The Session: Wheat Beers

Those folks over at are hosting this month's Session, the beer-blogging monthly get-together, which this time around is all about the wonderful world of wheat beers.

So, here's Four Less-Than-Obvious Observations About Wheat in Beer.

I say wheat beer. You say…. Weiss? Weizen? Wit?

It’d be easy to pour a bottle of the cloudy stuff into a vase-shaped glass and ruminate on all things hefe, but let’s give it up for the wider world of wheat in beer.

#1 – Wheat in beer is (almost) everywhere

And for good reasons. When you think of an archetypal weiss, the head stands out – literally. Wheat is rich in glycoprotein, molecules of which are both attracted to water (hydrophilic) and repulsed by it (hydrophobic). These nest together, create pockets of C02, forming bubbles and – ta-da! – a head on the beer. Which is why many brews include a small proportion of wheat in their mash.

#2 – Lambic is a wheat beer

OK, not as high a proportion as weizens, but wheat makes up around 30% of a lambic’s grain bill. Turbidity, head retention, high levels of dextrins helping young lambics taste smoother than their funkier, older siblings… that’s the unmalted wheat at work.

#3 – Britain brews some damn fine wheat beers

They’re not quite like any other. Which is fine and dandy by me; if I want a classy bottled hefeweizen I’d buy a German bottle. There’s a certain something about an English cask ale that’s been given the wheat treatment. Oakham White Dwarf has a smooth lemon edge to it and makes for a corking summertime pint. Castle Rock Snowhite is more floral and, as a winter release, is a welcome palate rester when the bar is full of malty-toffee beers.

I get to drink those two fairly often. Wish I could say the same for Green Jack Orange Wheat with its deft marmalade touch and itching Citra notes. And then there’s Lovibond’s Gold Reserve Wheat Wine: brewer Jeff Rosenmeier took his premium wheat beer (Henley Gold), ramped up the wheat and balanced the flavour out with local honey to produce what was voted the world’s best honey beer at the 2009 World Beer Awards.

#4 – Britain held the first International Gluten-Free Beer Festival

So, glycoproteins helps make a wheat beer all fluffy and wonderful. Albeit not so wonderful at all if you’re allergic to them. They’re the building blocks of gluten, which is also found in barley, so severely restricting the beer-drinking of those who are gluten-intolerant. There have been a number of gluten-free beers entering the market in recent years and back in 2006 there was the first international festival to feature them. Held in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, it featured over a dozen gluten-free beers in bottles, cans and on draught from all around the world. Today, UK brewer Green’s have developed a range of beers made with de-glutenised malt –including pilsners, dubbels and triples – to challenge the assumption that gluten-free beer is boring in both style and execution.

And one of the judges at that festival was Nick Wheat. Seriously. I couldn’t make it up.