Brewing with Artisanal Wheat

There are choices you can make when it comes to picking the right wheat for your grain bill. But by going a little deeper and using artisanal varieties of wheat Nile Zacherle of Mad Fritz Brewing says you can really draw out new flavors in your beer.

Nile Zacherle Jul 8, 2019 - 3 min read

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At Mad Fritz, we use wheat in a variety of ways and are always curious to try new varieties in our recipes. Variety plays a huge role in aroma as well as flavor impact. In the past, our weizenbock was made with Sonora wheat, which is a soft wheat berry. It contributed a honeycomb-like aroma intertwined with the spice of the Bavarian Wheat yeast. Sonora wheat is texturally similar to the white wheat we now use. We had to modify the recipe due to the limited sourcing and have begun growing it ourselves for harvest next year.

We have some Ethiopian Blue Tinge emmer wheat that we plan to play with soon and will be hoping to expand our plantings of this as well. It’s critical to choose a beer style that will help promote its flavor expression while not burying it in hops or other additions. Probably the most exciting part of working with wheat is there are a lot of varieties out there, but not many people work with them in beer, so it’s another whole flavor palate to play with.

I’ve been lucky to know and work with a lot of craft maltsters, and by fostering these relationships, I can get artisanal-wheat varieties for my beers. But it’s not always easy or inexpensive. For example, I couldn’t use my traditional mill with the Sonora wheat. I had to take it to a community stone miller for grinding, and it runs $2–$3 per pound.

Brewers often use wheat for foam stability, although it can really be useful in assisting with low-alcohol beer’s textural profile. Our grisette has about 30 percent white wheat in the grain bill as it’s a lighter style, and I feel the wheat broadens the palate just as some add flaked oats do for session ales.

There’s a lot that we haven’t explored yet with grains, and especially with wheat, there is the potential to take it to new places. We have a beer audience now that is more accepting of turbid beers, so we can play judiciously with the wheat without the final beer being suspect because it’s not clear. That gives us an element of freedom—as long as the beer is delicious, that’s what matters.