Weizening Up, to Wit: Wheat Beers

beer glasses on bar
Photo by Kyle Jacobson

The gap between the beer enthusiast and the brewer in both knowledge and preference can sometimes be rather hazy. Some drinkers today just want the craziest thing a brewer can come up with. In some ways, this pushes the boundaries of how we define beer. But sometimes the outcome can be…questionable. Just the other day I had a Milkshake IPA. Maybe my taste buds aren’t up to snuff, but I thought the decision to make this beer was more daft than me deciding to drink it.

It’s never been my aim to tell people what they should and shouldn’t drink. To that end, if a Milkshake IPA floats your boat, then raise the anchor and cut through some rather funky waters. Just know that something will get left behind.

Wheat-forward beers aren’t disappearing…at least, not yet. However, the future for one of my favorite wheat beers in Wisconsin has been decided. 3 Sheeps Brewing Company has done away with their Black Wheat: Baaad Boy. This beer had a lot of fun with a style that too many eccentric beer drinkers choose not to find the time for. Grant Pauly, brewmaster and founder of 3 Sheeps, broke the news to me, and, though the choice wasn’t easy, it had to be done.

Photograph by Kyle Jacobson

Grant says, “Wheat, as an ingredient, I love. I think there is an element to it that provides an effervescence. I put wheat into a lot of my beers.” Instead of going into the history of wheat beers, like the Bavarian Hefeweizen, the more classic Dunkelweizen, and the Belgium Witbier, I’d like to discuss what wheat actually does to a beer.

First thing people notice is how the beer looks. Wheat contains a lot more protein than barley, and the result is good head retention. Some drinkers feel like they’re getting ripped off when there’s half an inch of head on their beer, but that head is integral to the overall flavor. There’s a lot of hop aroma being released in the head of the beer. Without it, the drinker is robbed of the experience the brewer intended.1

The overall effect of having all those proteins tends to be a level of cloudiness, but this can be enhanced depending on how the beer is filtered. Some Weizens even have bits of yeast hanging around in the bottle. Scott Manning, brewmaster and equal partner of Vintage Brewing Company, says “I always like to do the spin move on the table to get all the yeast worked up ‘cause I want mine mit hefe, which means with the yeast.” Even after fermentation, yeast has something to give beyond flavor, including a smooth mouthfeel.

Photograph by Kyle Jacobson

And if there’s one thing yeast and wheat do well, it’s mouthfeel. “Wheat’s got a certain texture,” Scott says. “I like to call it a fluffiness. It’s not a chewiness necessarily, like you get with oatmeal, but it’s like a body you just can’t replicate. And body is maybe even the wrong word because then you assume it’s going to be really thick, but I’m drinking this Weiss and it’s just sliding right down.”

Perhaps this is where some drinkers get lost. They view drinking beer as a challenge. It seems like there’s a mentality that liking a beer others don’t means those people just don’t get it. For me, it’s so much better to drink a beer a lot more people can enjoy, and observe the different ways people experience it. With a refined palate, a drinker might pick out the flavors and appreciate some banana or clove bits in a Weizen beer. Others may just appreciate how easy the beer is to drink and like the fact that it doesn’t come off as flavored water.

Still, I like the crazy drinker, the one who wants to be challenged with wacky flavor combinations and explosions of once-considered off-flavors. It’s the potential lack or regard for what went into their wild beer that spurns me to write these articles. When it comes to putting wheat into beer, there’s a reason. Grant says, “If I’m gonna have wheat in there, I want it to add to the longevity of flavor and also the dropoff. I want my beers to be drinkable. Wheat is a really good element to make sure the flavor doesn’t linger too long.” And with those qualities, there is a lot of room to play.

Photograph by Kyle Jacobson

I’ve had Hefeweizens that nail the banana flavor, and Witbiers that lace coriander and orange peel notes expertly through the yeast profile. Then there’s the art of subtlety that can make a beer just as deserving of praise and attention. On the Bavarian Wheat, Scott says, “I think there’s just nothing better than that bright citrus banana, a little bit of cloviness on the nose that’s so inviting, then you get that freshly baked bread toastiness.”

Wheat is a unique ingredient for the brewing world, and it’s one that carries some strong opinions on either side. The thing is, a beer drinker who thinks all beers should have wheat in them is limiting the scope of what beer can actually be. On the other hand, the beer drinker who thinks there’s no room for wheat in beer because it smooths out stronger flavors is discounting an enormous factor that played a large part making beer what it is today.

The good news is when everyone’s a little wrong, everyone’s a little right. Wheat beers wouldn’t be what they are without the skepticism and the adoration. The conversation isn’t always easy, but the platform is there to make talk happen as long is someone is willing to open their mind or take a chance.

To old enemies and new friends. May they be one in the same. Cheers!

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

1 The Spruce . thespruce.com/guide-to-wheat-beer-353431

Scott’s Favorite Wheat Beers
Lakefront Brewing – Wisconsinite
Lake Louie – Prairie Moon
Great Dane – Crop Circle Wheat

Be sure to check out Vintage Brewing Company’s rotating wheat beers, including Hefeweizens, Dunkelweizens, and unique spins on some wheat-forward classics.

Grant’s Favorite Wheat Beers
A lot of the stuff Ale Asylum’s doing, such as their Hefeweizen – Ünshadowed

Though Baaad Boy is dead, 3 Sheeps has no shortage of great brews. Try their Imperial Black Wheat with Coffee – Hello, My Name Is Joe