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Aspects of Brewing a Wheat Beer

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With half of my family originating from Bavaria, I’ve been exposed to wheat beers from a young age, and would often proudly pour them for members of my family. I remember the unusual glasses, the lively bubbles, and the golden color of the cloudy liquid underneath a thick creamy head. It was a skill to pour a Hefeweizen correctly. Too quick and you end up with 80% foam, too slow and you end up with sad, headless drink. Wheat beers are a staple in many parts of Germany, with a variety of styles to choose from depending on region. Wheat beers also have some unique brewing aspects, which make them a great beer for homebrewers to experiment with, as they respond noticeably to a number of variables.

Wheat Beer Profile


Wheat beers, or Weizen (German for wheat) as they are known in Germany, are a very unique style of beer. There are hardly any hop aromas, no discernible hop bitterness, just a rich maltiness and the flavors the special yeast imparts on the beer. It is a very carbonated and fairly sweet drink, with dominant aromas of banana, clove, and some citrus scents like orange or lemon in some versions. Traditionally cloudy due to the low flocculating yeast and thus also called Hefeweizen (yeast wheat), but you can get a filtered version, or Kristallweizen, if you want to cut back on your yeast consumption. The high wheat content makes for a fluffy and lasting head atop of the beer that is a pleasure to sink your nose into during a hot day, or after a long day at work.
For another variation, replace some of the original malts with darker malts, and you got yourself a Dunkelweizen. A darker, richer beer, with hints of biscuit, bread, but still having that banana and clove character.

The process of making a decent Weizen will vary from brewer to brewer, so it’s best to experiment with different techniques. So let’s find out what these variables are and how they might affect your beer. I’ll be focusing on the German Hefeweizen, but be aware there are other wheat beers out there, like the Belgian Wit and the American Wheat, each with their own techniques, ingredients, and flavor profiles, but their specific production techniques are outside the scope of this article.

Ingredients


Wheat beers traditionally have a short and simple list of ingredients with most of the flavors and characters coming from the malt and yeast used.

Grain



The grain bill is usually pretty straight forward 40%-60% malted wheat, 50%-30% pilsner or other light malt, and around 10% Munich or other darker malt for color. How much wheat people use seems to vary, but 40% is pretty common in homebrew. In Germany it is usually expected that wheat beers contain at least 50% wheat malt, and some breweries even use up to 70%.

Hops



Hops are only used for bittering, and then still in small amounts. Wheat beers will have a range of 10-20 IBUs, usually somewhere in the middle. The traditional hops used are German noble hops with floral and citrus notes and low bitterness. Examples are Hallertau Hersbrucker, Tettnanger, Perle, or similar. These days there are people creating hoppy wheat beers, with some more aroma additions, so it’s worth experimenting. New breeds of German hops, like Huell Melon or Mandarina Bavaria offer new opportunities to experiment with new aroma profiles however.

Wheat Beer Water Profile


The water profile will want to be on the malty to very malty side. This means a high chloride to sulphate ratio, so keep some calcium chloride to hand. I would aim for something like this.
Ca+2Mg+2Na+Cl-SO4-2
10051010050
This should accentuate the maltiness and provide a nice rich mouthfeel. A mash pH of 5.2-5.6 is recommended to keep those enzymes happy and ensure full conversion.

Process


While it is possible to create decent beers with a single infusion mash, a multiple step mash, or decoction mash, is recommended. Due to the high wheat content, there are a number of benefits of the different mash stages. Some people only do a single decoction, whereas others do two.

Mash


A low mash-in temperature of 40°C (104°F)facilitates the initial breakdown of the wheat proteins. The mash temperature is then raised to 63°C (145°F) for a maltose rest. The yeast requires lots of maltose to generate phenols. The mash is kept at this temperature for around 30 minutes. A decoction is then pulled and heated to 70°C (158°F). After 15 minutes the decoction is heated to boiling and held there for 15 minutes before being added back to the main mash, raising its temperature to 63°C (145°F). Another rest is held for 20 minutes before another decoction is pulled and boiled for 20 minutes and returned to the main mash bringing it up to 75°C (167°F) for 10 to 15 minutes before lautering.
To work out the amounts, you can either use an online calculator, or estimate the volume with this formula:
Dvol = Mv * (Tt - St) / (Bt - St)
Dvol: decoction volume
Mv : total mash volume
Tt : target temp (either °C or °F)
St : start temp (either °C or °F)
Bt : boil temp (either °C or °F)
Add about 15% -20% to this figure. Add the decoction slowly whilst monitoring the temperature of the mash. When the target temp is reached, leave the decoction to cool to the target temperature and then add it back in. Note that the total mash volume is the volume of the water with the grains.
A typical non-decoction profile for the homebrewer might look like this:

