Home / German Beer Styles / Hefeweizen
"Hefe" means yeast, "Weizen" means wheat. Hefeweizen is a top fermented, unfiltered, bottle conditioned wheat beer with a noticeable yeast sediment and a cloudy appearance. Wheat beers are also referred to as Weissbiers (white beers) because before the invention of pale lagers and pale ales, most beers were dark. Wheat beers were the exception as the wheat content lightened the colour of the beer.
Hefeweizens are usually quite sweet and fruity, with a full body. The typical hefeweizen taste, which distinguishes it from its Belgian wheat beer cousins is produced by the types of yeast used in Bavaria. There are often medicinal or clove flavours, produced by chemicals called phenols engendered by the yeast. Other chemicals produced by the yeast, called esters, produce bubble gum, banana and vanilla flavours. Esters are also used in sweets like pear drops or fruit gums. Hefeweizens are very lightly hopped so have little bitterness and harshness. The ratio of wheat to barley malt used is commonly around 50:50 but the wheat portion may rise to as much as 70%. With the exception of Gose, German wheat beer brewers don't add coriander or other botanicals and spices to their beer as Belgian brewers do.
Hefeweizen should be poured smoothly into a tilted, rinsed glass. Pause when there's about a quarter of the bottle left, swirl the bottle to lift the sediment, then pour the rest into the glass to give a big, fragrant head and release the yeast into the beer to give it its cloudy appearance. The glass should be like the Franziskaner glass shown on the right — tall and graceful, with a narrow base widening toward the top before narrowing slightly again.
I've never seen a German add a slice of lemon to a Weissbier but apparently some do. I think it ruins the taste of the beer and the acidity of the lemon kills the head. I can see the point of adding a wedge of lime to Corona because the taste of the beer is so vapid that the zest of the lime is a welcome reminder that your taste buds are still working, but decent beers shouldn't need a fruit garnish, in my humble opinion. However, I'm told that it is more common to add lemon slices to the filtered version of Weissbier: Kristallweizen.
Wheat beers were originally forbidden by the Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity law), that forbade the inclusion of anything but barley, hops and water (spontaneous fermentation was used instead of yeast). Some say the law was originally intended to save wheat for the baking of bread. Roger Protz  states that the Bavarian royal family held a monopoly over barley production and wished to prevent the use of other grains in beer from undermining their monopoly. All the while, the royal Wittelsbach gangsters were still enjoying wheat beers denied to the general population. The laws were relaxed to allow the Schneider brewery to brew wheat beers in 1850. Schneider Weisse is still one of the better examples of the type, and somewhat darker than most.
Weizenbock is a variation on the Hefeweizen style but brewed to a have stronger
alcohol content as with Bock lagers - typically around 6.4%.
To compare the relative merits of some Weissbiers I organised a blind tasting with Bob Thompson, a big Weissbier fan. We sampled nine beers without knowing which was which, giving them marks out of ten for nose, taste and finish. Our clear favourite was Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier (score: 9, 9, 8.5), which had a rich, banana-clove, toffee-butter nose and and was a gorgeous, juicy rich mouthful of spicy banana, with a very spicy, dry finish in which the clove flavour was even more prominent. Superb! The standard to which Weissbiers should aspire.
Our next favourite was Schneider Weisse (score: 8.5, 8.5, 8), significantly darker in colour than other Weissbiers, almost as dark as a dunkel. It had a rich, banana-clove nose but with hints of licorice and a deep, rich mouthfeel, smooth and satisfying, with hints of toffee and a light grassy note. The finish was dry and spicy, but not in such a pronounced way as the Weihenstephaner.
Joint third place went to Maisels Weisse Original, Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen and Gutmann Hefeweizen. Maisels (score: 6, 7, 7) was not too distinctive on the nose (spicy, mainly banana and cloves but less prominent than in some others) but it really stood out from the rest of the Weissbiers with its sparkling, spritzy, fizzy-on-the-tongue, refreshing character. It was very light and refreshing, with hints of lemon and grapefruit, very more-ish, with a spicy but not-too-dry finish.
Gutmann (score: 6.5, 7.5, 6) had a light spicy-banana nose, with perhaps some hints of spongecake or light fruitcake. A banana sponge cake, perhaps? It was juicy and distinctive in the mouth, with the characteristic banana hints, with a mildly spicy but not at all dry finish. There were some fairly noticeable chunks of yeast at the bottom of the glass, but that may have been a storage or transit issue.
We both fondly remembered Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen (score: 6.5, 7, 6.5) as the first German Weissbier we had ever encountered. We agreed that it was an ideal, gentle introduction to Weissbiers and one that we would easily recommend to Weissbier virgins. The nose was of creamy banana with gentle clove hints. In the mouth: "smooth, quaffable, down-the-hatch... very nice, soft, drinkable, easy and juicy" with a slightly spicy, not-too-dominant finish with hints of grapefruit.
Karg Helles Hefe-Weißbier (score: 6, 6, 6) had a zesty, slightly cidery nose and was sharp in the mouth, with lots of grapefruit flavour, becoming peppery and spicy in the finish.
Staffelberg-Brau Hefe-Weissbier (score: 5.5, 5.5, 6.5) had lots of vanilla on the nose, with the usual banana-clove character and a grassy hint. In the mouth I found it had perhaps more of a lemon than banana flavour, again with a grassy hint. We both found the finish to be quite spicy.
Karg Dunkles Hefe-Weißbier (score: 6, 5.5, 5.5) was quite light for a Dunkel and looked rather like Schneider Weisse. Bob found gooseberry on the nose and I thought it had hints of strawberry, maybe jam roly-poly pudding, with sharp lemon and vanilla. Bob wasn't keen on the taste, finding it difficult to judge and not too good. I thought it was juicy but fairly thin, with a sharp, spicy, but not very dry finish.
In last place came Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Bavarian Style Wheat Beer (score: 5.5, 5.5, 5.5), though it was maybe a little unfair to compare it with genuine Bavarian wheat beers, as it is brewed in London. Bob thought the nose had a very pronounced banana-vanilla quality but I thought it was a combination of apple and vanilla with a buttery hint. I found the apple hints in the mouth also, making it quite different to the other beers. Bob thought it was "OK, average, not very spicy". I agreed that it wasn't very spicy by comparison with the others but was quite zesty and creamy in the mouth, with a lemon-grapefruit, juicy, not dry, finish. We weren't able to tell that it wasn't a genuine Bavarian beer, though.
Other types of German wheat beer:
Click any of the links below to read or add reviews of the beers on the Oxford Bottled Beer Database
 Roger Protz (1998) "The Taste Of Beer" London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
Weizenbier by Ben Jones -- a detailed description and listing of producers and other resources.
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Last updated: 22nd September 2004
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