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Liquid Bread

Like many of us, I love eating out. There’s nothing like going to a restaurant and receiving a basket of warm bread before you know what you’re going to order. If the restaurant has a good hefeweizen, even better.  The ties between baguettes and Belgian wits can be traced to wheat, a very important cereal grain used in many kinds of bread and beer.

beer-UFO_Hefe_LabelBeer wouldn’t be possible without grains that supply the starch and eventual sugars that enable the conversion to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The most common grain for beer making is barley because it’s easily filtered and its high levels of enzymes break down starch.  Wheat, however, doesn’t have the natural filtering capability that barley does. This doesn’t necessarily make it impossible to brew beer with wheat; wheat beers as we know them are brewed with barley, anywhere from 30 to 70 percent wheat.  

From ancient Babylonia to Bavaria, Belgium to Boston, wheat beers have seen their popularity diminish and rise again. Well known for their light color foamy head (due to its high protein content) and tart and fruity flavors, wheat beers are a refreshing choice for this time of year and pair well with many foods. The German, Belgian and American wheats can easily be found year-round, but it’s usually in the summertime that craft breweries produce seasonal styles available for a limited time.  
How do you know which ones to choose?  With names like hefeweizen,

weissbier, and wit to name a few, it’s easy to get confused about what you’re ordering. For starters, the lingo cannot only be tricky to pronounce but also to understand.  The name hefeweizen comes from the German words for yeast (hefe) and wheat (weizen). Hefeweizen is subtly hopped and naturally carbonated with fresh yeast in the bottle that contributes to its banana and clove flavor. One of my favorites from Germany is Tucher Helles Hefe Weizen, either on tap or in a bottle.  Other ones to try worth noting and pretty easy to find at a good beer store or bar: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Brooklyner Weiss, Franziskaner Hefe-Weiss, and Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen.

Belgian Wits are made with raw wheat and spiced with bitter orange peel and coriander.  The word ‘Wit’ is Flemish for white, and you will often see them referred to as witbiers. You might also see them referred to as bière blanche, French for white beer. Highly carbonated and lightly spicy, these are great summer beers and match very well with salads.  From Belgium, check out St. Bernardus or Dentergems.  This popular style is also made in many other countries, from as far as Australia and Sweden, or as close as Canada (e.g. Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly) and even locally right here in Central New York. If you want to try an American version, most restaurants and bars will carry Maine’s Allagash White Ale, Ommegang’s Witte, and Syracuse made Middle Ages Brewing Company’s Swallow Wit or Empire Brewing Company’s White Aphro.

beer-tucher-hellesWheat is an extremely versatile grain, and wheat beers are no exception. Hefeweizen and witbiers are but only two kinds that are ready for you to try this summer.  Look out for other wheat beer varieties such as Weizenbock (stronger version of hefeweizen), dunkelweizen (brewed with darker malts), or Kristallweizen (yeast is filtered out). Each variety has its own unique flavor worth savoring.

As much as it would be a dream to go on a beer tour of Germany and Belgium, perhaps a shorter trip to a bigger city like New York could be a fun wheat beer expedition.  In Manhattan alone, your head will spin from all the choices! Even closer are the breweries in and around Central New York, the Finger Lakes and Canada.  These are great day trips and opportunities to explore local landmarks as well.  For those lazy hazy days of summer, go to your local store that has an impressive beer selection and instead of grabbing your go-to six-pack on autopilot, look for a yummy wheat beer.  beer-bread-basket

Just as we can choose to eat a bagel, baguette, or English muffin, so we can choose from wheat beers. It’s true, I wouldn’t put a pat of butter in my beer (and neither should you!), but there’s a good reason it’s commonly referred to as liquid bread. It’s a good enough reason for me to skip the bread and drink the beer instead.  Cheers!

Gloria Rakowsky

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