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Spring Forward Into Wheat Beers
By Jim Anderson

Beer Mug Eventually, winter will end, and when it ends it will be time to think of the lighter, sunnier flavors the beer world bestows upon her thirsty minions. Woe to the wine drinker whose only real seasonal choice is the lively, fruit-filled May wines of Germany and Pennsylvania. Beer is much, much more generous.

In ancient agrarian societies, early spring marked the end of the brewing season. High temperatures caused unpredictable fermentation in pre-Fridgidaire Europe and America, so any beer drunk during the summer needed to be brewed by the end of April. In Germany, Marzenbier (aka, Oktoberfestbier) was put down in March to be consumed throughout the warm months. The October connection comes from the farmers' ritual celebration during the final two weeks of September, which heralded the beginning of the autumn harvest, during which the final store of Marzenbier would be consumed amid much revelry.

But around my house, spring means wheat beer. It's light-bodied, refreshing, uncomplicated and locally available in dozens of incarnations -- a good entry into the realm of better beer. And on top of it, this year it'll be selling like hotcakes.

Most beer-producing cultures have their own variation on the wheat theme, from sour to sweet, affordable to collectable. There's the clove-and-banana-scented hefeweizen, dunkelweizen and weizenbock of southern Germany; the tart, acidic Berliner weisse of the north; the coriander-and-Curaco-orange-peel-spiced witbier and tart or sweet, often fruit-flavored lambic of Belgium; and the soft, pale and friendly wheat beers of the New World. A person could get lost without a map which is why I've assembled this handy-dandy shopping list to get you through your spring beer ordering and enjoyment. Quite a few are available on draft, others in 12oz bottles, still others in 750ml cork-finished bottles. Wheat beer -- it's not just for breakfast any more!

Bavarian-style -- usually unfiltered, and unusually high in complex B vitamins with a distinct aroma of banana and clove. Served in a tall glass to accommodate the lush head.

Kuchlbauer Hefe-weizen and Aloysious weizenbock (Bavaria)
Edelweiss Hefe-weisse and Kristalweisse (Austria)
Victory Sunrise (Pennsylvania)
Weyerbacher Hefe-weizen (Pennsylvania)

Berlin-style -- tart and lactic, often served with cassis or woodruf syrup. Served in a goblet and sometimes drunk through a straw.

Schultheiss (Germany)

Belgian Witbier -- dry, hazy and spiced with coriander and peel of curaco orange. Served in the solid, ribbed glasses of Belgian & French bistros.

Blanche de Bruges (Belgium)
Hoegaarden (Belgium)
Death Valley White (Canada)
Celis White (Texas)

Belgian Lambic -- unusual spontaneously-fermented ales from a tiny region near Brussels. Beware of imitations! Served in narrow flutes to focus their aroma.

Lindemans -- sweetest of the fruit and non-fruit lambics
Timmermans -- cheapest of the fruit lambics
De Troch Le Chapeau -- funnest of the fruit lambics
Cantillon -- classiest of the fruit lambics
Boon -- driest of the fruit and non-fruit lambics
Hanssens -- rarest of the non-fruit lambics

American -- usually a broad variation on a pale ale. Simple, light-bodied and refreshing. Served in a wide-mouth tumbler.

Wild Goose Spring Wheat (Maryland)
Anchor Wheat (California)

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