Wheat beers are a diverse bunch. Mainly, they fall into three camps—American wheat ales, Belgian witbiers and German hefeweizens. The cheat sheet: Hefes are characterized by banana and clove flavors; American wheats tend to have more elevated hop flavor and virtually no banana notes to speak of; Belgian wits’ calling cards are orange peel and coriander additions. Of course, there’s all manner of souring, fruit additions and spice that brewers use to put their own stamps on these bases. From the traditional to the twisty, here are six to bust out at the next backyard cookout.
Upland Wheat Ale
This Indiana-brewed American wheat hews close to the classic profile, but with a light brown sugar and cereal flavor that’s almost reminiscent of raw cookie dough. There’s sweet lemon on the aroma that doesn’t quite translate to the sip; instead, bready wheat bubbles up with a light cinnamon spice around the edges.
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Though they’re considered summer beers, hefes aren’t always refreshing. Heavy wheat and sugary banana can weigh down the hefty sip and contribute to that I-just-ate-a-loaf-of-bread fullness. This Sierra Nevada version, though, plays up the style’s thirst-quenching possibilities by forgoing some of the heavier fruitiness in favor of sweet orange and light clove. Wheat character isn’t lost, especially in the Cheerio-like aroma.
If you’re really searching for a wheat beer without the heft, this Utah-brewed version is it. Krystalweizens are highly filtered, yeast-free version of German weizens, so expect some of those fruit aromas but with a transparent appearance from which the style takes its name. Squatters’ krystal leans heavily on banana flavors, with an earthy minerality to the swallow. The mouthfeel is almost watery; perfect for days when temperatures reaching into the 80s and 90s.
New Braunfels Fleur du Mal
And now for something completely different: Texas’ New Braunfels’ hefeweizen (aged on lemongrass) is indeed tart, with a light funk to the sourness that isn’t for the uninitiated. The sip is layered but weighted toward the sour finish; up front, there’s a floral quality that could be due to the addition of Texas-harvested honey. Overall, it’s a nifty flavor experiment, and one that fans of sour and funky beers should check out.
5 Rabbit 5 Lizard
Specializing in Latin American-inspired brews, Chicago’s 5 Rabbit puts that spin on a Belgian wit, adding passionfruit and lime peel in place of the wit’s classic orange flavor. The result is a sweet, easy-drinking tropical take on the style, with noticeable lime, passionfruit and nearly pineapple juiciness. The effervescent sip finishes tart, wiping away the fruits’ earlier sweetness.
Second Self Thai Wheat
There’s something new to each sip of this Thai-spiced take on the American wheat from Atlanta’s Second Self. Pungent ginger rides alongside wheat graininess, while flowery and peppery lemongrass flavor kicks in on the finish. Another sip reveals more specific orchid flower notes that latch on to the lemongrass. Its natural pairings are pad Thai or curry, or use it to cut the heat from a crunchy green papaya salad.