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The Hefeweizen Beer: Origin and Evolution over the Ages

Author: James M Category: Pairings Date: 2015-09-24 22:40:12
URL: http://craftbeer.social
Hefeweizen craft beer is rated as one of the most popular beers in the world, and all for a very good reason. Hefeweizen is not just a name that sells because of the value of its trademark. It is one of the basic beer styles that has survived hard times and resurfaced as the winning contender quite often during the course of its history. Hefeweizen is a beer style that originated in the breweries of Bavaria of Germany around the 1520s, and was usually called Weibbier or Weissbier which translates as “white beer”. This came as a derivative of the term “Weizenbier” that means wheat beer.
Before delving deeper into its history, it is important to note that Weizenbier or Weissbier comes in different flavours and form, and commonly contains 4 original beer styles. All four of them are made from wheat, but are treated differently. The Kristallweizen - which means "clear wheat"- is filtered instead of being kept raw. The Dunkenweizen (which translates to "dark wheat") is made by brewing darker wheat and barley malts. This is quite opposite to the Hefeweizen which is of light malt.The Weizenbock or "wheat bock" is a much stronger type of Weissbier which is usually brewed during the winters. And finally we have the Hefeweizen beer which means "yeast wheat" and is completely unfiltered. This gives the ale a very hazy and lighter look. The unfiltered yeast and wheat also adds extra bitterness to its flavour.
Hefeweizen is the most popular of all its Weissbier siblings. The most unusual and exotic characteristic of this beer is its fruity and spicy smell that is created because of a special type of yeast. This yeast is designed in such a way that when it ferments, it releases aroma and distinct flavourings of bananas and cloves. Other flavours are also used sometimes like bubble-gum, vanilla and lemon. The Hefeweizen contains a high protein level from the wheat, and this ferments to release a huge cloud of froth on the top of the glass when it is poured. Any beer enthusiast would never fail to mention its low hop bitterness and unfiltered fermented taste topped with mountains of froth. This froth also occurs because of the high carbonation level that is a vital part of the Hefeweizen beer crafting process as it cuts down on the beer’s usual malty sweet taste. Since it is unfiltered, the Hefeweizen (meaning yeast wheat) is a beer style that you can find in its untainted traditional form. A sip of this ale will take you back to the roots of beer evolution, and Hefeweizen can certainly boast of having a very interesting start.
Hefeweizen or “yeast wheat” is a beer that you get when you replace a significant amount of the malted barley with malted wheat. When Hefeweizen was first crafted, the regulations imposed in Germany did not allow it to flourish. In the year 1487, Germany proposed the Reinheitsgebot, which is also known as the Purity Law. This law stated that the only ingredients that were supposed to be used to make beer were barley, hop and water. Yeast was of course not known for its fermenting quality, and hence was not mentioned. (Yeast came to exist as a part of the fermentation process only a couple of centuries later.) By the year 1516, this law was officially set in place in Bavaria as well, and this both ended a sense of diversity in taste amongst the different beer styles and stopped foreign beers from being imported into Germany because they did not meet the particular standard that was proposed.
However, this law is not exactly without merit because it ensured that only basic and inexpensive ingredients were used which would be easily accessible to ordinary bread makers who were interested in beer crafting and selling. Most importantly, it propagated a certain health safety standard because a lot of brewers were using unsafe items in their concoctions for beer preservation.
The negative impact was not quite easy to overlook though. A lot of traditional recipes for beer styles that included spices and fruits were banned as a result, and only the typical Bavarian lagers became the typical representation of what Bavaria’s brewery could offer the world. Over time, a lot of breweries started to sell their usual hop-barley-water mix as one of the best beers that held up the standard of the Reinheitsgebot. These breweries claimed that their beer was of high quality, as they were crafted according to the Reingheitsgebot law which stood for excellence and originality. This was mainly wrong as a lot of these beers were really of bad taste. They lacked finesse and beauty that other beers had when they were made with additional ingredients like fruits, spices and different grains. This false advertising was just as example of how the law lost its true intentions, and as a result, their low quality beer feel out of favour amidst its customers. As an act of rebellion, many breweries started to go back to their roots while processing beer with different items that lent special flavour to the ale.
One of the most popular beer that flouted the Reingheitsgebot rule was the Weissbier, which was made in Bavaria. This was a beer style that had malted wheat included along with malted barley for extra taste, and was favoured by the royals like the Dukes of Wittelsbach. The royals created a loophole in the Purity law that allowed them to continue making this beer without any state intervention. In 1520 they finally passed a mandate that would allow a single brewery in the Czech border of Bavaria to brew this Weissbier. The whole operation was managed by the Dukes of Degenberg in the village of Schwarzach. They kept handling all the production and paid hefty fees for operating against the law until in 1602 the last remaining Duke died and all the fortunes went to the Wittelbachs as per the feudal law.
The current man in charge- Duke Maximilian I- was ambitious enough to not be content with a single brewery. Rather, he made efforts to open up multiple breweries all over Bavaria which excelled at crafting the high quality Weissbier. All of these breweries were completely under the control of the Wittelbachs, thus making them the richest family in the whole of Bavaria. There are rumours that their beer crafting profits were used to fund the Bavarian army during The thirty years War that lasted from 1618 to 1648. Rumours apart, it is a documented fact that the sales of the Weissbier equaled to one-third of the revenues of the State of Bavaria.
By 1700s, the Weissbier was starting to become unpopular. Traditional dark lagers were making a comeback, and seeing that the sales and profits were steadily falling, the family of Wittelbachs decided to amend the law so that anyone could brew this particular beer. They did not find it important to hold on to the exclusive rights to the beer recipe. This was actually a bad move, considering the fact the Weissbier came back to style again in mid-1