Spring Forward Into Wheat Beers
By Jim Anderson
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)
Berlin-style -- tart and lactic, often served with cassis or woodruf syrup. Served in a goblet and sometimes drunk through a straw.
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)
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
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)