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A wheat ale covers a large category of beer styles, including witbiers, hefeweizens, the Berliner-style Weisse and American wheat beers; the main component that defines a wheat ale is the heavy presence of wheat in the grain bill. Most brewers prefer barley, as it’s less tricky to work with compared to the wheat grains — extracting sugars to feed the yeast is more complicated when boiling a predominantly wheat mash because the starches want to bind with the gluten proteins. No matter the exact regional style, most wheat ales have a creamy texture and golden appearance with a noticeable hazy quality and a pronounced foam head.
The typical description of a classic wheat ale includes the words “bready,” “citrusy,” “bright” and “spicy,” with common flavor notes like coriander, orange peel, lemon, honey and pepper. Wheat ales are easy and pleasant to drink, featuring a high level of carbonation and minimal alcohol in the aroma or overall flavor. On the whole, wheat ales are considered fruity and lightly sweet; these characteristics allow the style to pair effortlessly with a large range of foods — consider serving wheat ales with spicy Chinese or Thai takeout or perhaps break out your artisanal cheese board (you’ve been eager to use it no doubt) featuring goat cheese and buttery goudas.
Wheat ales aren’t often associated with super high ABVs; rather, this is a style of beer that typically ranges somewhere between 3% and 6% alcohol content; Belgian witbiers and hefeweizens are usually slightly elevated whereas American-style wheat beers are likely on the lower end of the spectrum. However, even for those regional varieties closer to 6% ABV, you won’t notice much alcohol flavor at all; the creamy texture and bright flavors mask the astringent qualities of a boozier beer, making wheat ales especially easy to drink. Even with their lower ABV, these brews can sneak up on you — one of the preferred vessels for wheat ale is the tall and curvy Weizen glass, which holds over 20 ounces in one pour.
Wheat ales provide a long list of tempting flavor notes, especially citrus and spice, but the most overwhelming profile is the bread-like flavor from the heavy dose of wheat grain present in the recipe. As such, when you consider what to pair alongside this brew, think in terms of contrast — wheat ales help mellow extra spicy foods, like Thai curries and other Asian cuisines that incorporate bright peppers and even a little citrus. In general, wheat ales aren’t considered super heavy, so you can feel confident matching them with lighter menu items like salads, mild cheeses and even fresh fruit (e.g. the orange slice in your Blue Moon).
Wheat ales are lovely in amber color and often pleasantly hazy; to best appreciate the visual and aromatic qualities of this style, opt for a Weizen glass (Weizen means “wheat” in German, after all). Weizen glasses are similar in shape to a standard pilsner glass — they are tall, shapely and offer a nice view of the beer’s color and bubbles — but the Weizen glass is curved a bit more elegantly towards the top. Wheat ales are sometimes a little cloudy and this style of vessel helps trap the sediments at its narrow bottom, preserving an ideal drinking experience at the rim.
For a standard serving of wheat ale with 4% to 5% alcohol content, expect to consume about 150-160 calories and roughly 14 grams of carbohydrates; one of the best-known and widely available wheat ales in the United States is the Belgian White Wheat Ale from Blue Moon Brewing Company — this popular wheat ale is 5.2% ABV and reports 168 calories per bottle. Just remember that most wheat ales aren’t served in a standard 12-ounce bottle but are often poured into larger vessels like a pint glass (16 ounces) or even mugs called Weizen glasses which tend to hold at least 22 ounces.