Masters Table Autumn 1999
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
What grapes are to wine, malt and hops are to beer - the
body and soul.
The choice of malt and hops determines the taste, aroma
and finish of an ale. It doesn't always stop there though
and there is a long established tradition of adding other
ingredients which makes beer such a versatile and intriguing
Up in Scotland Bruce Williams at Heather Ales goes easy
on the hops and uses heather in Fraoch Ale and spruce in
Scots Pine Ale; in Belgium lambic beers often have raspberries
or cherries chucked into the mix to make fruit lambics.
Then there's wheat. In the last couple of decades, Germany
(more especially Bavaria) and Belgium have seen wheat beers
reemerge from historical obscurity to become one of the
most exciting, complex tasting and popular beer styles around.
In Bavaria, breweries such as Schneider, Weihenstephaner
and Erdinger produce fruity, refreshing and exceptionably
delicious weisse beers or weizen. While in Belgium, Hoegaarden's
White (see tasting notes) has won many British fans with
its nose of banana, citrus and malt and a quenching burst
of fruit and spiciness on the palate - thanks to the addition
of coriander and dried peel of bitter oranges from Curacao.
Over here, not to be outdone, brewers have attempted their
own wheat ales. Some, such as O'Hanlon's award-winning Maltster
Weisse (see tasting notes), King & Barnes Wheat Mash,
Pilgrim's Bavarian-style Springbock and Quay Brewery's fruity
and warming dark wheat beer Silent Knight, have created
a whole new real ale style to be drunk alongside the IPAs,
winter ales and barley wines that already exist.
These are also beers which co-exist superbly with food:
in London Alastair Hook, the master brewer at the Mash brew-restaurant,
has created a delicious Raspberry Wheat. Confirmation of
its quality came when it took first prize in the Belgian-style
class at the Third Wheat Beer Challenge held at that well-known
beer connoisseur's palace the White Horse in Parsons Green,
'I have a passion for wheat beer,' says Alastair Hook,
who was also a brewer at the Spaten Brewery in Munich, 'and
wheat beer is extremely popular, as the success of Hoegaarden
and Schneider Weisse will testify.
The Belgian and Bavarian beers are all cloudy and there's
nothing better for the product. That in itself is interesting
because this cloudiness would be considered strange in a
lot of beers but young people and people new to beer don't
consider it strange. It's also a great thing because it
keeps beer fresh, the yeast is good and gives a lot more
fruitness and complexity.'
Bavarian and Belgian wheat beers are different beasts from
British wheat beers. For a start, the amount of hops used
is low as an excess of bitterness would wipe out the soft,
fruity and malty flavours which predominate. British wheat
beers, apart from several which are brewed Bavarian style,
have a higher hop presence. Then there's the cloudiness
of Bavarian and Belgian wheat beers. Both styles are cloudy
in the glass because they are unfiltered, which leaves sediment
in the bottle. But before you say ugh it is a sediment rich
in yeast and proteins which continues to work on the beer
in the similar way wine matures in the bottle. This is called
secondary fermentation. Over in Bavaria brewers produce
weisse biers with or without the sediment. The clear versions
are labelled Kristall or Ohne Hefe, but most weisse bier
fans prefer to get their yeast in the glass. British wheat
beers are clear.
'The typical yeast of the Bavarian area gives the weisse
bier its flavour,' says Alastair Hook, who regards Schneider
Weisse as his favourite. 'Being called wheat beer is a curiosity,
it would be better to call it a yeast beer as its character
comes from the reaction of the yeast with the wheat.' Besides
the yeast, the other magic ingredient of wheat beer is wheat
malt, which is mixed in with the normal barley malt mash.
This produces a tartness and thirst-quenching zestiness
with spices, cloves, fruit and bubblegum some of the flavours
to be detected on the palate.
Both weisse biers and Belgian wheat (or white) beers have
long histories. In Bavaria, Schneider received royal permission
to brew with wheat in the 1850s and other breweries followed
suit. But by the early 1980s weisse biers were seen as a
pensioners' drink, rather in the way a lot of drinkers in
this country view mild. But then weisse bier became fashionable,
especially with those who wanted their beers to have a modicum
of goodness in them - which is where the sediment comes
In Belgium white beer seemed to have died out in its home
village of Hoegaarden, until milkman Pierre Celis decided
to resurrect a style he'd remembered and enjoyed. This was
in the mid-60s. He probably thought it would be a one-off,
as the 1960s was the age of clear-looking and clean-tasting
Pilsner-style beers. However, this return from the dead
went down well with younger drinkers. Nowadays Pierre Celis
brews in Texas but Hoegaarden White is thriving as are other
reintroduced white beers.
