Beer. Pretzels. Sausages dipped in sweet mustard and horseradish. Sound like fun? Probably. Sound like breakfast? Probably not. But in Bavaria weissbier or weizenbier (both names for wheat beer), weisswurst (white sausages), and bretzeln (pretzels) are a long-standing brunch tradition. And the name of the game is Frühschoppen.
Perhaps you remember the great cheap beer taste test of 2009. Well it turns out one night, six people, and 15 of the cheapest beers that we could find wasn’t going far enough. It was time to go advance to the next level in German beer connoisseur-ship and tackle wheat beer, with a side of sausage and pretzels.
First the sausage. I don’t eat meat, so I can’t tell you what white sausages taste like, but I can tell you this: they are made of a combination of veal and pork, and you have to peel them before you eat them. White sausages have always been a part of a traditional Bavarian breakfast because of the way they were traditionally made. Because the meat was never smoked, the sausages spoiled very quickly and would be un-edible by evening if not eaten. Thus a German saying that certain sausages shouldn’t be allowed to hear the church bells chime noon.
Then the pretzels. Instead of purchasing them from a baker, we bought several boxes of pre-formed pretzel dough (available in almost every large German supermarket) and baked them ourselves. There is nothing like a big soft pretzel right out of the oven, dotted with big chunks of sea salt.
That left only the beer. Wheat beer is different from other German beers in that a large portion of the barley is replaced with wheat. Special types of yeast are also used to give the beer a unique flavor. Wheat beer should never, ever, EVER be drunk from the bottle—if you try this in front of a Bavarian expect a disapproving lecture—but from a tall, slender, slightly conically shaped glass. This is because, our resident Bavarian explained to me, the shape allows as much beer as possible to enter the sides of your mouth, hitting all the taste buds needed to experience the full taste.
Pouring wheat beer
Not only does wheat beer have a special glass, but it has to be poured into said glass in a very particular way. And it’s much harder than it sounds.
Step one: Open your wheat beer and pour about 3/4 of the bottle into your glass. You want some foam, but not too much. (This is the complicated part.)
Step two: Wait a few minutes while the extra foam you got in your glass dissipates. Then pick up the bottle and swirl the liquid inside around a few times. This should free any yeast stuck to the bottom of the bottle because getting that yeast in your glass is another important part of the taste.
Ideally you want a good inch or two of foam, and the creamier and thicker-looking the foam, the better the beer. And remember, when shopping for wheat beer, the word hell on the bottle doesn’t mean it was brewed by our friend Lucifer, but means “light.” Dunkel is the German word for dark.
The taste test
A drum roll please. The results of the taste test are in, and Erdinger Urweisse, König Ludwig Weissbier Hell, and Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Naturtrüb are all in the running for best wheat beer. But with wheat beers in German supermarkets averaging at about 95 cents per bottle, I’d recommend heading to the store and testing a few yourself.
Here is what we had to say about the wheat beers we tried:
Erdinger Urweisse, Erding, 5,2% // Full wheaty flavor. Sort of like drinking a loaf of bread.
Erdinger Dunkel, Erding, 5,6% // A very full taste, more aromatic.
Dinkelacker-Schwaben Bräu, Stuttgart, 5% // Kind of watery, not very full in flavor. A good aftertaste. “Good for the last beer of the night because of the pleasant aftertaste,” commented our resident Bavarian.
Kloster Hefe-Wiezen Naturtrüb, Stuttgart, 5% // I liked this one, but the wheat beer experts at the table said it tasted like they brewed a pilsner and then threw a spoonful of yeast in afterward. Not as watery as the Dinkelacker-Schwaben Bräu, but a little too watery. A little too tart.
Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Dunkel, Munich, 5,3% // Lighter than the Erdinger Dunkel. Everyone found it quite tasty. “Mild und malty,” was the comment on everyone’s lips. Light, but with enough flavor to remain interesting.
König Ludwig Weissbier Dunkel, Fürstenfeldbrück, 5,5% // Very flavorful, much more so than the Paulaner Dunkel. A lot of foam. One person found it too bubbly and too light for a dark beer. “Perfect for the person who can’t decide whether to order a hell or a dunkel.”
Licher Weizen Hefe Hell, Hessen, 5,4% // A little under average, but better than everyone expected from a beer with the name Licher on the bottle. A little boring, a little too bubbly, but ok. Would be a good candidate for a Russe (ie Russian), which is a mixture of beer and lemonade.
Erdinger Weissbier, Erding, 5,3% // Not bad, lots of foam. Just before drinking this one an hour-long snowball fight broke out and our testers seem euphoric, distracted, and on their way to being drunk.
Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Naturtrüb, Munich, 5,5% // Has quite a stiff foam. Very high points from everyone. Delicious.
König Ludwig Weissbier Hell, Fürstenfeldbrück, 5,5% // Delicious. I put this one at second place, several others at first. Very fresh tasting. Tester number three said: “You feel like you’re standing on a mountaintop and want to yodel down the mountain what a fine beer you’ve just drunk.”
Franziskaner Wiessbier Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel, Munich, 5% // Also really good, but many of our testers found it overly malty.
Paulaner Wießbier Kristallklar, Munich, 5,2% // Very very mild. Kristal wheat beer has had the yeast filtered out, which means that it generally has a much less bready taste. A bit boring when directly compared with the other wheat beers.
Franziskaner Weissbier Kristallklar, Munich, 5% // There are complaints that kristal was allowed into the taste test at all. This one is ok, but incredibly mild, with not much of a taste. “Nikki, this is nothing,” said Resident Bavarian, now starting to slur, “5,0 tastes more like beer.” (5,0 is a very cheap beer that comes in a can.)
König Ludwig Weissbier Kristall, Fürstenfeld/Kaltenberg, 5,5% // The best kristal of the evening, but that’s not saying much. One tester said it tasted like farts.