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15 - German Wheat and Rye Beer
15 - German Wheat and Rye Beer

German Wheat and Rye beer styles

Do you know what a Roggenbier is? How do the 3 types of German Wheat beers differ? Read on to find out…

Previously we examined India Pale Ales, in this article we will cover BJCP Category 15, German Wheat and Rye Beer, which includes the following Beer Styles:

First we will cover the history of the category, then take a look at the specifications of each style highlighting the similarities and differences. We then sample commercial examples of each style.

History

15 - German Wheat and Rye Beer
15 – German Wheat and Rye Beer

Weizen, or Weissbier, meaning wheat or white beer originates from Southern Germany and are wheat-based. They used to be produced primarily for summer-time but are now produced year-round. Dunkelweizen is how German wheat-beers used to be back in the mid 20th century before the advent of hefeweizen (hefe means yeast in German) which made them lighter in color. Weizen beers are usually unfiltered and hence cloudy though there are also Kristallweizen which are filtered.

Weizenbocks are produced in a similar manner to Doppelbocks but instead of being a bottom fermented lager they are a top-fermented wheat-based ale.

Roggenbier originates from the town of Regensburg in Bavaria, Germany, and is a variant of a Dunkelweizen except that malted rye is used in place of malted wheat.

Overview

According to Jamil Zainasheff in his book, Brewing Classic Styles, these beers include a large portion (50% or more) of wheat or rye and feature a unique banana/clove yeast character.

These beers should be as follows:

  • Weizen/Weissbier – a pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing wheat-based ale.
  • Dunkelweizen – a moderately dark, spicy, fruity, malty, refreshing wheat-based ale.
  • Weizenbock – a strong, malty, fruity, spicy, wheat-based ale combining the best flavors of a Dunkelweizen and the rich strength and body of a Bock.
  • Roggenbier (German Rye Beer) – a Dunkelweizen made with rye rather than wheat, with a fuller body.

The following tables* show how the 4 styles of German Wheat and Rye Beers vary:

Characteristic Weizen/
Weissbier
Dunkelweizen Weizenbock Roggenbier
(German Rye Beer)
Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.052 1.044 – 1.056 1.064 – 1.090 1.046 – 1.056
Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.014 1.010 – 1.014 1.015 – 1.022 1.010 – 1.014
ABV (alcohol %): 4.3 – 5.6 4.3 – 5.6 6.5 – 8.0 4.5 – 6.0
IBU’s (bitterness): 8 – 15 10 – 18 15 – 30 10 – 20
SRM (color): 2 – 8 14 – 23 12 – 25 14 – 19

The above table shows that Weizens, Dunkelweizens and Roggenbiers all have very similar starting and finishing gravities plus alcohol contents with the latter being slightly stronger. Weizenbock has higher starting and finishing gravities resulting in a stronger beer with more mouth-feel.

For bitterness Wiezenbock tends to be the highest of all four styles. Color-wise Dunkelweizens and Weizenbocks are usually the darkest with Roggenbiers generally being a little lighter but Weizens tend to be very light in color.

In the following sections we will look in more detail at each of the above Beer Styles.

Weizen/Weissbier

Commercial examples of this style include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Schneider Weisse Weizenhell, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, Plank Bavarian Hefeweizen, Ayinger Bräu Weisse, Ettaler Weissbier Hell, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Andechser Weissbier Hefetrüb, Kapuziner Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier, Penn Weizen, Barrelhouse Hocking Hills HefeWeizen, and Eisenbahn Weizenbier. We decided to sample Magic Hat Circus Boy.

Circus Boy Hefeweizen
Circus Boy Hefeweizen

Magic Hat Circus Boy has the following characteristics which is within style for alcohol content, bitterness and color:

  • ABV = 4.5%
  • IBU’s = 15
  • SRM = 6

This beer is golden and slightly cloudy in color with a white head that goes. Aroma is lemon with slight banana. Flavor is of lemon. Moderate carbonation with average mouth-feel.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is Pilsner malted barley.
  • A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.
  • Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character, although extreme fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and produce off-flavors.

A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness.

Dunkelweizen

Commercial examples of this style include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Ayinger Ur-Weisse, Schneider Weisse (Original), Ettaler Weissbier Dunkel, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse Dark, Tucher Dunkles Hefe Weizen, Edelweiss Dunkel Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel, and Kapuziner Weissbier Schwarz. We decided to sample Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel
Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel

Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel has the following characteristic which is within style for alcohol content:

  • ABV = 5.0%

This beer is burnt caramel in color and cloudy with an average head. Aroma is mainly of bananas whilst the flavor is of bananas and caramel. Above average carbonation with a moderate mouth-feel.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is usually Munich and/or Vienna malted barley.
  • A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.
  • Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character, although extreme fermentation temperatures can affect the balance and produce off-flavors.

A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness.

Weizenbock

Commercial examples of this style include Schneider Aventinus, Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, Plank Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock, Plank Bavarian Heller Weizenbock, AleSmith Weizenbock, Erdinger Pikantus, Mahr’s Der Weisse Bock, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, High Point Ramstein Winter Wheat, Capital Weizen Doppelbock, and Eisenbahn Vigorosa. We decided to sample Weihenstephaner Vitus.

Weihenstephaner Vitus
Weihenstephaner Vitus

Weihenstephaner Vitus has the following characteristics which is within style for alcohol content and bitterness:

  • ABV = 7.7%
  • IBU’s = 17

This beer is hazy golden in color with a white head that goes pretty quickly. Aroma is of cloves and slight banana. Subtle banana and yeasty flavor. Above average carbonation with a good mouth-feel.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • A high percentage of malted wheat is used (by German law must be at least 50%, although it may contain up to 70%), with the remainder being Munich- and/or Vienna-type barley malts.
  • A small amount of noble hops are used only for bitterness.
  • Weizen ale yeasts produce the typical spicy and fruity character.
  • Too warm or too cold fermentation will cause the phenols and esters to be out of balance and may create off-flavors.

A traditional decoction mash gives the appropriate body without cloying sweetness.

Roggenbier (German Rye Beer)

Commercial examples of this style include Paulaner Roggen, and Bürgerbräu Wolznacher Roggenbier. We decided to sample Rugbrod by The Bruery.

Bruery Rugbrod
Bruery Rugbrod

Bruery Rugbrod has the following characteristic which is within style for color but too high for both alcohol content and bitterness:

  • ABV = 8.0% (max 6% for style)
  • IBU’s = 30 (max 20 for style)
  • SRM = 18

This beer is dark red in color with a light coffee-colored head comprised of coarse bubbles. A yeasty and spicy aroma with a fruity and spicy flavor followed by a clean finish. Moderate carbonation and medium body.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • Malted rye typically constitutes 50% or greater of the grist (some versions have 60-65% rye).
  • Remainder of grist can include Pale malt, Munich malt, Wheat malt, Crystal malt and/or small amounts of Debittered Dark malts for color adjustment.
  • Light usage of noble hops in bitterness, flavor and aroma.
  • Weizen yeast provides distinctive banana esters and clove phenols.
  • Lower fermentation temperatures accentuate the clove character by suppressing ester formation.

Decoction mash commonly used (as with Weizenbiers).

What next?

Our next article will look at BJCP Category 16, ‘Belgian and French Ale‘, where we will examine the five styles making up this category.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please do not hesitate to contribute to the discussion below.

* Beer Styles’ data is courtesy of BJCP.org.

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