By Gail Oberst
For Oregon Beer Growler
In Tübingen, Germany, Hefeweizen was one of my favorite choices in beer styles served at the tiny stübe in the student-housing complex where I lived. Germans make delicious wheat beers: they’ve had about a 1,000 years of practice. In the middle ages, the light-colored wheat beers were a welcome change from the dark beers common at the time. Hefe means yeast in German, and Weizen means wheat, not to be confused with weissbier, which means “white,” but is also a beer that contains wheat. Belgian-style witbiers are also made with wheat.
In Oregon, most brewers point to Widmer’s Hefe as leader of the charge 30 years ago that today makes wheat beers a spring-summer seasonal statewide.
Traditionally, wheat beers — usually brewed with other grains — are unfiltered and a bit cloudy from the residual proteins and yeast, although wheat is used in many styles of beer. Wheat beers are usually less hoppy and lower in alcohol than most other ales.
But in Oregon, anything goes. Ambacht puts matzah in its beer. Elk Horn flavors its beer with peaches. Pelican’s hop additions add uncharacteristic pineapple and tangerine aromas. Some of our wheat beers are 6 and 7 percent alcohol by volume.
Tasters to the monthly Perfect Pints blind tasting turned out on a rare sunny March afternoon to chose their favorite Oregon wheat beers, following.
Elk Horn: Georgia Peach Wheat, Eugene 5.3 ABV, 15 IBUs
Brewery Description: This American Hefeweizen is brewed with German ale yeast, rye, wheat and American barley malt. Peach with German Magnum and Hersbrucker hops create a crisp body and flavor.
Consumer Comments: Damn, that's ripe and rich! Yummm … Fresh fruit aroma, melons. Third floor. Smells great! Fruit, delicious, favorite so far. A floral wheat beer — I’m so excited! Like the flowers blooming all over town. Fruity aroma with berry taste — is it raspberries?
Ordnance Brewing: Wheatville, Boardman 4.9% ABV, 17 IBUs
Brewery Description: This is a quintessential American wheat beer, with malty biscuit flavors, low bitterness and enough suspended yeast to look the part.
Consumer Comments: Spring grass has sprung! Tastes good. Easy to drink. Clean finish. A beer with skin! My favorite of all. Tastes like what I expect from a wheat beer. Easy like Sunday morning. Nice wheat, bready, slightly sour.
Pelican: Meet the Flockers, Pacific City 5.9% ABV, 45 IBUs
Brewery Description: This experimental unfiltered ale has a golden color and bold herbal aroma perfect for summer drinking. Hoppier than most wheats, this pale ale has floral and citrus flavors, supported by the wheat undertones and toasty malt flavors.
Consumer Comments: I had a big one on the hook, but it got away! Tastes like an IPA. Hip-hop. Fresh hops and orange peel. Makes me want to rub fur on a platinum rod. I would drink this in the summertime. This one’s got some hops! Perfect lawn-mowing beer. Good hop balance with the malts.
Hopworks: Nonstop Hef Hop, Portland 3.9% ABV, 20 IBUs
Brewery Description: This new year-round beer is a low-alcohol, dry-hopped American wheat beer created for drinkers with active lifestyles. The beer has the taste and feel of a Northwest pale ale without the extra weight of high alcohol. Contains NW hops and red spring wheat grown on the Hopworks estate on San Juan Island, Washington.
Consumer Comments: Hops — how I have missed you! Pilsnery and kinda hoppy. Simply the best. Smooth but hoppy. A family brew. Bitter-ish. Lightly hopped and great for grilling. Lemony finish. Quite good.
Widmer Brothers: Hefe, Portland 4.9% ABV, 30 IBUs
Brewery Description: Prost, to the original Oregon Hefeweizen! Brothers Kurt and Rob love German-style beers. This award-winning beer has been brewed for 30 years in Oregon. Hefe includes golden wheat, the style’s unique cloudiness, and has bold citrus flavors from NW hops.
Consumer Comments: Rich. Some banana kicks up the flavor, and I’m in. Hey there Hef — Best served with a slice of lemon. Muy bueno. Good and crisp. True to style — I’d drink this at a Timbers or Thorns match. Definitely taste the wheat. Nice balance.
Ambacht: Matzobraü, Portland 6.5% ABV, N/A IBUs
Brewery Description: This Golden ale seasonal beer is made just after Passover (April 3-11) with leftover matzah (contains wheat). Can you think of a better use for the "bread of affliction" than beer?
Consumer Comments: Smoked candy! Stronger, boozy. Fig — not overly sweet — slight tart finish. Is this a Belgian? Tastes German and yeasty to me. Roasty and caramely. I wouldn’t have guessed this was a wheat beer! Slightly sweet.
McMenamins Fulton Brewery: Electric Orange Weizen, Portland 4.77% ABV, 15 IBUs
Brewery Description: Brewer Ryan Mott includes a generous amount of high-quality wheat malt to give this American-style wheat beer a rich body and frothy white foam head. Spanish sweet orange peels boil in the kettle for several minutes before this ale is sent to the fermenter. The result is flavorful, citrusy and refreshing.
Consumer Comments: Exotic and refreshing. Like green salad with nice piney floral flavors — yum. Makes me want to go to the beach. Slight hint of jasmine — smooth, balanced and refreshing. Makes me want to climb a tree. Floral, spicy and refreshing. On the lighter side of a summertime wheat beer. Perfect for an early spring cookout. Starts slightly citrus and sours to grapefruit.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.