It is however also possible to do a stepped mash in a kettle without decoctions. Some will say that decoction mashing will add melanoidin flavors to the wort due to the boil of the partial mash, and others say they get the same results. This is something I am still experimenting with to see if there are any noticeable differences between the two methods. I also plan to compare the results of a single infusion mash with those from the aforementioned staged mashes.
Due to the high amounts of protein in Wheat, and the fact that its kernels lack a husk, stuck sparges are often a concern. To reduce the risk of a stuck sparge you can add about 500g (1lbs) of either rice or oat husks to a 10l (2 gal) mash. I generally soak these in some hot water for about 30 minutes to rinse off any dust, and also to reduce the amount of water they absorb during the mash. Then I drain them and mix them into the mash and proceed as normal. This is not always necessary, but advised if using more than 40%-50% wheat.

Fermentation/Yeast


Probably one of the most important parts, and one that will require some experimenting with pretty much every variable you can think of for fermenting: pitch rate, pitch temp, fermentation temp, open vs closed fermentation, removing Krausen, fermenter shape, etc
I’m only able to experiment with a number of variables, but read any thread or article about fermenting with Weizen yeast, and you will get a bunch of different information. Some will say that variable X affects the flavor, other say it doesn’t, and so on. I’m not going to dictate how to make it correctly, but go over some of the conceptions of the effects that different variables have on the outcome.

Yeast


You will want to use a wheat strain, as these are capable of producing that signature mix of phenols and phenols that wheat beer is famous for. I would advise using liquid yeast, as I’ve not had great flavor production from dried yeast, but your mileage may vary.

Pitching Rate



In the case of a wheat beer we want it to produce esters and we can make that happen by stressing the yeast. Under-pitching by varying amounts, allows you to control the amount of banana flavor your beer will have. I’ve seen people pitch from 0.75 to 0.25 million cells per ml per °P. The more stressed the yeast, the more banana you will get. Even though you are looking to under pitch, it is still recommended that you check yeast viability and cell count using a calculator to see if you require a starter or not. Above is a small starter I made from which I decanted half for the next beer. For my last 12 liter batch I aimed for around 83 billion cells.

Wheat Beer Oxygenation


Under oxygenating your wort will also stress the yeast, resulting in more banana flavors. You should still oxygenate your wort if you simply shake or splash your wort usually, as this will rarely get much oxygen into solution. I would suggest not using pure oxygen however if you want to get esters from your yeast.

Pitch temp


Wheat beer is pitched at around 2-3°C below fermentation temperature. This helps prevent the yeast from producing unwanted off flavors during the lag phase, and gives it a chance to acclimatize and multiply before starting main fermentation. Once main fermentation starts the wort temperature will rise.

Temperature


Temperature during fermentation has a great impact on beer flavor. To produce our nice flavors, we will need to keep our yeast around 20°C (68°F). Higher temps will promote banana flavors, whilst lower temps of around 15°C (59°F)will promote clove flavors. What temp you ferment at will depend on which of the two flavors you prefer. If you are using a temperature controlled with differential settings it’s advisable to keep them as close as possible. Generally setting the hot and cold differentials to 0.5 is a good idea, but make sure to not cycle the compressor too much.
I would however suggest being cautious with stressing the yeast on all fronts, as you might end up with either too much banana flavor, poor attenuation, or other issues. It’s worth experimenting with a few brews to see which variables produce your desired flavor profiles.

Fermentation profile


As stated above it’s good to pitch the yeast into a wort that’s around 2°C-3°C (35°F-37°F) below fermentation temp, and let it rise gradually until the target temp is reached. I usually plug in my Inkbird set to the fermentation temp and leave the heating element unplugged. Then the fridge will kick in once fermentation temp is reached.
Wheat yeast will form a lot of krausen, so make sure you have plenty of headspace, or use a blow off tube. After about a week, fermentation will have slowed and possibly hit final gravity. At this point it’s good to start ramping down the temp and keep it at around 4C (40°F) for another week to cold condition. As you are generally fermenting in the upper ranges (for the esters) a diacetyl rest is rarely needed, but it’s still a good idea to let the yeast clean up a bit at the end of the fermentation before dropping the temp.

Wheat Beer Carbonation


These are highly carbonated beers in general, and depending on who you ask you can get CO2 volumes of anywhere between 2.6 and 4.5. I would suggest somewhere in the range of 3.0-3.5 is a good place to start. A decent bottle will withstand around 4.0 volumes of CO2, so depending on your carbonation technique, this could be a limiting factor.


