Monday, March 30, 2009

Wheat Beer Week at OMG Beer!

As the winter fades and spring flickers briefly to life in the midwest, Bell's Brewery releases its seasonal Oberon Ale, an American Wheat ale that is both highly drinkable and full of spring/summer flavor. In honor of this week's Oberon release, OMG Beer! is going to be all about wheat. Wheat makes a lot of sense as a beer grain, both because it is cultivated throughout the world and because wheat is originally from the Levant region of the Middle East (think the western edge of the Fertile Crescent, eastern mediterranean area, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon). The Levant borders both Egypt and Mesopotamia and both are known for having beer thousands of years ago; beer played huge roles in both ancient societies (the Code of Hammurabi regulated beer parlours and the Hymn to Ninkasi was a prayer to the goddess of fermentation and beer). Generally speaking, wheat beers seem most easily to be distinguished by their place of origin - Germany, Belgium, and the United States.

The Belgian Wit or White - yeasty and spiced fruit bread aroma, bubbly with a twangy malt flavor and a lot of spice, traditionally brewed with coriander and orange peel.

German Wheats range in color from pale filtered Kristalweizens and unfiltered Hefeweizens, to the dark and murky Dunkelweizen and its stronger, more alcohol step-brother, the Weizenbock. Unique german yeast strains cause a banana and cloves flavor, combined with spicy and earthy german hops. In the darker Dunkelweizen and Weizenbock, hints of chocolate and caramel join the banana/clove flavors, and the suggestions of plums and/or apple flavor isn't unusual.

The American Wheat beer can be pale or dark and may be reminiscent of its German cousins. The banana/clove flavors are toned down and the beer is generally light in color, highly carbonated, and with a very balanced, low-bitter flavor profile. Light versions are very often labelled as and appropriately called summer wheats, while dark versions sometimes get the Winter Wheat moniker. More recently, american breweries have of course, put wheat beer on steroids and come up with the wheatwine, often a 50/50 mix of wheat and barley brewed to barleywine alcohol levels.

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