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Beer radar: give wheat a chance

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No bananas were harmed in the making of these South Australian wheaty wonders reviewed by passionate beer drinker and judge John Krüger.

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Wheat beers are a bit like anchovies: you either adore them or hate them with a loathing that runs deep. I adore both.

Wheat beers utilise malted and sometimes raw wheat in the grist. Their main characters are a light tartness on the finish, a haze (unless filtered), higher-than-usual carbonation, and a very puffy and lingering head.

Due to the higher carbonation, these beers are best decanted.

The tartness is a wonderful, refreshing character that makes wheat beers well suited to our hot dry climate, although they don’t fit with the narrow view many Aussies still hold regarding what beer is supposed to be like.

One of the main contributors to a good wheat beer is actually the range of yeasts chosen for fermentation. They contribute a dusty, bready character that adds immensely to flavour and aroma. If you see some in the bottle, give the last bit of beer a swirl and make sure you get every bit in your glass. It gives the beer a very soft character.

Another magic ingredient is isoamyl acetate. It’s not added, but develops in the beer due to quite a few complex brewing processes, such as under-pitching of yeast, an acid rest during mashing and ramping the fermentation temperature.

Isoamyl acetate is an ester that most people associate with unripe bananas and ripe pears. Ester production in beer is a big can of worms to open for any budding brewer, but brewing the perfect wheat beer is also a wonderful achievement for those who cherish these complex, cloudy beers.

Tasting notes can get very unusual with wheats. Some I’ve used include “unripe banana”, “ashtray”, “Juicy Fruit chewing gum”, “Weet-Bix in hot water” and even “cheap tinned baked beans in tomato sauce”.

As with most beer styles, there’s a load of sub-styles along the lines of classic Bavarian, hoppy American, spiced Belgian and more.

Lobethal Bierhaus – Hefeweizen

This beer pours with a nice white head, a fairly light colour and only a slight haze.

It smells of grainy malt and white bread with only a hint of banana. On the tongue, though, there’s a nice blast of unripe banana backed up by light malt sweetness and a slightly tart finish with fruity hints of apricot and peach. There’s so much going on in a little 330ml bottle.

Food match: With all of these flavours in the 5.4% abv (alcohol by volume) beer, brewer Alistair Turnbull prefers to match it with grilled, mild-flavoured fish and a simple summer salad.

Goodieson Brewery – Wheat Beer

Goodieson’s Wheat Beer pours with a white head but a darker brown colour with some haze. There’s delicious yeast in that 330ml bottle, so don’t leave it there.

It has big aromas of ripe banana, wheat toast and breakfast fruit juices, and the flavours are spot-on. A perfect balance of sweet wheat and a dry, soft finish. The mouth fills with loads of banana, a hint of clove and pineapple/mango fruit juice.

Brewer Jeff Goodieson has a passion for wheat beers and it shows. It’s worth the drive to Sand Road, McLaren Vale, for a taste.

Food match: With such fruity flavours, this beer would be great with just about any breakfast, fried or healthy. If 5.2% abv during breakfast isn’t your style, try it after midday with char-grilled firm peaches topped with paper-thin slices of San Jose prosciutto.

Prancing Pony – Hefeweizen

A big 500ml bottle of 5.2% abv beer, with lots of carbonation and a big bubbly head. This is another bottle with soft, wheaty yeast at the bottom, so it pours cloudy.

It smells of Weet-Bix and toast with a hint of clove. There’s some sweet wheat pancake on the tongue, along with sharp carbonation and a background of ripe banana. Very carbonated.

Food match: Salty snacks of beer-battered red onion rings, slices of chorizo and sliced pickled jalapeños. Definitely use some of the beer in the batter.

Barossa Valley Brewing – Chan van Damme

The Chan van Damme pours highly carbonated with a green tinge, lacking a little of the puffy head. It smells like a mixture of dry spices; the can lists Sichuan peppercorns and lemongrass as ingredients. The Sichuan pepper comes through in its usual strong, oily way, similar to eucalyptus.

This beer is a smart take on the classic Belgian Wit style that’s usually spiced with coriander and orange peel and quite refreshing. It’s packaged in a hip 330ml squat can and 4.4% abv, which equates to only about 1.1 standard drinks.

Food match: Salt and pepper squid – a good Asian version that includes a little fried onion and chopped chilli. The pepper in the beer complements the dish.

John Krüger is an Adelaide-based photographer and home brewer with a passion for good beer. He’s on the Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards committee as well as a beer judge with the awards.

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