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When the sun is shining and the grill is on, I can't speak for anyone else, but I get thirsty. The kind of thirsty that needs something bright and refreshing; something like a wheat beer. With their tangy juiciness and hint of spice, these crowd pleasers are easy-going. (And you can drink 'em all day, since they don't tend to be super-high in alcohol.)
Even if they're not boozy, the best of these friendly beers still offer a ton of complex flavor, thanks to the inclusion of wheat and the choice of fermentation style. Some will be creamy, some more tart, and others spicy or fruity...since wheat beers are made in a wide variety of styles around the world, there's a wheat beer to go with pretty much any summer dish.
One tip: To get the most out of your wheat beer, be sure to savor the aroma. If you're the kind of cook who enjoys smelling the onion and garlic sizzling when you're making pasta sauce, or the scent of burgers browning on a charcoal grill, you won't want to miss this facet of your beer experience. Pouring your brew into a glass allows the beer's aromas to be released and delivered right to your nose. And consider letting your wheat beer go naked and saving the orange or lemon slices for your salad. Acidic citrus fruit will cut through the delicate foam on top of your beer, essentially killing the "head" and masking the naturally delicious flavors of the beer.
Want to taste your way through the best that wheat beer has to offer? This summer, make sure you head to your local beer shop or bar and try these 10 awesome wheat beers.
Andechser Weissbier Hell (Andechs, Germany)
This yeasty Hefeweizen is brewed by a Benedictine monastery in Germany. For centuries, the monks have operated a pilgrims' tavern for visitors, offering spectacular beers and breathtaking views of the Bavarian Alps. This beer (pronounced On-desch-vice-beer-hell, which really rolls off the old tongue) is a beautiful golden orange color. It smells like ripe banana, lavender, and honey, and tastes like toasted bread with a little almond and smoke. It manages to bring all of that together in a way that's remarkably balanced and clean, about as elegant a Hefeweizen as you can get.
What to eat with it: This beer's palate-cleansing carbonation makes it a great partner for ceviche, scallops, and summer salads.
Ayinger Ur-Weisse (Aying, Germany)
Dunkelweiss is a darker style of wheat beer and this example is one of my all-time favorites. The copper-colored brew smells just like fresh bread, but the flavor goes further, full of apple pie richness and tang, spiced with cinnamon and clove. This beer is packed with flavor, but it has a relatively light body so it's not too rich for summer drinkin'.
What to eat with it: Ayinger Ur-Weisse is an absolute home run with grilled pork chops, which isn't that surprising given its applesauce-like notes. The bready flavors from the malt and fruity flavors from the yeast stand up to the browned edges, while still playing up the juiciness and lightness of the meat.
Bell's Oberon (Comstock, Michigan)
Mention Bell's to anyone from the Midwest and they'll probably be able to tell you when and where they had their first Oberon. If German wheat beers are recognizable for their yeast character (that banana-and-clove thing that results from fermentation), and Belgian wheat beers are known for added coriander and/or orange peel, then American wheat beers are famous for their use of hops. And Oberon showcases the marriage of wheat and hops beautifully. Right off the bat, you get the scent of distinctly fresh, green grassy hops that mingle with juicy mango and tangelo flavors. It's kind of a throwback to Juicy Fruit gum, but it won't lose its flavor as your make your way through.
What to eat with it: Hoppy flavor means it's easier to serve this citrusy refresher with asparagus or bitter greens, foods that aren't always the easiest to match up with a beverage. Oberon stands up to the bitterness but also brightens up the dish.
Two Brothers Ebel's Weisse (Warrenville, Illinois)
Two Brothers Brewing Company was the brainchild of (you guessed it), two brothers, Jim and Jason Ebel. They traveled abroad and fell in love with European beers, returning home particularly eager to create brews inspired by German classics. In 1996, they set up shop in Illinois, modeling their brewhouse after the traditional 3-vessel brewhouses of Germany, ideal for brewing wheat beers. Two Brothers' take on a Hefeweizen has big aromas of tropical fruit—crazy banana and tangerine. With each sip, you'll get touches of caramel, herbs, and bright citrus with a round, soft finish.
