American beer – especially since I typically enjoy this effort the most as the weather gets warmer.  It’s a great summer beer.

The look of Hefe Weissbier couldn’t be much more classic.  It features a gold and blue color scheme, with the brewery’s name prominently featured, as well as the Great Seal of the Bavarian State, and explains how to store it, the alcohol content and that it was “brewed under the purity law of 1516.”  Would I like to know the specific ingredients in the beer?  Yes – but I understand that Weihenstephaner has been doing it the same way since long before I enjoyed it and there’s a specific tradition there.

When I cracked it open, I immediately went right for the pour.  I’ve smelled this beer numerous times and could smell it in my sleep, so I decided to wait until it was in my glass.  A classic German beer requires fun glassware, giving me an excuse to use my boot or one-liter dimple Oktoberfest mug, so I elected to pour Hefe Weissbier into my smaller, half-liter glass.  It poured a bright, somewhat cloudy, golden color, with a ton of white head, like three fingers worth.  The retention was incredible, proving the exemplary quality of the malts used which has been perfected over centuries, however the lacing was a little less impressive as I continued to drink.

As I took that first sip, I went in for the aroma, taking a huge whiff.  What I got was a subtle hint of citrus and a little banana, but it was the wheat that dominated my nose.  It’s a wheat beer, one of the original in this category, and it smelled like it should.  But that’s not always the case with the hundreds upon hundreds of standard wheat beers that dominate shelves today.

The body of Hefe Weissbier is somewhere between low and medium, teetering on that line of being more in with a light-style beer and more in with a robust effort.  The taste is a little more complex than you might think, given that Weihenstephaner is one of the more mass-produced German beers.  It starts with a strong bready flavor, follows it with both banana and caramel and then on the back-end there’s a heavy, dry dose of wheat, leaving little distinguishable aftertaste or bitterness. It’s simple, yet complex – and it checks off almost all the boxes, especially taste. I could drink this beer from June until October and probably not get tired of it.

The six-pack of Hefe Weissbier bottles was $11, which is a great price for such a drinkable beer.  I don’t believe it comes in cans, sorry all of you trendy snobs. If you’re not a bottle fan, then just find it on tap, it’s worth it.

When I went to BeerAdvocate I was surprised at just how much of a footprint this beer had there.  The website itself gave Hefe Weissbier a distinguishable 98 and the average score is 4.45, based on close to 9,000 ratings.  I’m really not too far off of that number, maybe just a little lower.  I would give it an 8.2 out 10 because it’s delicious, it’s insanely crushable and it’s a recipe proven over centuries.  This isn’t just your German version of Bud Light or Miller Lite, no this is a complex, flavorful beer that was made to be consumed in large doses – and one that doesn’t tire easily. This beer makes me happy, especially this time of year!

Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.