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  • Half Wit for Wheat

    Your intrepid liquor reporter has always had a weakness for wheat beers.

    It started back in my kindergarten days, when I would rush to the kitchen table each morning for a heaping bowl of Wheaties, hoping the elusive prize in the bottom of the box would be mine.

    Sadly, all those prizes in the bottom of cereal boxes in decades past seem to have secretly been extreme choking hazards, so they are rarely seen in today’s world of flying attack lawyers.

    In the fullness of time, with my days as a towheaded schoolboy now long behind me, my daily wheat intake has shifted from breakfast cereals to wheat fermented with a bit of yeast and hops, then served in a pint glass.

    Since beer tastes best when it is fresh, your intrepid liquor reporter was delighted when the Village Brewery opened in Calgary last December, and was even happier when they started making a wheat beer a few months back.

    Bottles and 2-litre growlers are available at many well-stocked booze merchants, and they may also be found on tap at select drinking establishments.

    The major styles of wheat beer are witbier (Dutch for white beer) and weissbier (German for white beer).

    The simply named Village Brewery Wit is made in the Belgian style of wheat beers, which usually adds extra flavorings such as coriander and orange peel.

    The Germans like to keep their beer pure, without any fancy additives, with popular Grasshopper from Big Rock being a good example.

    Attentive readers may have noticed that these beers are sometimes referred to as white instead of wheat.

    Wheat proteins tend to much hazier than barley, so wheat beers usually still have suspended yeast and wheat particles in the beer, which gives it a hazy white appearance when chilled, so the names white and wheat often go together.

    Wheat beers tend to be more popular with the ladies than many other beers, as the fermentation process produces esters with fruity and spicy aromas. Add that to the gentle hopping for only mild bitterness, and the ladies go mad for it!

    Back in the beer-soaked mists of time, production of wheat beer was centered around Munich in the middle ages, and was quite popular until the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer could be made only from water, hops, and barley.

    This law was implemented not only to ensure consumer safety (some of the herbs added to beer at the time were hallucinogens), but also to guarantee that the more valuable grains like wheat and rye were reserved for making bread instead of beer. However, members of the nobility still fancied the taste of wheat beers, so they granted royal assent to a few select breweries to provide wheat beers to the German aristocracy, while the commoners got the short end of the stick. Apparently, politicians were just as crafty back then as they are today.

    So what is it that makes wheat beer so special? Well, unlike a traditional beer that only uses malted barley grains, wheat beers use a mixture of barley with either malted or unmalted wheat. Wheat beers tend to be lighter-bodied and more carbonated than traditional barley-based beers. They are excellent summer beers, and tend to have a refreshing, tart, and spritzy flavor.

    Getting back to the beer at hand, the Village Brewery Wit is only lightly hopped, so the very slight bitterness does not detract from the hints of banana and grapefruit that are common with this beer style.

    Your humble narrator enjoyed a few pints on a sunny patio at the Ship & Anchor in Calgary last weekend, and picked up a 2-litre growler at the store on the way home.

    Although many wheat beers are extensively filtered to make them clear, the Village Brewery Wit leaves the delicious yeast and wheat proteins suspended in their beer, allowing more conditioning and secondary fermentation to occur after bottling.

    This makes for a more flavourful beer, so for those adventurous consumers not afraid to step away from their crystal-clear macrobrews, crack open a cloudy been and enjoy the flavour explosion.

    So, the next time you’re at the local pub, remember that wheat isn’t just for making hamburger buns, and it can be much more enjoyable in liquid form!