What to eat with it: I love that this beer is a bit on the earthy side. Bring that side out with mushroom dishes.
Cigar City Florida Cracker (Tampa, Florida)
This Belgian-style witbier spiced with orange peel and coriander is brewed with muggy Florida weather in mind. It's a bright sunny yellow color with a slightly funky aroma that comes from using a French saison yeast. I know this sounds crazy, but the scent of this beer almost reminds me of a saltine. It's probably just the combo of the cracker-like toasty malt with the tang of the yeast, but it works. The flavor is a blend of zesty orange, vanilla (think Orange Julius), and herbs, winding up with a bone-dry finish.
What to eat with it: Because of its herbal flavors and slight sweetness up front, this beer is awesome with a goat cheese salad drizzled with honey.
Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat With Thai Chili, Lime, and Ginger (San Diego, California)
Ballast Point in San Diego has doing a lot of experimenting lately, infusing their signature beers with different types of peppers and spices. Wahoo Wheat on its own is a tasty Belgian-style witbier, but this summer's version including Thai chili, lime, and fresh ginger is absolutely out of this world. You can taste each ingredient as you sip: the skin of the pepper, the electricity from the ginger, the thirst-quenching lime, and the creaminess of the wheat. Then all of a sudden they blend back together, leaving just a kick of heat at the back of your throat.
What to eat with it: Seek out this special beer on draft, fill a growler and take it to your local taqueria. There is simply nothing better with fish tacos.
Westbrook Gose (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina)
Gose (pronounce it "gose-uh") is one of the most distinct styles of beer on the market, dating back to early 16th century Germany. It's traditionally brewed with coriander and salt, and it's remarkably thirst-quenching, thanks to a slight sourness resulting from a lactic fermentation. This nearly-extinct style of beer has recently been making a comeback, and South Carolina's Westbrook does a killer job with it. This tart beer offers grainy biscuit flavors, a little lemon zest, tangy peach, and a hint of sour cream.
What to eat with it: Packaged in cans, this crisp beer is perfectly portable for beach days and picnics. Try an arugula salad with parmesan cheese—the saltiness of the beer is divine with peppery greens.
Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (Petaluma, California)
I couldn't create a top 10 list without including something special for hop fanatics. Here, Lagunitas combines the silky, peppery, and refreshing properties of a wheat beer with the dank, resiny, fruity flavors of American hops and bless their hearts for doing it. Grapefruit is the real star of the show here, but the candied pine and floral notes are unmistakable. This is also the strongest beer on the list at 7.5% ABV: be careful, it's very easy to drink.
What to eat with it: Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' is a knockout with herb-roasted chicken and creamy polenta. The herbal hop flavors are a natural good fit for the chicken and the creaminess and texture from the use of wheat plays off the polenta seamlessly.
Hitachino White (Ibaraki, Japan)
It's easy to be drawn in by the cute packaging of Hitachino beers, and luckily this beer is just as awesome as it looks. This Japanese take on a Belgian witbier is brewed with the traditional orange peel and coriander, but that spicing is taken one step further by including nutmeg and orange juice. You can drink this beer all day: it's light, easy-drinking, and refreshing, but still packed with flavor.
What to eat with it: Brunch. The zesty orange peel and biscuit-like malt flavors make it just the thing to drink with bacon, eggs, and french toast. Everyone's tired of mimosas anyway.
The Bruery Hottenroth (Placentia, California)
If we had to pick just one beer for a muggy summer day, this might be the one. This take on a tart German Berliner Weisse was brewed as a tribute to Bruery owner Patrick Rue's grandparents, Fred and Sarah Hottenroth (Fred was first generation American born to German parents). It's incredibly refreshing, thanks to mouth-puckering tartness, low alcohol content (just 3%), and light body. Drinking this creamy Berliner Weisse is almost like squirting cold lemon on hot breaded calamari: the biscuity flavors of the beer are amplified by the acidity.
What to eat with it: Hottenroth is amazing with shellfish, a plate of creamy cheeses, or even a nutty dessert.