Back to Basics with Bavarian Hefeweizen

As homebrewers, we often have a tendency to throw a bunch of different ingredients into recipes just because we can. Sometimes economy’s the reason, like using 5 grams of 8 different bittering hops because they’re in the freezer and about to expire. Other times, it’s just plain stubbornness, like the tendency of American homebrewers (myself included) to put crystal malt in everything. But it’s good to be reminded that sometimes, simplicity is best. After all, humans have been brewing for thousands of years, and the ancient Sumerians certainly didn’t have eight different kinds of debittered black malts to choose from.

My lesson in simplicity this week is a Bavarian Hefeweizen I brewed Sunday. I called it Weiss Blau Weiss. The name means “white-blue” and is an homage to the flag of Bavaria, a pattern of white and blue diamonds (called “lozenges” or sometimes “fusils” – your heraldry lesson for the day) seen at German-themed beer events all over the world.

You remember this, don’t you? You puked on it last Oktoberfest.

I brew mostly wheat beers in the summer, because they ferment better in the warm temperatures we face in Texas in the hottest part of the year. But most of my wheat homebrews in the past have been American-style wheats, fermented with White Labs WLP320 American Hefeweizen Ale Yeast. It’s a great clean-fermenting yeast, and I recommend it for any wheat ale with fruit, herbs or spices. But I’m bored with that clean flavor lately, and I’ve been enjoying commercial wheats with the kind of clove/banana esters that come from German hefeweizen yeast strains. So after a lot of deliberation (and with input from my soulmate and recipe consultant Lisa, who talked me down off the ledge of including some exotic spice such as mahlab in the boil) I decided to keep it simple with a traditional Bavarian hefeweizen – simple grain bill and simple hops, allowing the ester character of a German yeast strain to come through.

The grain bill was a 50/50 split of base malts – no specialty grains, no aromatics, no crystal. Just:

  • 5.5 lbs German Pilsen malt
  • 5.5 lbs White Wheat malt

I mashed at 152°F for an hour.

Noble hops are standard for this style, so I used:

  • 0.5 oz Hallertauer (4.8% AA) for 60 min
  • 0.5 oz Hallertauer Saphir (4.2% AA) for 60 min
  • 0.1 oz Hallertauer (4.8% AA) for 15 min
  • 0.1 oz Hallertauer Saphir (4.2% AA) for 15 min

Using two different Hallertauer varieties may seem unnecessarily complex in this so-called “simple” beer. But I really dig Saphir, and I had 0.6 oz in my freezer, which wasn’t enough. So I supplemented the Saphir with ordinary Hallertauer to get an ounce for bittering and a little extra for flavor, while using up my Saphir backstock (see? economy). In the end, I liked the symmetry of splitting the hop additions 50/50, same as the grain, so I ran with it.

The OG of the wort was 1.052. I pitched a smack pack of Wyeast 3068 Weihenstephan Weizen with no starter, hoping the low pitching rate will promote ester production. I’m also keeping the fermentation temperature between 68-72°F for the same reason. The word hefe in hefeweizen is German for “yeast”, and I want the yeast esters to take center stage.

On Monday, the beer was fermenting so vigorously I had to replace my airlock with a blowoff hose – always a proud moment for any brewer. Today, it’s still bubbling several times a minute. Assuming it’s done fermenting by this time next week, I plan to keg it immediately. Hefeweizens are great consumed fresh, and while I don’t think a longer conditioning period would hurt it, I don’t see it helping much … plus, I have an empty tap on the kegerator ready for a new beer!

It was hard, but I think keeping it simple will serve this beer well. While I love creativity in brewing, and there’s a strong desire to be original by throwing the kitchen sink into every recipe, sometimes one needs to dial it back and focus on the basics, the minimum needed to make a good beer in a classic style. And as with so many other things, part of being a good brewer is knowing what not to do, as much as knowing what to do.

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About Shawn M

Writer, podcaster, blogger, and homebrewer in Austin, Texas.

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