Hazy-hued wheat beers are aromatic, fruity and bold enough to team with strong-flavoured savoury dishes- we share some of our favourite ideas in the third installment of our food and beer matching series.
To explore wheat beer is to enter a realm hazier than the opaque brew itself. Knowing that wheat is added during brewing along with barley is a good place to start, but between Germany’s ‘weissbiers’ and Belgium’s ‘witbiers’, there’s a lot to explore.
Let's talk wheat beer
While there’s a time and place for commercial wheat beers served on a sunny pub terrace with a slice of lemon, the traditional wheat-based beers of northern Europe (and beyond) are as diverse as they are plentiful. Wheat beers come carbonated with a dull haze, but the colour spectrum ranges from pale lemon to deep orange and darker – German ‘dunkelweizen’ is named after the ‘dark wheat’ that gives the beer its deep brown hue.
The amount and variation of wheat added to the mash tun will vary by recipe; Crystal wheat gives a far clearer finish, for example. And whether it’s poured from keg or bottle, it should have a decent fluffy head; Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver recommends weissbiers have at least three inches of head. Get your nose into the foam to take in the strong, distinct aroma, then take a sip of the tingly liquid, packed with texture or ‘mouth feel’.
The brewing process of wheat beer tends to skip the hopping, so all the flavour comes from aromatics. Expect a little bitterness, and often some smoky notes. Fruit is a typical calling card, whether it’s orange peel, light lemony notes, or even the crisp flavour of green apple. Like gin, wheat beer sometimes contains herbs and botanicals like coriander, or the more tropically-inclined palate may pick up lime leaf, galangal, cloves or banana. The flavour of the drink will be suppressed if its served under 8C - between 8C and 12C is ideal.
Match wheat beer with...
Garrett Oliver describes wheat beer as having ‘scrubbing bubbles’- these are perfect for cutting through the fat of cheese and avocado, or the starchiness of black beans and rice. It can handle spice too- coriander matches the herbal notes of the beer, and paprika, cumin and cayenne the spiciness. Try cheesy quesadillas, spicy sweetcorn and chunky guacamole.
Got an empty afternoon ahead and feeling gallant? Try hitting the hazy stuff with brunch. In Bavaria, a typical mid-morning meal of ‘brotzeit’ (or ‘bread time’) consists of weissbier and weisswurst, the latter being a pale sausage. Adapt it and serve the sausages to your liking - this recipe serves them glazed and in baguettes. The richness of eggs is eased by wheat beer. Brunch-friendly options include the thick hollandaise and salty ham of eggs Benedict, chorizo and cheese omelette, or these robust sausage patties with homemade tomato sauce
Match the subtle banana and clove notes of wheat beer with Indian meals. Try not to go too fiery - wheat beer is not something to be guzzled. Mild, yogurt-based dishes aren’t too heavy on the spice, and the acidity of the dairy is matched by that of the wheat beer. This beef and beetroot curry, contains cloves and subtle sweet treacle. If you want to take a milder route, this light chicken curry contains thick Greek yogurt.
Nick Otley from Otley Brewing Company- producers of clear citrus wheat beer ‘O-Garden’- says that light fish and mild seafood are ideal matches for wheat beers understated in character. This delicate crab salad fits the bill, and it has an added bonus of a herb salad to match the beer’s botanicals. Nick also recommends cooking with wheat beer - use it in place of cider or wine when steaming mussels.
Risotto and paella
Nick also endorses drinking wheat beer with light rice dishes, though he recommends avoiding earthy flavours that may swamp that of the drink. American wheat beers are often lighter in body than their European counterparts, so team them with proteins equally as delicate. Paella packed with prawns and squid is a safe match, especially with a squeeze of lemon and just a touch of Mediterranean heat. Light and creamy Italian risotto works well with stronger-flavoured European wheat beers; avoid overpowering smoked fish and go for trout, or cater for vegetarians and serve up risotto primavera with green spring veggies.
Home cooked ham
German weissbiers in particular work well with ham as the sweetness of the beer contrasts beautifully with the saltiness of the pork. Pick yourself up a piece of gammon or ham and coat in a spicy glaze. This recipe uses five-spice or cloves, both of which match perfectly with the delicate spicy notes of wheat beer, or crank up the fruit flavours with an apricot glaze. Cut into thick slices and serve as part of the ultimate beer-drinkers dish - a ploughman’s lunch.
Do you have a favourite pairing? Let us know in the comments below.