Hey, all. Here at Northern Harvest, we like wheat. It’s a nice way to add a smooth flavor and a light, bready taste to beer. There are quite a few commercially brewed beers containing small and large amounts of wheat. Believe it or not, in many historic brewing centers, wheat was often used as much, if not more, than barley for beermaking. Today, I’m going to talk a bit about the wonderful grain we call wheat.
Wheat is a cereal grain and one of the one of the most produced in the world. Originating in the Near East, it was one of the first to be domesticated, enabling the growth and advance of civilization. Now, wheat is grown globally. In fact, it is grown on more land area than any other commercial food.
In American, beer brewed with wheat is often just called a wheat beer. Traditionally, it is referred to as either a weizen, weiss, or wit. Weizen and weiss carry the same meaning in German and are often used interchangeably. Witbiers are the Belgian variation on brewing with Wheat.
Historically, many German beers were made with rye. Some recipes called for the use of rye, mint, wild celery (technically this would have been a gruit, and not beer, as it used herbs and spices to balance the malt sweetness of the liquid, but who’s counting?).
One of the first wheat beers to gain major recognition would be the Bock. Though it is not brewed with wheat today, what was originally known as an Einbeck beer at one point in time was made with 1/3 wheat in the grist, top fermented, and heavily hopped.
2015-07-14 Wheat, A History 3Other little known wheat beers include the Grisette, which used the second runnings of a Saison and made was brewed with 9 parts barley and 1 part wheat, and two English styles called Mum and West Country White Ale.
Mum originated in northern Germany under the name Mumme (pronounced moo-muh). Mum was made with about 75% to 80% Wheat, with the remainder being made up of a blend of oats and beans. Mumme was not brewed with hops, but instead spiced with pine. In England, Mum was made with spices from the ginger family, as well as a plant known as red saunders, which gave the beer a red color.
West Country White Ale is one of the more interesting beers that I have read about. Just about every stage of2015-07-14 Wheat, A History 2 brewing this beer has something unconventional about it, whether it be the lack of a boil and hops, or fermentation using a ball of uncooked dough. That’s right. A ball of flour and eggs mixed together and left to sit out overnight is added to the wort to kick off its fermentation. The beer was also drank, milky and thick, while fermenting.
Though you might not be able to find a West Country White on the shelves, some of the following styles are making a resurgence.
Berliner Weisse was a light, tart, and refreshing beer originating in Berlin. Made with anywhere from half to three quarters wheat (hence the “Weisse”) and an infusion or decoction mash, it was boiled only briefly to avoid infection. At the same time the use of coolships and/or barrels most likely infected the beer with lactobacillus. Its shelf-life would be about a week. Once made with smoked wheat malt and no hops, this brew can still be found to retain the light, refreshing flavor, but without the smoky contribution (as few maltsters today offer smoked wheat malt) and with the addition of low alpha hops. Brewers today also can control the fermentation by adding lactobacillus in anywhere from 1:1 ratios to yeast up to 5:1, favoring the lactobacillus, that is. In parts of Germany is even served with a small amount of syrup of caraway (kummel), raspberries (schuss), woodruff (waldmeister).
2015-07-14 Wheat, A HistoryGose is another lost wheat beer, this one from Leipzig, more specifically, the town of Goslar. Two interesting additions to Gose beers were salt and coriander. Salt can be added in proportions such as 0.04 ounces per gallon or as much as 0.40 ounces per gallon, while, much like in Witbiers, the coriander can be thought of as an aromatic addition, and should not be overdone. Much like Berliner Weisse, it was made with a half wheat and half barley mixture and served with a syrup such as caraway. Like Berliner Weisse, Gose is fermented with lactobacillus and ale yeast in anywhere from 1:1 to 5:1 ratios, respectively.
Gratzer (or Grodziski in Polish) was another relic of a beer, this one made with two thirds smoked wheat (oak) and one third malted barley. It was sometimes the product of lactic fermentation, but was otherwise fermented as an ale. This beer is an anomaly in that it is much more heavily hopped than most wheat beers, clocking in between 30 and 40 IBUs.
Combining the best of both worlds, Lichtenhainer is a beer made with equal amounts of smoked malted barley and malted wheat (40%) and about 2 to 3 times as much lactobacillus as ale yeast. Many sources state that 40% is a magic number for a good amount of smoked malt in the grist.
Though some of these beers sound like their taste would be suspect, it’s always interesting to take a dive into history. If nothing else, it may lead to inspiration for future brews! Thanks for reading, and I hope you like wheat, too!