When you consider beer, you're more talking about a beverage made from grains – both barley and wheat play an important role in the brewing process. However, there are some types of beer that rely heavily on the use of wheat. These wheat beers offer specific characteristics and flavors, as well. Often, they are lighter in color than those brews that use a higher concentration of barley, which provides a dark, heavier body.
Wheat beers are generally top fermented using an ale yeast strain. They also can have a higher alcohol content than other brews and are available in several key varieties. Here, you'll find witbeir and weissbier (both of which mean "white beer").
Weissbier is found in Germany – you'll find a wide range of types that fall into this category. For instance, hefeweizen is a type of weissbier. This is wheat beer that has not been filtered. There is also kristallweizen and dunkelweizen. Weizenstarkbier, or weizenbock, is a stronger type of brew that uses a dark variety of wheat to achieve a darker color and a higher alcohol content.
Witbeir is the Belgian equivalent of weissbier. These have a very refreshing taste, and often use very little hops. In addition to a smattering of hops, these beers use spices like orange peel, coriander and bitter orange to flavor the brew and to help preserve it, a direct descent from medieval beers that did not use hops at all.
There are also sour types of beer produced from wheat. These have become more popular in recent years, though they were also popular historically. You'll find lambic varieties here, as well as Leipziger Gose and Berliner Weisse. Unlike the other varieties, lambic beers are brewed with wild yeasts – causing spontaneous fermentation.
The Use of Barley
Even though these are technically "wheat beers," you will still find that barley plays an important role in their creation. Barley usually makes up a much smaller percentage of the mix, but it is often present, particularly in American brews. German beers often have a lot less barley present, which runs counter to the strict German purity law of 1516 also known as the Reinheitsgebot.
Wheat beers are very popular, particularly during spring and summer, thanks in large part to their refreshing, crisp taste. While darker, heavier beers are ideal for the colder months of the year, the approaching spring should be your cue to crack open something a bit lighter. There are tons of options to choose from if you want to enter the world of wheat beer, as well.