One of the first craft beers I remember seeking out was a Weissbier (what we commonly refer to as Hefeweizen in the United States). I didn’t know much about craft beer at the time (and hadn’t yet started homebrewing), and I was at lunch with a friend one warm summer day. Taking a flier, I ordered something I hadn’t ever heard of (it was Circus Boy from Magic Hat) on a recommendation from my buddy. It was probably the perfect summer beer, and while I don’t consider it (now) a world-beating example of the style, it was certainly enough to pique my interest. The very next day I picked up a case for an upcoming barbeque. Weissbier really is one of the great summer beer styles, from its flavor profile to its light, fluffy body—heck, even the way sunlight makes it glow a hazy, golden color. Every homebrewer should have a good Hefe recipe on the shelf for a crowd-pleaser of a beer in hot weather!
A classic world beer style, Weissbier is a pale, drinkable wheat beer with a modest ABV, virtually no bitterness, and a distinctive appearance and flavor profile. By tradition, the grist for Weissbiers is at least half malted wheat, which contributes a nice bready background. Grist isn’t where the interest is here, though—what makes a Weissbier a Weissbier is in its yeast. First, the traditional strains are incredibly persistent non-flocculators. While some breweries have (deliberately or accidentally) selected their strains to create clear or “crystal” wheat beers, most still leave a ton of yeast in suspension, which adds a unique mouthfeel to Weissbiers. More important, though, are the characteristic esters and phenols produced, specifically a banana-and-clove flavor that has come to be its most noticeable trademark. When we talk about styles with a particular “hook,” this is always my go-to example. Want to know if you’re holding a Weissbier? Give it a sniff. If you don’t immediately smell banana and spice, you know it’s not a great example of the style. You’ll taste wheat, of course, but it’s kind of like how you taste pumpkin in pumpkin pie: it’s there, but what makes it a pumpkin pie is the spice behind the pumpkin!
I say give this beer about as much wheat as you can handle. To be true to its history, at least 50 percent of the grist should be malted wheat, but I end up higher than that. How high? As high as I can go and reliably lauter/sparge without getting stuck. Start with 5 lb (2.3 kg) of malted wheat and then add 4 lb (1.8 kg) of floor-malted Pilsner. Those two should give you some great low-Lovibond bread-and-biscuit aromatics with a touch of honey. You can stop here with the grist, or if you want to add a bit more light malt flavor (I recommend it, especially if you can’t source floor-malted Pils) add 4 oz (113 g) pound of your favorite 20-ish Lovibond character malt (Melanoidin is popular, but I prefer Victory). In a traditional recipe, we’d then do a decoction mash, but honestly, who has that kind of time? You’ll also need some rice hulls (8 oz/227 g seems to do the trick) for later.
Hops are simple here: 10 IBUs of anything, right at the top of the boil. Just in case some of the flavor comes through, it might be wise to use a good German Hallertau variety, but I’ve (in a pinch) used a generic bittering hop with no obvious ill effects. If you want more floral in your final product, keep the IBUs level but do a single 30-minute addition instead of a 60-minute, adjusting for the lower isomerization level.
As for yeast, there’s only one answer here in my book: The Weihenstephan yeast (Wyeast 3068) all the way.
Those rice hulls you picked up are about to come into play. Mash this beer at your usual 152°F (67°C), but dough in the rice hulls along with the grains. They’ll prevent a stuck lauter/sparge. Can you get away with not adding them? I have, but it’s a risk, and if you’ve ever had the joy of a stuck mash, you’ll know it’s more than worth one dollar to prevent it.
Boil as usual, chill, and pitch—but do not go overboard on your pitch here. I’m not telling you to deliberately under pitch, but don’t take whatever steps you normally do to encourage yeast growth. Don’t grow up a starter. Don’t oxygenate the wort. One smack-pack, no oxygen or aeration. Why? Because if you provide too much help, your yeast may not produce the flavors you want! Esters in particular are, broadly speaking, a sign of yeast stress. Unstressed yeast will coast through and produce minimal esters (and phenols, I found). Less is more here. Enjoy the break. Or grow a starter and then split it between two batches!
Ferment at a modest (but still, for me, kind-of-warm) 66°F (19°C), and hold there until the completion of fermentation. Some recommend higher, some lower, and in truth you’ll notice some change in the esters/phenols if you tinker with the temperature, but I find 66°F is right on the money for this yeast. It results in a good balance between fruity and spicy without wandering too far on either side (into the bubblegum/pepper realms). You shouldn’t need a diacetyl rest, but it can’t hurt to give the yeast a few extra days to clean up any off-flavors. Finally, don’t cold crash. Just package and carbonate to a healthy 2.5 volumes of CO2. This style should be highly carbonated but stop short of the kind of spritzy carbonation you get in a Berliner weisse (which edges toward 3 volumes).
You can drink this one right away, but don’t necessarily listen to those who tell you that this beer can’t be aged. It absolutely can be. It takes a long time for it to drop clear, and you can, of course, rouse the yeast if you’ve bottle conditioned! Store it cold, and there’s no reason you can’t get a flavor-stable and summery-tasting Hefeweizen clear through into the cold winter months.
Fermentation is where beer is made. In Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®’s online course How to Manage Your Fermentation for Better Beer, Josh Weikert covers fermentation temperature, yeast pitching rates, and everything else you need to know about managing fermentation. Sign up today and put yourself on the road to brewing better beer.