Do you know what the best part about summer is?
…wait, what? Summer is over? No, don’t tell me that.
Summer is the best part of the year, and the best part about summer is the beer. Wheat beer, specifically. Glorious and fruity, wheat beer is my drink of choice all season long.
Actually, I guess, technically wheat bear is my drink of choice all year long. Summer, or fall, spring, or winter. While everyone else is moving on to stouts and porters, I like wheat beer. Anytime, anywhere. It’s so deliciously refreshing no matter the weather.
So, here, that’s what we’re going to talk about:
You may be as guilty as I have been over the years. Confused, and sometimes unable to always distinguish between the styles, I have, on occasion, used the terms interchangeably. It’s a reasonable mistake, as these two members of the ale family share more similarities than there are differences, but trust me when I say that soon you’ll think it crazy you ever thought they were different names for the same type of beer.
As we’ve already discussed, German Hefeweizen and Belgian Witbier are both members of the ale family; they’re alike in that way. The two styles of wheat beer are also both made with roundabout 50 percent wheat, which replaces the malted barley found in most other styles of beer.
How else are they similar? Well, funny you asked.
Belgian Witbier and German Hefeweizen both remain unfiltered; both feature a relatively low, to moderate alcohol content, and they generally have a number of tastes and flavors in common. Each style is extremely mild, hop-wise, both possess a distinct spiced sweetness and bright citrus quality — how refreshing!
First among the differences in these German and Belgian styles (respectively) of wheat bear is their appearance. It can almost always be assumed that, when paired together, a Hefeweizen will be dark in color — ranging in hue from a pale straw color to a dark, deep gold — while Witbier translates to ‘white beer’ for a good reason.
Beyond the superficial level, the heartiest of the differences can be pinpointed only upon a close examination of flavor, and of the specific ingredients at play. The citrus and spice notes found in Belgian Witbier come from the addition of herbs and spices like coriander or orange peel. Such flavors in German Hefeweizens comes not from added elements, but from characteristics in the yeast itself.
So basically what I’m saying is, if you like your wheat beer bold and fruity, opt for a Belgian Witbier; but if conservative flavors are more your style, go for that Hefeweizen.