Wheat beer is something of an acquired taste, but happily Duck Holiday is a persevering type and has managed to come to terms with this style of beer. Perseverance is a rewarding experience, with plenty of delightful wheat beers available in the UK nowadays.
Several British breweries now make thoroughly palatable wheat beers, but the focus of this study is, of course, central and eastern Europe. It would, though, be more precise to say simply ‘central’, because Germany in general, and Bavaria in particular, is the undisputed home of this style.
Where better to start than with the excellent Erdinger brewery? This Bavarian brewery, north east of Munich, specialises in wheat beer, producing a bewildering number of different types from pale, fruity ones to dark, heavy wheat beers, along with special seasonal brews. A personal favourite is the delicious Urweisse, a relatively new concoction that is exceptionally drinkable. At 4.9%, it is not one of the stronger types of wheat beer and is very easy to knock back. Some wheat beers can have a rather cloying sweetness, but Urweisse’s sweetness emanates from a banana fruitiness and does not overpower the drinker. It also has a pleasingly spicy aroma. Around Christmas, also look out for the Schneeweisse, a little stronger at 5.6%. This is a beer with an equally clean taste.
Not far from Erding lies the town of Freising, home to the Weihenstephaner brewery. They produce a wide range of beers, including an excellent Kristalweizen (clear wheat beer, 5.4%) that, while lacking the appealing cloudiness of many wheat beers, retains the sweet-tart paradox of the brew with banana and clove scent and flavours.
Another wheat beer that is often spotted on the shelves of British supermarkets is Munich’s own Franziskaner (5%). This is a hefeweizen, with a wheat ratio of 50:50 or higher, and typical of the Bavarian style. Franziskaner is refreshing, fruity and spicy.
Less easy to find, but very well worth seeking out, is Ayinger Brauweisse (5.1%). Aying is south east of Munich and this beer, while typical of a Bavarian wheat style, is a little more citrus to the palate, with zingy lemon amidst the spicy flavours.
Not all wheat beer is light in colour, with most breweries producing a dunkel (dark) version. Duck Holiday finds this style a little on the sweet side, but that is merely personal taste. One worth trying is König Ludwig Weissbier, a 5.5% beer with a malty taste, but retaining that familiar banana spiciness. The brewery is based at Kaltenberg Castle, west of Munich.
Eastern Europe does not produce many wheat beers of its own, but a few can be found. For example, Lvivske White Lion (Львівське Білий лев) is a Ukrainian version. At 4.2%, it is lighter than most Bavarian equivalents and perhaps a bit thin, but is, nonetheless, a pleasant and refreshing beer that is ideal for relaxing after a hot summer’s day in Lviv.
Svyturys Baltas is a Lithuanian take on the style, the 5.2% strength being, no doubt, more acceptable to the indomitable Lithuanian palate. It is a very cloudy beer with citrus notes and altogether not a bad version.
Russia’s giant Baltika brewery churns out a number of rather uninspiring beers, but Baltika No 8, a wheat brew, is surprisingly good. The 5% beer is very much on Bavarian lines, with banana, cloves, yeast and wheat to the fore, and is infinitely preferable to the turgid No 7 lager that seems to be increasingly ubiquitous.
Czech beer is often – wrongly – assumed to be uncompromisingly strong, but a lot of the country’s beers are quite gentle and easy drinking. Krušovice Pšeničné, a wheat beer from a famous brewery, is no exception at 4.3%. For those that like to drink wheat beer as a session ale, it is a good choice.
Many breweries are producing wheat beers and experimenting with all sorts of things (fruit, different types of malt, etc.) in a bid to turn out something different. This is all good; after all, the discerning beer drinker likes variety. Ultimately, though, rather like the 2014 World Cup, the Germans have this one all wrapped up.