By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Lew Bryson
It's getting towards the end of the season for one of my favorite warm-weather beers: hefeweizen. She's not the kind of beer you take home to mom, but you'll want to bury your face in her big piles of foam. After all, she gives great head.
She's definitely not like other beers. She's got an aroma that's all würzig, a German word, pronounced "vooertzig," that means spicy in a kind of wild, nose-tingling way. It's like a special perfume only this beer wears, a crazy melange of clove, banana, smoke, and bubble gum that you'll never forget and never get tired of. She's full of wheat, for a tangy lightness that makes her go down easy.
And she's true to her roots, full of clean healthy yeast and cloudy like a raging thunderstorm in a glass.
Is it any wonder I love her?
Hefeweizen is easy to explain: hefe means "yeast" and weizen means "wheat." (Say it: "HEFF-uh-vite-sin.") It's a wheat beer with the yeast still in – an unfiltered wheat beer. This is right along the line with other blockheadedly straightforward German beer names: dunklesbier ("dark beer"), hellesbier ("light beer"), schwarzbier ("black beer"), and starkbier ("strong beer"). Even pilsener is a German word, although the type of beer was originally Bohemian; it means "from Pilsen." Not much on sizzle, the Deutsch, but they're hell on delivering the steak.
That's no ordinary hefe, either. It's a special German yeast that does amazing things to the flavor and smell. That's where that würzig stuff all comes from; no bananas were harmed in the brewing of this beer. Yeast is weird stuff. If you ferment with it at warm temperatures, it produces aroma and flavor compounds known as esters and phenols.
is one of the few warm-fermented German beers (most of them are cold-fermented and matured lagers), and the yeasts used for this type throw out a lot of phenols. Different yeasts, different blends of aromas, so you'll get one hefeweizen
that's light and banana-ish, like Franziskaner
, and then you'll get another that leans more to the clovey side of things, like Paulaner
, and still another may have a distinct plum note to it, like Julius Echter
And the culprit is right there at the scene of the crime. The yeast that gave the beer all these wild features is still there in the beer. Draft gives you a uniform cloudiness, more like a translucence. Bottled hefeweizen is another story, as the yeast all settles to the bottom. A deft bartender will take that bottle, roll it sharply, and in one swift movement pop the cap and stuff the bottle right into the bottom of the tall, curvy glass pipe of the hefeweizen glass. Then they'll pull it out at just the right speed to pour the beer while keeping the huge bouffant head from spewing all over. It's an artform, and it leaves a swirling tornado of yeast in the beer.
Yeast in the beer? Does that make you say "Yuck"? Don't be a weenie. The yeast is great! First, it lets the world know right away that you are ballsy enough to drink something different. Second, you'll never even taste the yeast, it's not big enough to feel on your tongue. Third, it's full of B-complex vitamins, the stuff we pros take to ward off hangovers; do the words "brewers yeast tablets" ring a bell? Finally, drinking unfiltered beer really gives you the wind, ass-gas like no one's business, and that's a ton of fun at certain points in the evening. I introduced myself to a whole table of British lesbians in Prague one night passing yeast-fueled ass-gas. (Oh, sure, like "Which way to Scoop Street, baby!?!" is any better?
The truly beautiful thing about hefeweizen, though, is that it's always struck me as the perfect beer for outdoor drinking. There's just something about standing out under the sky, getting your snoot into a big pile of spicy foam, and draining a tall glass of amazingly refreshing beer. Americans seem to like it best in really hot weather, but I think it's great for beating the season in spring and stretching it as far as you can in the fall.
Don't be fooled, by the way, by those beers that call themselves "hefeweizen" but really aren't. There's a whole sub-category of these clean-yeasted wheat beers. They may be unfiltered, they may be brewed with wheat, they may even be good, like Harpoon's UFO, but they ain't hefeweizen. If you say it in German, pal, you better be German. Walk the walk. 'Nuff said.
There's also a minor controversy about adding a lemon slice. You may hear, "They don't do that in Germany," or you may hear "That's the way they serve it in Germany." This is a geek fight, leave 'em to it. If you like the lemon, take it. If you don't, leave it. Me, the first one of these I ever had came with a very thin slice of lemon floating on the top. It tasted okay, but it killed the head...and I never forgave it. Those who like it claim it accentuates the tanginess of the wheat. So be it. Be happy, for God's sake, it's just a piece of fruit.
Hefeweizen's spiciness and slightly citric tang make it a sublime quencher. It can take a little getting used to, because it is so unlike any other beer you've had, but once you get it, you're a hefeweizen lover for life.