A couple months ago, we featured a collaboration between BrewDog and Weihenstephaner. That beer, India Pale Weizen, seemed more representative of BrewDog’s style than that of Weihenstephaner, so it seems only fair that we should feature a beer from the latter. While the brewery is best known for its Hefeweissbier, I would like to introduce the slightly different Kristallweissbier, a filtered German wheat ale with 5.4% ABV.
Formally founded in 1040, the Weihenstephan (St. Stephen) brewery is perched atop Weihenstephan Hill in Freising, Germany, just north of Munich. Today, it is state owned and is officially known as the Bavarian State Brewery Weihenstephan. In last week’s post on Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel, I mentioned that Weltenburger and Weihenstephaner have both laid claim to the title of oldest brewery in the world. Interestingly, however, Weihenstephaner has circumstantial evidence of brewing having been taking place since 768, in the form of documentation of tithes paid to the monastery by the owner of a nearby hop garden.
Wheat beer encompasses a handful of beer styles, such as Belgian witbier and German hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, and weizenbock. The appellation of weizen, used commonly outside of Bavaria, unsurprisingly means “wheat” in German. But the style is also referred to as weissbier, or “white beer,” a name which was initially applied to any beer that wasn’t dark, since most beers were dark prior to the beginning of the 16th century. More interestingly, the term “wheat” is an etymological relative of “white,” originally meaning “that which is white.” Although the names weissbier and weizenbier appeared separately, they are generally used interchangeably today.
In general, kristallweizen are filtered for the sake of clarity, and they tend to be fruitier and less clove-like than the more common hefeweizen. Weizenbier have a thick, moussy white head and a pale straw to dark gold body. The flavor and aroma are characterized by clove-like aromatic phenols, products of the yeast’s conversion of the ferulic acid in barley. The other characteristic yeast-derived flavor comes from banana-like isoamyl acetate. If you try a glass of weizenbier and the taste reminds you of Juicy Fruit gum or Banana Runts for instance, it’s no coincidence: the same compounds are also used in the production of artificial flavoring.
Weihenstephaner uses hops from the Hallertau region of Bavaria, Germany. Hallertau hops are pleasantly spicy and herbal, but they are typically used only for bittering in weizenbier, so the aroma and flavor should be little to none. Traditionally, at least half of the grain bill is malted wheat, the remainder being malted barley. Belgian wheat beers, to an extent, bear resemblance to their German counterparts; one of the key differences, however, is in the use of raw, unmalted wheat, which gives Belgian witbier greater sharpness as well as starch haze.
Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbier is indeed crystal clear and pours a pale gold color. The snow white head is dense and frothy but diminishes rather quickly for a wheat beer. There is a pleasant overtone of clove in the aroma and just a little sweet vanilla and banana along with a grainy, crayon-like undertone. In the flavor, the lightly sweet grains are quickly followed by spicy and earthy flavors and then a mild wave of tartness and bitterness. Some waxy graininess lingers. The carbonation lends crispness as well as frothiness, producing a refreshing bite along with a mouth-filling body.
Satisfying from start to finish, Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbier is visually appealing, delightfully fragrant, delicately flavorful, and refreshingly effervescent. It’s hard to say whether the filtering has a significant impact on the flavors and aromas. Intuitively, one would think that without the suspended yeast and wheat proteins, the flavor would be less sour and the body would seem less full. But my impression is that it’s a very subtle difference, in which case the only notable reason for filtering is for the alluring appearance. Regardless, this is a very tasty, thirst-quenching beer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve had from Weihenstephaner, which includes their doppelbock, hefeweizen, weizenbock, and dunkelweizen.
This week’s beer was purchased at Sake Taniguchi, located a short distance from Kita-senju Station in Tokyo.
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