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May 17, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Wheat beer

Wheat beer is, well, unusual to the say the least. It’s also a beer style which many people tend to overlook, because no one quite seems to know what it is. And let’s face it—wheat is a terrible name for a beer style. The word wheat reminds me of cereal or flour. But while the beers don’t taste anything like those, it’s hard to pin down exactly what characterises the style.

Wheat beer is an over-arching name for a number of more specific styles of beer, which are all brewed with a large amount of wheat. Wheat beer can be light or dark, cloudy or clear, German-style or Belgian-style. But the one thing that tends to remain constant in all of these different wheat beers is that they’re sweet.*

Tuatara Hefe (5%) is brewed in the style of a German Hefeweizen. Hefeweizens are known for their low hop character, and big sweet flavours. Tuatara’s version is spot on. Despite the aroma giving off a big clue as to what it’s going to taste like, some people are still shocked by the flavour. The Tuatara Hefe is pretty intense. It tastes of banana, bubblegum, caramel and clove. It’s also got the characteristic smooth, full-bodied wheat beer texture, but enough fizz to make sure the beer isn’t too sweet and syrupy.

Three Boys Wheat (5%), on the other hand, is a Belgian witbier. The difference? Witbier is less sugary-sweet and more about the citrus character. This one from Three Boys has a real cult following. With its dominant lemon and orange zest flavour and big coriander kick, it’s not hard to see why. It also has subtle caramel undertones and the full, frothy body which makes wheat beer so strange (in a good way).

Both of these have been known to frequent the taps of the Malthouse and Hashigo Zake, and are increasingly available in bottles at Wellington restaurants and bars, as well as most supermarkets and the ever-reliable Regional Wines and Spirits.

But my favourite wheat beer, especially when the weather outside is getting a bit chilly, is Emerson’s Dunkelweiss (6.3%). The dunkelweiss is a dark-coloured, German wheat beer, which tastes better when drunk a wee bit warmer (about 8°C), rather than straight out of the fridge. Dave the Beer Guy describes this beer as “liquid banana split”, and damn, he’s right. Incredibly well-balanced, Emerson’s Dunkelweiss tastes of banana, with rich chocolate and roast malt. It’s full-bodied, smooth, and goes down way too easily. This beer is only available during winter, but lucky for you, Regional Wines and Spirits should be getting in the 2010 edition as you’re reading this column.

So next time you come across a wheat beer, give it a go. For better or for worse, its sweet and smooth characteristics will likely blow your mind. Just remember to use a glass.

* Some wheat beers tend to be sour rather than sweet. Those are generally fruit/lambic wheat beers, but even the ones available in New Zealand tend to have a sweet character—try Invercargill Boysenbeery.

If you have any questions about this week’s beers or any comments, please contact me at


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