Yes, We Have No Bananas – Hefe-Weizen on the Way

I know what I want to brew. It’s pale yellow and cloudy, with a billowing, long-lasting head. It smells of bread and cloves and bananas. It tastes kind of tart, with the banana and clove flavors brought into balance by the fuller, grainy flavor of malted wheat. It’s a summer beer enlivened by bright carbonation and refreshingly acidic fruit flavors, and made richer by the hazy protein of the wheat and vitamin-rich yeast.

That’s what I’ll be shooting for tomorrow morning when I fire up the mash tun and brew kettle. Whether I will hit the mark remains to be seen.

First off, I should mention that there are no bananas, cloves or other secret ingredients in a hefe-weizen. The uniqueness of a great weissbier doesn’t come from sleight of hand by the brewer, or complicated formulas. It’s just malt, water, a touch of hops, and the yeast – especially the yeast.

Such a complex beer comes from a simple grain bill. 10 pounds of German pils malt and 10 pounds of german malted wheat. No roasted grains, no caramel malts, no honey or sugars.

And the hops are simple, too – I’ll be using two ounces of Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, tossed in at the 45 minute mark, just to add a touch of bitterness without adding much flavor at all.

Even my mashing schedule will be simple – soak all the malt for an hour at around 152 degrees, allowing the amino acids in the malt kernels to do their work of breaking down the carbohydrates in the grain into fermentable sugars. Then drain the water and rinse the grains, gathering the resulting “beer juice” into a kettle for boiling.

After it’s boiled, I cool it down to around 70 degrees (I would like it to get a bit cooler, but that’s tough to do in KC during the summer), and add the yeast. The yeast is a special variety bred for this kind of beer – I’ll be using Wyeast Lab’s Weihenstephan Weizen™ strain, which ought to produce all those flavors I described earlier while they go about their business eating sugar and converting it into CO2 and alcohol.

So much simplicity for such a complex beer. People can’t even agree on what to call it. Some call it a weissbier. Some call it weizen. When the yeast is not filtered out, it is known as a hefe-weizen. Some call it simply a Bavarian Wheat Beer. Some people toss a slice of orange into it, some people call for lemon, and some people want to enjoy the beer’s complexity without the added fruit.

I know what I want to brew, and I have a good recipe. From here on, it’s up to my skill as a brewer and a bit of luck.

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