German Style Beers: Hefeweizen
Hefeweizen is a German wheat beer hailing from Bavaria. The name itself translates to Yeast (Hefe) Wheat (Weizen); a fitting name for an unfiltered wheat beer. The unfiltered yeast and wheat give hefeweizens a hazy appearance and a slightly bitter flavor. Both of these attributes make it one of the most popular beers in the world, and has retained its popularity for nearly 500 years.
When hefeweizens were first brewed in the 1500s, German beer Purity Laws almost hindered its success. These laws stated that the only ingredients allowed in brewing were barley, hops and water. Hefeweizens, however, require yeast. These laws were designed to keep beer crafting financially accessible, and to protect consumers from harmful adjuncts intended for beer preservation. Brewers were not satisfied by the Purity Law and felt the limited ingredients produced a lower quality beer with bad flavors. Many brewers began brewing beers with malted barley or other adjuncts to improve the flavor, an act many considered rebellious. Eventually, these illegal beers caught the attention of the royal family who passed a mandate allowing a single brewery in Bavaria to brew it.
Hefeweizens are different than other beers due to the fact that they are brewed with a substantial amount of wheat. Roughly 50-70% of the raw material is wheat malt, and the rest is barley malt. Wheat beers in Germany are called Weissbiers, and hefeweizen is one of four subcategories. Kristallweizen is a very clear beer due to its high filtration, while dunkelweizen is a very dark heavy beer. Weizenbock is a malty, strong beer that combines various styles, and is the heartiest of the four wheat beers. Hefeweizen, however, is by far the most popular due to its refreshing taste.
Although Hefeweizens are German in origin, they were made popular in the United States by way of German immigrants. The recipe has changed slightly since its introduction to American brewers, primarily due to the different strains of yeast. American yeast strains result in a much maltier hefeweizen than those brewed in Germany. American brewers also added hops and malt to their brews, furthering the flavor divide between the original and the American interpretation.