For many people, one of the first beers they ever love is a wheat beer. For us, it was Pyramid’s Apricot Ale, which is featured on this list, back when it was still called Apricot Weizen. Sure, we started out drinking crappy light lagers, and eventually we found ourselves obsessed with IPAs, Stouts, and several other varieties of beer, but our appreciation started with a wheat beer. Then a funny thing happened. Once we’d tried every IPA available at our local bottle shop and tried stouts fermented in just about any type of vessel deemed rational, we found our way back to the familiar and welcoming arms of beers brewed with wheat.
You see, what we didn’t realize in the infancy of our drinking careers was the kind of diversity one could find in a wheat beer. Wheat as a malt, and as a flavor in beer, is an excellent substrate for nearly all flavors. Wheat beers can be dominated by their yeast types, they can take on the flavor of nearly any kind of barrel imaginable, and they can take on the flavor of spices and citrus zests added to the mash. Wheat beers are receptive to the flavor created by open fermentation, and by the flavors created by adding the bacteria that makes beers into “sours.”
Wheat beers can even be changed — for better or worse depending on your palate — by dropping a piece of fresh citrus fruit into the beer glass itself. Adding fruit to beer is a passionate and quite partisan debate for another day, but you shouldn’t waste another day missing out on the joys of wheat beers, starting with the beers listed below.
Bell’s Oberon Ale
Known for many beers, Oberon is a highlight in the Bell’s lineup. Oberon is a light-bodied, pale wheat ale that is released in the summer. If you’re lucky enough to live in a region where Oberon is available at or near your local sporting events, it accompanies sports and cured meat quite well in the summer.
Bayern Dragon’s Breath
A brewery that sounds like it’s from Germany but who mashes its grains in Montana, Bayern has created something quite special in Dragon’s Breath. When we first encountered Dragon’s Breath it was classified as a “Dark Hefeweizen” but has seen its classification updated to “Dunkelweizen” but remains the same delicious, dark wheat beer that it always was.
This is the first beer on the list from a German brewery, and Paulaner’s Hefe-Weizen is an uncreatively named hefeweizen. In German, “weizen” means wheat, and “hefe” means yeast. These are two of the key ingredients in any hefeweizen, but also a cautionary lesson about the yeast particles you may find in some wheat beers. Paulaner’s take on a hefeweizen is right down the middle, and a good 101 course for anyone looking to learn about the German classic.
Pyramid Apricot Ale
One thing we’re always worried about when we see a fruit-infused beer is that we’re going to be imbibing something close to a wine cooler. Pyramid Apricot’s infusion of apricots is a perfect complement to the earthy, fruity flavor inherent in wheat beer without confusing the drinker into thinking they’re at a bachelorette party.
Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen
At one point, and maybe still, Widmer Hefeweizen was the most widely available and popular hefeweizen. With hints of citrus zest, you may find people dropping citrus fruit into this beer, usually a lemon. Widmer hefeweizen needs no accessorization, and holds up without a lemon dropped into the glass.
Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’
Crack open A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and you’ll find yourself pondering one of the most important questions in beer drinking: “What is that special flavor, and why is this particular beer unique.” A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ doesn’t present as a wheat beer immediately, but a semi-tart wheat finish blasts through an IPA that is very good on its own merits.
3 Floyds Gumballhead
The name is weird, we understand that. Never fear, Gumballhead is not brewed with gumballs. Instead, it’s a wheat beer named after a comic book cat, and one that uses hops of relatively recent fame: Amarillo hops. You may recognize Amarillo hops as a common hop in delicious West Coast IPAs, but it works extremely well in this Midwest wheat beer.
Goose Island Sofie
Even after their aquisition by InBev, Goose Island has preserved the character that made them one of the largest craft breweries in the United States. Peppery and complex, Sofie is a barrel aged saison that you can drink right away, but that Goose Island also says can be cellared for up to five years.
Crux Impasse Saison
If we’d discovered Crux Fermentation Projects before our earlier lists there is a chance that their beers would have been on multiple lists we’ve made so far. Impasse is a saison that stands up against any other West Coast saisons.
Avery White Rascal
White Rascal is a Belgian style wheat ale brewed with spices and zests which have become traditional for wheat beers. Coriander and orange zest accent a malt bill that includes liberal amounts of wheat, making White Rascal a great option in the summer and a beer that matches up to most foods pretty well.
Boulevard Tank 7
Part of their Smokehouse Series, Tank 7 is Boulevard Brewing’s take on a farmhouse ale or saison. Tank 7 is sweet and earthy like you’d expect from a normal saison, with brightness provided by the large amount of wheat in the malt bill, and hops used to emulate the citrus elements found in most saisons.
Grassroots Arctic Saison
One of the reasons for saisons taste the way they do are the esters from traditionally belgian style yeast, and high fermentation temperatures. Grassroots Brewing endeavored to find ingredients for a Saison in the arduous terrain of Alaska, and barrel aged this funky, malt-forward saison.
With big ester flavors and a malt bill that dominates this lightly hopped weizenbock, Ayinger’s Weizen-Bock is still more than just a malt bomb. Yeast and a complex malt bill play well together and Ayinger’s take on a weizenbock is as classic as it is satisfying.
Destihl Here Gose Nothin’
As sour beers have been growing in terms of popularity, most people who aren’t indoctrinated into craft beer culture can be extremely sticker shocked when they see the price of a sour beer. Destihl’s Wild Sour series has made sour beer accessible both in terms of flavor and price. Here Gose Nothing is one of several sours that Destihl makes, but one of the best.
Bear Republic Tartare
When we think of a tartare, normally what we think of is something some fancy chef we saw on some cooking show made. Bear Republic ditches the surf and turf normally found in a tartare and replaces it with a balanced, sour berliner weisse. Tartare is sweet with a sour finish, and at 4.0 percent ABV, you can take down Tartare all night, provided you can afford it.