What's the difference between German wheat beer and Belgian white beer?1
Aren’t they the same, a white beer and a weizen? Not quite. Belgian white beer is brewed with wheat and the German word for wheat is… indeed; Weizen! Of course, they are both wheat beers (in that they are made from wheat) but there are essential differences between these beer styles. Here is how to differentiate the two.
First things first, to avoid any confusion, weizen, weissbier and German wheat beer are all the same things. White beer, Belgian white ale and witbier are also the same thing. Bare this in mind, as the names are used interchangeably. As the names suggest this is really all about the battle of two major beer-producing nations: Belgium and Germany. Simply put, weizen is German and white beer is Belgian. Their use of wheat is a central part of this rivalry. For a white beer, brewers use un-malted wheat, while for a weizen they use 50% wheat malt. White beer also contains less wheat than weizen. It is the wheat that gives the beer a typically sour and wheaty taste. Wheat also has less starch and more protein (than barley), which gives it the foamy head, though the weizen one will be creamier. Both beers are opaque to cloudy, again from wheat.
The type of yeast also plays an important role when it comes to the differences between these two wheat beers. Both beers are top-fermented, but a weizen is brewed with special weizen yeast. This yeast is what makes those characteristic clove and banana flavours. A weizen beer complies with the Reinheitsgebot (the German purity law), forbidding it to be brewed with a `anything other than water, barley, and hops. That’s no herbs and no fruits. All of those flavours and the soft, sweet and slightly fruity character, come just from the yeast.
You will generally not find this banana flavour in a white beer. Flavours that are more typical for the Belgian white beer are citrus and coriander. During the brewing process, the brewer adds coriander seeds and curaçao peels, which are the peels of a bitter orange.
Witbiers have been brewed as early as the 14th century in Belgium. The word translates from Dutch to “white beer”. Now, when you see a beer described as “white” eg, White IPA—that will mean that there is a decent portion of wheat in it.
The Dutch La Trappe Witte Trappist is a must try. It's tasty, fresh and thirst quenching but it's also the only Trappist white beer in the world. Blanche De Namur is fruity and floral with distinctive orange peel and coriander aromas and of course Wieckse Witte is everything you want and more.
Say the word white beer and most people automatically think of Hoegaarden. The village of Hoegaarden has been known for white beer since the Middle Ages. In the 18th and 19th centuries, white beer had become one of the main Belgian beer styles. Witbier was popular for centuries, however it was almost entirely wiped out in the 50s by the expansion of lager.
This style of beer originated in Bavaria, Germany. A Weissbier, despite its name, isn’t always white in colour; it can also be golden and dark. Weissbiers are characterised by a complex flavour and aroma with fruity notes. There are also both clear and cloudy varieties.
Well-known weizen beers are brewed by breweries such as Schneider, Paulaner, and Weihenstephan. They are a must for anyone new to the weizen scene. Erdinger is a prime example of brewing with only the finest ingredients. At The SUB you can enjoy the Austrian Edelweiss Hefetrüb.
It is important to note that weizen encompasses a few substyles, the most common is the Hefeweizen ("yeast wheat"). Notable examples include Paulaner Hefeweissbier, Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbeer, Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and Erdinger Weissbier.
German Wheat Beer | 5.3% | 8 Litres
White Beer | 4.8% | 5 Litres
German Wheat Beer | 5.5% | 5 Litres
German Wheat Beer | 5.3% | 2 Litres
German Wheat Beer | 5.1% | 2 Litres
German Wheat Beer | 4.9% | 8 Litres
German Wheat Beer | 5.5% | 2 Litres
White beer is best served from 3-5 degrees Celsius in a thick and sturdy glass - a Hoegaarden glass is perfect. A weizen is served slightly warmer, at a temperature of 6 to 8 degrees Celsius in a tall, narrow glass which flares outwards (think of a Paulaner or Erdinger glass). Read more about beer glasses here.
...Well, that’s up to you. These beer styles are two sides of the same coin, but which has the edge is completely a matter of taste. To learn more about how to differentiate the two, the best thing to do is start tasting.