Yes, Hefeweizen is a wheat beer, but for lovers of serious beer, what makes it exciting is the yeast. (Hefe actually means yeast in German, so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.) Hefeweizen is unfiltered and often bottle-conditioned (meaning the carbonation is created naturally by yeast within the bottle, and the yeast sticks around after, adding richness to the beer.) The special ale yeasts that are used to make traditional German Hefeweizen produce crazy flavors and aromas during fermentation—you can taste cloves and banana, spice and smoke, even traces of vanilla and bubblegum. Usually the brewers use restraint when adding hops to avoid masking these signature flavors.
(By the way, squeezing a lemon into your weissbier will mask the flavors too—we encourage you to skip it!)
Hefeweizen is a great beer for barbecues, complementing sausages and sweet/spicy ribs. It's refreshing and luscious with Thai food and has the perfect clove-and-cardamom flavors to go with Indian curries.
When I went to buy an assortment of bottles of Hefeweizen at my local beer store, the clerk told me that all the German examples tasted the same. That's not at all true, and we definitely had a few favorites.
Serious Beer Ratings
***** Mindblowing; a new favorite **** Awesome, stock up on this *** Around average for the style ** There are probably better options * No, thanks, I'll have water.
Schneider Weisse Hefeweizen (Original) Kelheim, 5.4% ABV This beer pours dark amber (darker than most) and is full of malty flavors, as well as warm spices like nutmeg and cardamom. It's dry, with fewer banana esters than the Franziskaner, and an amazing spiciness, almost like a winter seasonal, though spices aren't actually added. Serve this tasty ale with herb-rubbed pork tenderloin, or try it with a sagey-sausagey savory bread pudding. ****1/4
Hacker-Pschorr Weisse Munich, 5.5% ABV The opacity of this orange-colored beer is a good sign: It's rich and thick, with a scent of orange blossoms and banana. It has a bit more hop backbone than some of the others, and reminds us of Tropicana orange-banana juice (but not sweet.) Drink this one with pork chops or bratwurst. ****
Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Munich, 5% ABV This is a lovely beer to stick your nose in—the scent is all bananas foster. This beer is rich and creamy, without much bitterness, with clove and cinnamon notes that reminded us of banana bread (with a pinch of lemon zest). The banana-milkshake lovers among us were in heaven drinking this beer, though some commented that it might be a little filling on a super-hot day. Pair it with buttery Indian food—yum! ****
Hofbrau Hefe Weizen Munich, 5.1% ABV Golden-marigold in color, this beer is refreshing—perfect for drinking by the pitcher on a hot day. There are hints of orange zest and lime, and only traces of delicate banana and nutmeg flavors. It's not super creamy, but it's clean and fresh tasting. ***3/4
Tucher Helles Hefe-Weizen Nuremburg, 5.3% ABV We smelled apricot jam on toast in this wheat beer, and enjoyed its yeasty, bready flavor. There's a bit of buttery caramelized banana in there, but mostly candied orange peel and roasted apricot (with the skin). Lovely summery beer, not super spicy. ***3/4
Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Munich, 5.5% ABV This dry hefeweizen is perfect to pair with bratwurst and sauerkraut. Though the scent is cinnamony banana and vanilla, it's more dry, toasted and slightly sour than some of the others. Yeasted rye bread flavors come through in this crisp beer. ***1/2
Pinkus Organic Hefe-Weizen Munster, 5.1% ABV On a hot day, we'd be happy drinking this light and lemony beer. The scent is yeasty and doughy but it's light-bodied with lively carbonation, and super refreshing. If you're looking for a banana cream pie beer full of yeasty goodness and spice, this isn't the one, but we liked the delicate flavors of lemon peel, apricot, and kumquat. ***1/2
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Feising, 5.4% ABV This drinkable wheat beer didn't seem quite as complex as some of the others, but its light-bodied style could be more refreshing. The scent is citrus and spice, and the beer is dry, dry, dry, with what tastes like a spoonful of powdered cloves. We'd heard great things about this beer, but were a little disappointed. ***1/4
Erdinger Hefeweizen Erding, 5.3% ABV Rich malt flavors and a creamy mouthfeel make this beer enjoyable, but I couldn't get over the hints of bubblegum and Band-Aid in the background. This had a bit more hop than some, but the flavors reminded us of a thick Kölsch. ***1/4