Typically, beer is made from water, hops, yeast, and barley. But huge variations in flavor, color, aroma and body can be had by just changing the types and amounts of these ingredients. A different roast on the grain or source of the yeast can deliver a wide range of beer types and styles. Switching up the grain used in the beer yields similar results. Malted barley forms the backbone of what the U.S. knows as beer. Sure it's good, but modern man craves variety, even if he’s not a professional athlete. So replace the barley with wheat, and you get something radically different. A beer that tastes like none you've had before. A beer that makes it fun to eat your wheaties.
Wheat beer comes in a variety of styles, from German hefeweizen to Belgian lambics, with the occasional stop in France and Austria along the way. Flavors vary dramatically across the board, but these beers tend to be a rich gold in color with surprisingly fruity flavors – banana and citrus coming out to play in spades. Hoppy bitterness is usually on the low side, with just enough to peel the flavors back on the aftertaste and clear a path for the next sip, or gulp. As a general rule, these are easy drinking beers, perfectly suited for an afternoon in the yard, a ball game, or an evening sitting on a patio or hidden rooftop. Being stuck inside with a six-pack and a night of “Top Chef” reruns doesn't suck either. They're beautiful beers and we tasted four examples of the breed heading to store shelves this summer.
Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat – A Belgian Wit Bier, Leinie's Sunset Wheat pours a cloudy orange-gold in a pint glass and has a thin, creamy white head that lingers for a while. The bottle also claims blueberry top notes, which unfortunately adds a slight Fuity Pebbles flavor to the bottle. Beyond that, the beer is incredibly light and citrusy, with orange flavors coming through strongly and a nice spicy coriander hit adding complexity and tang. The carbonation is fairly light, with soft bubbles, as is traditional with wit biers. Priced less than many Belgians, it's a solid deal, even if you don't like Fruity Pebbles with dinner.
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen - Glowing an incredibly bright straw yellow out of the bottle, and swirling with suspended yeast, this American attempt at a German-style hefe is actually very successful. Sierra Nevada captured the traditional German flavor profiles nearly perfectly. It's yeasty, with lemon, banana, a little clove and some nice dry wheat throughout the glass. There's some bite from the carbonation, and very little hops, making it an incredibly gulpable beer. Not as sweet as some hefeweizens, this is the one to break out for a night on the deck with a grill.
Bud Light Golden Wheat – One of the newest wheat beers on the market, it's at a disadvantage out of the gate simply by being a light beer. The wheat does improve on the low calorie formula though, providing a little more flavor, primarily citrus and wheat, with lemon hitting hard up front. It's fairly dry and is a bit less watery than light beer generally is. There's an odd sweetness to it though, with some tasters comparing it to Malibu rum. Definitely leagues better than standard Bud Light, and easier to find on store shelves than some other beers in the roundup, but only worth looking for if you have to choose between fattening up a bratwurst and a full-flavored beer and the brat wins out.
Hacker Pschorr Kristall Weisse – It'll take a much better stocked liquor store to find this one than the others in the tasting, but it's well worth the hunt. Kristall Weisse is essentially a filtered Hefeweizen, giving it a lighter body, but with the same flavor. Hacker Schorr pours a nice hazy gold with a rich creamy head. With relatively low alcohol content at 5.5 percent, it's easy to get lost in a six pack in a hurry. It has a tangy, almost sticky mouth feel, with banana, clove, orange peel and just a slight mineral undertone paired with a nice mild carbonation and a slightly hoppy aftertaste that essentially serves as a signpost to down another sip. The Germans made this style of beer to pair perfectly with meat, and this bottle delivers. It'll match up against pretty much any type of grilled meat you can throw at it and even take down potato salad and coleslaw, assuming you want to waste valuable space in your stomach on vegetables when there's bratwurst to be eaten.