Hefeweizen is a straw coloured, usually hazy beer which is very attractive when served in the traditional Bavarian hefeweizen glass in the summer sunshine. Hefeweizens are made with at least 50% wheat in the mash and are not found to be brimming with hops, the flavours mainly come from the yeast instead. You see “Weizen” means wheat (you might remember that from our Dunkelweizen article) and “hefe” means yeast. These, as said, are the main two flavour components of a hefeweizen and the yeast used adds distinct clove and banana notes. Making these beers the perfect, easy drinking beverage in the sunshine.
Don’t believe us? Come down to the Tumut River Brewery and get one of our very own Tumut brewed hefeweizens! We called it “The Heff”. No fancy names needed here, we produced a straight-up hefeweizen for everyone to taste, savour and enjoy.
Wheat beers have the oldest history in the books, tied alongside all-time oldest brewing grain with barley. It would have been from either of these two grains that the first soupy beers were produced. Once we found beer our species set itself on a mission to perfect this pleasurable beverage.
Hefeweizen's history really begins to get interesting in Germany after the Reinheitsgebot act had been issued as law. The Reinheitsgebot act permitted only water, barley and hops to be used to brew beer (yeasts purpose in the process was still natures secret). This was troubling for weissbier (wheat beer) because it excluded wheat. Luckily, when adopting this law, the rulers of Bavaria had quite an affinity for weissbier and introduced a loophole allowing a single brewery to brew beer with wheat in it. This was the other side of the Reinheitsgebot that we don’t really hear about. It really killed off a lot of creativity where people were using a variety of spices, fruits and varying ratios of different grains.
When the owner of this special brewery died without an heir the brewery fell into the hands of the ruling family, the Wittelsbachs. The man in charge decided that one weissbier brewery wasn’t enough and soon enough weissbier was being brewed all over Bavaria. All breweries were owned by the Wittelsbachs; of course….
Weissbier fell out of fashion over the years and in 1798 the Wittelsbachs chose to amend the law to allow monasteries or burgher (a wealthy member of the bourgeoisie) to brew weissbier. This didn’t change weissbier's fate and it remained on the fringes of society until the mid-1900s. Out of this time hefeweizen emerged as the leading wheat beer, and many offshoots, like dunkelweizen, also rose in popularity.