In the brewpub heyday of the 1990s, virtually every brewery had a hefeweizen on tap as a “gateway beer” for people new to the intense flavors of craft beer styles. Hefeweizens then went out of style for many years, but they seem to be making a comeback, as a number of California breweries have produced these refreshing wheat beers recently. The fluffy mouthfeel, low alcohol and soft flavor profile make them perfect brews for summer.
Gateway to Hefen
Chuck Silva founded the eponymous Silva Brewing in Paso Robles with his wife, MJ, in 2015 after he spent 11 years as brewmaster for San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Co. The first thing I noticed about Silva’s Gateway to Hefen hefeweizen was the aggressive carbonation – even with a very gentle pour, this beer formed a massive, fluffy head. The beer is a luminous straw color in the glass, with a dense, steady stream of bubbles rising, and incredibly bright aromas of fruity yeast aromatics, lemony tartness and distinctive but not overwhelming Mandarina Bavaria hops, all accentuated by the carbonation. Light, fluffy and silky on the palate, the 5.3% alcohol by volume (ABV) beer presents a flavor profile of pleasant, delicate sweetness that hints at banana without actually focusing on that flavor. The finish is soft, subtle and remarkably refreshing.
Loma Brewing Co. in Los Gatos brewed the lightest hefeweizen I tasted: El Jefe weighs in at just 4.3% ABV, pouring a lightly hazy pale gold color with a fluffy white head. Aromas include banana yeast esters, light wheat and gentle cotton-candy sweetness, with no noticeable hops or clove phenols, and the flavor is similar to the aroma. Simple, light and refreshing, with a medium body, the beer finishes with an ever-so-subtle hint of balancing hop bitterness accompanying the gentle sweetness.
Billowing Bavarian-style Hefeweizen from Pacifica Brewery in Pacifica is 5.3% ABV, and the beer is a brightly clear golden color, lacking the cloudiness often associated with the style, and has a substantial but short-lived white head. Bright, lightly sweet banana yeast esters dominate the aroma, with malt and hop notes taking a backseat. Effervescent carbonation highlights yeast-derived flavors of banana and crisp pear, with subtle contributions from malted wheat and barley, as well as delicate citrusy hops. In this relatively light-bodied brew, the fruity yeast esters remain the focal point throughout the pleasant finish.
Santa Cruz’s New Bohemia Brewing Co. added pineapple puree to its traditional hefeweizen recipe to produce Pineapple Express. With a turbid golden color and a fluffy white head, the beer’s aroma is very yeasty and a little tangy, with mild banana esters, limited clove character and tart sweet pineapple in the background. The flavor of the 5.4% ABV brew is relatively subtle, with tart pineapple replacing the lemon wedge that many people add to hefeweizen. Soft, fluffy wheat contributes to a light but somehow substantial body and mouthfeel, and the finish is light and refreshing, with light acidic pineapple notes
Derek Wolfgram is an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.