How to make Hefeweizen beer

by | Brewing beer




One of the best summer beers you can make is Hefeweizen.  This Southern German (Bavarian) wheat ale is incredibly simple to make, but has great complex flavors.  The beer can have strong banana flavors or strong clove flavors, and everything in-between.  There can even be some vanilla flavors or other citrus flavors.

The beer has a light mouth feel, which is why it makes a great summer selection .  Hefeweizen translates to wheat with yeast (mit hefe), since the beer is traditionally cloudy.  The cloudiness comes from the unfiltered yeast.  There is a clear version of Hefeweizen called Krystal.  The Krystal is a filtered Hefeweizen for “crystal clarity”.

traditiona hefeweizen hacker pschorr

Here's a traditional German hefeweizen from Hacker Pschorr

Hefeweizen Yeast

I think one of the most important factors in making a Hefeweizen is your choice of yeast.  There are several wheat beer yeasts and each will produce a very different Hefeweizen.  You need to decide what flavors you want in your Hefeweizen.  Some Hefeweizens have a clove-like flavor, while others have a citrus or strong banana flavor.

From White Labs you can choose Hefeweizen (WPL300), American Hefeweizen (WPL 320), Bavarian Weizen (WPL 351), or Hefeweizen IV (WPL 380).  The WPL 300 yeast will produce more banana flavors and the Hefeweizen which is traditionally associated with the German variety.  WPL 351 and WPL 380 will accentuate the clove flavor.

yeast

There is actually quite a bit of variety for hefeweizen yeast. Most break down into either banana flavor or clove flavor.

From Wyeast you can choose German Wheat (3333), Bavarian Wheat (3638) or Weihenstephan Weizen  (3068).  The 3638 will give banana flavors like the WPL 300, while the 3333 and 3638 will give more clove flavors.

WPL 320 of course will produce an American version similar to the Oregon American wheat beer.  You can also use American ale yeast for the American variety.  This will result in a slightly crisper flavor and much higher flocculation.  You probably won’t get the cloudiness you would get in the German varieties using American ale yeast.

Personally I like the banana flavor, so I tend to use the WPL 300.  If you like experimenting, I think the banana flavors play well with other fruits.

Hefeweizen Recipe

The recipe is brain dead simple and is often listed as a beginner recipe.  I almost feel guilty writing an article on such a simple beer.

The recipe is usually 50-50 wheat malt and either pilsner or 2-row malt.  To make a true German version, you need to add at least 50% wheat malt by law.  (Those Germans are so strict!)  The style guidelines state you can use up to 70% wheat malt.  I add a bit of Crystal 20L to give the beer slight sweet flavor, but you can omit the Crystal malt to keep it simple.

If you are looking for a break from all-grain brewing and want to make a quick extract beer, you can even get away with using 100% wheat malt extract.  If you decide to go the extract route, make sure you do a full wort boil.  You don’t want the beer to darken too much.  It is supposed to be a pale straw color.  The beer can be as dark as a dark gold color, but most Hefeweizens tend to be light.  The SRM (Standard Reference Model) listed in the guidelines state the beer color should be between 2 and 8.

The hops in the beer are almost non-existent.  According to Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, some of the older recipes dispensed with the hops all together.  I would not recommend eliminating the hops however, since the hops provide an antiseptic quality which prevents bacterial infections.

Hefeweizens use Nobel hops, but not much.  I use an ounce of Hallertau per 5 gallon batch for bittering (4% AA).  I don’t use any aroma or flavor hops.  The beer should have little to no hop aroma or flavor.

8.5 lbs Wheat Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
1 oz Hallertau (4% AA – full boil)
White Labs Hefeweizen (WPL300) or Wyeast German Wheat (3333)
SG 1.050
FG 1.012

Boil the beer for at least 60 minutes.  You might even want to boil for 90 minutes to reduce the DMS levels as much as possible.  (In Colorado, I try to boil the beers longer because of the higher altitude – as much as 90 minutes.  The boiling temperature is about 200 F in Denver.)

If you want to make this beer using an all-grain recipe, just use 5.5 lbs of wheat malt and 5.5 lbs of pilsner malt.  You can use German varieties, but I really think the yeast is what makes this beer.  For all-grain versions, I’d use local malts.  Mash the grains at 152 F for 60 minutes.

Fermentation

You will want to ferment the beer on the lower end of the temperature range for the yeast (60F – 65F).  The lower temperature produces a cleaner flavor.  My basement is a constant 65F, and I’ve always been pleased with the results.  If I could ferment at a cooler temperature I’d try it.  Brewing Classic Styles suggests fermenting the beer as low as 62 F.

Carbonate the beer at 2.5 to 3.0 volumes.

Experiments with fruit

Lately it seems Hefeweizen is the new beer playground for fruit.  I think since the recipe is so simple, people feel the need to play with it.  I’m just as guilty, and usually fruit a portion of the beer.

Harpoon makes a raspberry Hefeweizen, Schöfferhofer has Grapefruit Hefeweizen, and there are many others.  I recently even tried a mandarin orange Hefeweizen.  I think the citrus and banana flavors mix well with other fruits.

When you “fruit the beer”, you want to add the fruit after the primary fermentation.  If you ferment the fruit during the primary fermentation, the yeast will chew through your fruit leaving little fruit character.  The amount of fruit you add really depends on how much fruit flavor you want to add.  Personally I like a hint of flavor from the fruit, not overwhelming fruit.

I’ve had an Apricot Hefeweizen I tried at an Arizona beer festival.  The apricot flavor was very strong and tasted great in a 1 ounce taster.  A full 12 ounce beer of the strong flavor was difficult to stomach.  In fact it gave me a stomachache.  My friend had bought a case of the beer based on the tasting.  It took several months to finish the case of beer.

With that said, I’d add about 2-4 lbs of fruit to your secondary depending on the fruit you choose.  Cherry is very strong so you might want to add less, while strawberries are faint so you need more.  I use fruit puree instead of fresh fruit.  The reason is the fruit puree is less likely to contain any unwanted organisms.

Conclusion

So there you have it.  Hefeweizen is a very easy beer, and lends well to experimentation!  Let me know how your’s turns out and what experiments you try.


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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!