One of the more intriguing wheat beers is the Berliner
Weisse, which is an acquired taste. Only two breweries in
Berlin now produce the style. Once called the Champagne
of the North by Napoleon's troops, it is a low alcohol (2.5-3%
ABV), sharp-tasting, slightly sour beer which is traditionally
sweetened with raspberry syryp or woodruffe. It is hard
to get hold of but the one I tasted was a fruity, pleasingly
sharp and refreshing beer which would have served well as
And what about our own wheat beers? These have emerged
in the last few years as a style in their own right, more
than often brewed with the intention of giving drinkers
more choice. There is also the hope, one thinks, of luring
lager-drinkers away from their expensive fizz.
According to Thomas Lange, who runs the Breworld Website
and represents Schneider in the UK, 'I would call the British
style Wheaten Ale. The beers have wheat characteristics
coming through because of the use of ale yeast, which gives
fruity esters (flavours produced when yeast turns sugar
Finally, one of the great strengths of wheat beer is its
completely relaxed relationship with food. Alastair Hook:
'With food wheat beer is ambidextrous, it has a lovely dry
finish and plenty of fruit. It goes with anything sweet
and also with hearty traditional German cuts of meat with
sauce.' Other matches suggested are Schneider Weisse with
fried fish, even fish and chips, while Schneider's delicious,
strong and dangerously drinkable dark weisse bier Aventinus
is used to make a sabayon to accompany walnut ice cream.
Whether it's the cloudy likes of Schneider and Hoegaarden
or clearer and hoppier British newcomers such as Maltster
Weisse or Wheat Mash, wheat beers are one of the world's
great beer styles and well worth raising a glass to.
Hoegaarden White Beer (5%)
Beautiful pale yellow in colour, a cloudy body and
a foamy head and usually served in its trademark chunky
glass, this has a bouquet of bananas, citrus and soft malt
on the nose. On the palate it is soft malt followed by spicy,
banana and slight tropical fruit notes. The finish is refreshingly
fruity and slightly dry. Bitter-sweet flavours make it a
fantastic companion to food, especially summer salads, pizza,
fish, mussels and other seafood and even gravadlax. Bottle-conditioned
and available in Oddbins, Safeway and good off-licences.
Also available in draught
Schneider Weisse (5.4%)
This classic bottle-conditioned weisse bier is usually
served in a long tall glass. Amber is its colour, while
on the nose there is fruit, cloves and even traces of bubblegum.
Tasting is heavenly with more fruit and spices washing over
the palate to produce a quenching, light and fruity finish.
A fantastic example of the Bavarian weisse bier style and
recommended by Thomas Lange with a main course, such as
pork in a dark gravy sauce. It has also been known to accompany
fish and chips, as it has enough effervescency and maltiness
to cut through the blandness of the meal. Available from
Safeways, along with Aventinus.
Hop Back Thunderstorm (5%)
Classic British wheat beer style from an excellent
award-winning Wiltshire brewery who also produce a Wheat
Stout. A meeting place of British and Germanic styles according
to Hop Back's Richard Harvey, though I would place it firmly
in the British camp. The nose is a light and hoppy aromatic
one, which is closer to traditional British ale, than
Bavaria or Belgian wheat beers. It's a delicate straw colour
and the palate produces soft malty, citrusy and refreshing
flavours to be followed by a bitter mouth-drying finish
which leaves you wanting more.
With food the soft citrus and malt work well with seafood,
especially fried squid. Bottle-conditioned from several
supermarkets and also available in draught.
O'Hanlon's Maltster's Weisse (4%)
Liz O'Hanlon describes this as a German-style white
beer with an outstanding lemony taste. Unlike the Bavarian
and Belgian styles, the hops are very evident (though not
overwhelming), especially on the nose and in the finish.
Once again, as is common for wheat beers, there's an initial
soft maltiness but then there's a deliciously tangy, citrusy
finish which I think owes a lot to the use of cascade and
first gold hops, along with challenger which is noted for
its fruitiness. Once again, ideal for fish (especially with
chips!) and I would also suggest chicken and even partridge.
Bottle-conditioned from Safeways and in draught.
copyright The Master's Table