Want to Read More About Wheat Beers? Check Out This Article »


Sometimes you want to throw a little twist into an old favorite. Sometimes you want to get creative but don’t know where to start. Sometimes you have a beer idea in mind, but don’t want to spend ages tinkering with a base recipe before you start introducing more unusual elements. That’s when you start kitbashing....
 
Sven Steinbauer
Hi, may I please have a citation for the phrase:
"The yeast requires lots of maltose to generate phenols".
I am very interested in this information,
Thank you.
 
I think there may be an error in your Celsius to Fahrenheit calculations. A difference of 2-3C is not a difference of 35-37F. A difference between 20 and 22C is the difference between 68 and 71.6F. There might be problems if you wanted to ferment at 68F and pitched at 31F!!!
 
That was a wonderful read! Thank you! I've never really had the urge to brew a Weizen but now I do! Any experience with BIAB and 40%-50% wheat?
2trout
 
Gruss aus Illinois! Hefe Weizen ist mein liebsten bier.
Nice write up. Where is your family from? I was stationed in Bavaria for 9 years; 4 in Augsburg and 5 in Bamberg.
I've been brewing HW since 1994.
I must have brewed 500 gallons of HW over the years, not including the 250 gal batch I made at a local brewery. I really miss having a couple of Julius Echter or Maisel HWs pre-flight (fruhstuck) at the Nurnberg airport. I've used many recipes, but always come back to my variant of a Pinkus HW.
Here's my recipe if you'd like to give it a try (and for any of the readers):
All grain, OG: 1.050 / FG: 1.011 (5.2% ABV)
5#, 12 oz wheat
3#, 12 oz Pale
8 oz Rice hulls
2 AAU Hallertau (at 60)
WLP300 HW yeast, stepped up starter
Mash: 122F for 30 mins, 151 for 60 mins.
Collect 6.5 gals.
Boil: 90 mins
Ferment at 70-72 for 7-10 days.
Prime with 5-6 oz corn sugar for 4-7 days.
Refrigerate at least 48 hours before drinking.
Spater.
 
Correct.
+2°C is +35°F, however the difference is not the same, that takes into account different values for freezing point.
2-3°C difference is about 3.6-5.4°F.
 
Good catch on that. I probably converted the celcius to fahrenheit directly, instead of taking the difference.
 
Not directly, but the maltose rest will allow maltase enzymes to work which in turn produces the precursors the yeast use to create the banana esters
 
I'm doing a series with this recipe
12l batch
FERMENTABLES
1.3 kg - German - Pilsner (40.6%)
1.6 kg - German - Wheat Malt (50%)
0.3 kg - German - Munich Light (9.4%)
HOPS
8 g - Tettnanger, Type: Pellet, AA: 4.5, Use: Boil for 70 min, IBU: 3.51
8 g - Tettnanger, Type: Pellet, AA: 4.5, Use: First Wort, IBU: 3.86
IBU total: 14.59
YEAST
Whitelabs WLP300
Mash profile
43C for 30 minutes
62C for 30 minutes
71C for 30 minutes
78C mashout 15 minutes
 
This dunkel is also a nice recipe
https://www.brewersfriend.com/homebrew/recipe/view/554586/winter-wheat
I'd cut back on the biscuit though, unless it's a taste you like.
 
Ok. I think there is some confusion here.
Once you reach the temperature in which maltose is generated in the mash, the enzyme maltase has already been denatured. There is a mash schedule that bypasses this problem in which a portion of the grist, usually ~1/3, is mashed at saccharification temperatures. This portion is then added to the rest of the grist at a temperature the maltase enzyme is active. The maltose from the first step is then converted into glucose by maltase and a regular mashing schedule commences.
The temperature in which maltase is active also coincides with the temperature that ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid is formed. The increased glucose from this mashing profile increases the amount of isoamyl acetate that is generated by the yeast while the ferulic and p-coumaric acid increases the 4VG and 4VP the yeast makes also.
I am unaware how maltose can increase phenols.
The other method of increasing phenols is by using a POF+ yeast. Although a mash profile which includes a ferulic acid rest increases the phenols produced, if you were to skip a ferulic acid step a POF+ yeast can still turn the precursors in the malt into ferulic acid and then 4VG using an enzyme.
 
Hey guys! I love the Wheat Beer you can get at Sons of Kent! They are located in Southern Ontario and are expanding dramatically! the best wheat beer from them I would say is the Berry White! Here is the website if you guys wanna check it out! https://sonsofkent.com/
 
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