Wheat beers have a long history in this world. A popular staple of the European diet, and a grain that is readily available around the world, Wheat grain has been an important agricultural product to civilization. It’s pairing with yeast has created two different kinds of bread, solid and liquid, which have been a staple of many civilizations diets. Amphoras of beer have been archeologically recovered all over the world that provide evidence of it’s production since the age of the Sumerians, and in many cases wheat grain residue has been found. Beer is old, it’s best fresh, but in concept it has shared a symbioses with humanity.
German wheat beers have been archeaologically dated as far back as 400 years ago, and we can presume that they were brewed long before that as well. Wheat, barley, and rye were a staple of the Bavarian crop region and were all used to brew different kinds of beer depending on their availability. As populations grew, the wheat and rye began to become more sparse and brewers came in conflict with bakers who needed the grains to make bread. The Reinhetsgebot, the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, was signed into effect partially because of the lack of wheat grain available to bakers, and partially as a food safety law as some brewer’s were putting nasty and unsafe adjuncts into their beer.
According to the Reinhetsgebot wheat beers should have completely been banned in Bavaria. Due to some political loopholes, a single brewery located near the Czech border was given the sole right to brew wheat beers, for a hefty fee. This right continued until the Duke who owned the brewery died without heir, leaving the brewery and the rights to brew wheat beer to a more powerful duke in Munich who took the opportunity and created a vast monopoloy of wheat beers. At one point, wheat beer was nearly one-third of Bavaria’s domestic revenue and helped fund the 30 year war between Catholic and Protestant Kings of Bavaria and Austria.
As with many of the older beer styles, the Wheat beer has had several rises and falls in popularity. It has had to fight with the rise of lagers, with the export of English and Scottish styles of beer, with World War restrictions on crops and taxation, and with the changes in popular consumer demand. Hefeweizen, as a distinct style, is a product of the last 200 years that has been very popular since the 1960’s. Hefewiezen is the combinatin of the words “yeast” and “wheat” to provide a very exact definition of what the beer is — yeast and wheat. It is hazy from the wheat’s large protein content and from a large amount of yeast remaining in suspension within the beer. This causes for the distinctive rock-foam head when hefeweizens are poured. Known for their distinctiveness in flavor, hefeweizen’s can have notes ranging from banana, clove, and fruit, to sour and bready. Definitely worth a look into.